“The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Torah and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
Again, we of the Lutheran Confession of the Christian faith commemorate the events of the Reformation. It is not simply a repetition of what Luther and the other Reformers accomplished or a celebration of human achievement. Rather, the day is truly about what the Lord God continued to manifest among us: the apostolic witness to what Christ did for our salvation and how that is passed down to us.
That witness to what Christ accomplished is what we heard in the Epistle Reading for this day.
This apostolic witness of
But this is not the case with the Lord God. He has expectations for us, and we know them well. Very few of us are not familiar with the Decalogue, with the divine law. The commandments stare us in the face and they outline our expected behavior. And when we compare our lives to those commandments, we see our failures. This is what
And when that “knowledge of sin” is put in front of us, we can’t ignore it. It stands true and is unrelenting. As St. Paul writes: “We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” That accountability makes us search high and low for ways to make up for our transgressions. But where can we find a way to make good what we did wrong? We can turn back to that law, to the standard of expected behavior that the Lord God instituted, but all it will do is again show us our failures, how “[we] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What we need instead is to see a way in which our faults and transgressions are not counted against us, how something or someone has achieved what we could not. That is the apostolic witness: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Torah and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Righteousness that is not dependent upon our actions: that is what we need and that is what
At the heart of the Reformation Movement was the witness of that divinely-given righteousness and the trust in it, even to the point of losing “goods, fame, child, and wife.” What Luther and the Reformers trusted in and faithfully confessed was the witness that
This was not a new message, either in
That is what
Why we are here as an assembly of Christ’s disciples is that we believe what the Prophets and Apostles bore witness to, what was handed down through generations of believers to our day. Our parish’s existence is owed to that fact. Even though our mouths are stopped when the Lord God’s law is spoken to us, we are given voice to worship Him when we hear about our justification by Christ’s actions. As we gather together, we make known that which happened to us. We confess it in the words of the ancient creeds and liturgy. We confess it in our hymns and anthems. We confess it in our discussions about who we are and the way of life that has been divinely given to us.
Confess it we must, because it is true. “The Torah and the Prophets bear witness to it,” as do the Apostles and their spiritual descendants. Confess it we must, because it is the only thing that provides a remedy, a satisfaction for our transgressions. Confess it we must, because as vital as that truth is, it can be easily lost. That is what this commemoration of Reformation Day reminds us. It is so very easy to revert back to the thinking that we must, and that we actually can, do something to make up for our guilt. We want to do so, since we know the obligation we have to obey God’s law. We also know the seriousness of our sins.
But not only do we understand the gravity of our situation, we also have the motivation for wanting to contribute to our salvation, to attribute it to our own goodness. Such thoughts must be the least thing from our mind. Rather, we should think of ourselves as Luther did on his death-bed: “We are beggars. That is true.” We are beggars who have been generously given something that we could never attain, never earn. That is what
As another year has passed since the events of the 16th Century, we are given another year in which we can proclaim the gracious and life-giving deeds of Christ while admitting our faults and shortcomings. We do so as it has been made known to us, as we stay true to the prophetic and apostolic witness of the Scriptures, and as we stay true to the teachings drawn from them that have been handed down to us from the first days of the Church through the Reformers and to our day.
Let us stay true to that confession and make it known in our day and time, not boasting about our works, but gladly attributing our salvation to Christ and Him alone. For what we have heard, we so believe: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Torah and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.