Saturday, October 24, 2009

B, Commemoration of the Reformation - Romans 3:20-24, 27-28 "Reformation Lamination"

Shaken not Shattered

Driving the roads of Australia can sometimes be hazardous! Narrow, broken edges, long distances, kangaroos, emus, tiredness, and big trucks coming from the other direction, can make it quite risky at times.

As it happens, there was not much to look at when I found myself daydreaming and tired driving on a narrow windy bitumen road through lifeless scrub. Out of the blue on a bend of the road hidden by the bush suddenly appeared a dirty great big cattle-carrying road train.

The truck was bearing down on me at what seemed like two-hundred kilometres per hour. Our rendezvous must have taken him by surprise too as he swerved the heavy transport to the left with a sudden jolt. I did the same and headed for the hard shoulder in a bid to avoid the mass of metal and moo-ving meat.

I got past the prime mover ok, but when a road train is suddenly lurched one way the movement is exacerbated as the effect ripples back through the trailers. I was a bit worried I wasn't going to make it there for a while, as the last trailer swayed like an overweight snake on and off the road in front of me. But through the dust and debris a path appeared for me to pass safely.

I thought I was through, when suddenly, CRACK, a large stone left its lasting impression on my windscreen. Understandably, the whole event left me a bit rattled as I drove on.

Old Crystal Highways

As I drove on it led me to ponder earlier times on roads such as the one on which I had just had my near miss; times when roads were referred to as crystal highways because of the shattered glass scattered from windscreens broken along these old rough roads.

The name crystal highway sounds as if they were something beautiful, but the reality of a crystal highway was anything but beautiful. If one was a contributor to the crystals of glass scattered alongside the highway it usually meant driving to the next town with no windscreen, being wind blasted while the remnants of the old windscreen sat on one's lap and under the feet.

Then there was the wait as the local service station mechanic replaced the glass so the journey could continue. And there was no guarantee that five minutes the other side of town another stray stone wouldn't be flicked up into the path of your new windscreen, shattering it and causing the woes of travelling on rough roads with a broken windscreen to begin all over again; not only breaking the glass but shattering the spirits of those in middle of their journeys.

The Pre-Reformation Church

Martin Luther lived in the Church of the Middle Ages. Some refer to the Middles Ages as the dark ages and it surely was spiritually dark for Martin Luther and many others trying to live lives as faithful Christians. Before the 31st of October 1517 the church had sunk into the blackest of darkness.

Fifteen hundred years after our Lord ushered in the new covenant—the radiant brilliance of a new life in eternity without sin, through the spilling of his blood, his death on a cross, his entombment in the earth, and his victorious resurrection—the church had turned its back on the centrality of its existence, it had severed itself from its head, its Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The church's hierarchy had pushed aside the pure Gospel, laying God's Word in the dust, forgetting about it and in its place inventing its own doctrines of anti-gospel. The servants of the church had elevated themselves to be the masters of the church, who, instead of tending Christ's sheep, only gorged themselves with their goods and sucked the blood from the church's veins.

Before the 31st of October travelling on the crystal highway towards eternal life was oppressive for the most hardened traveller. A thousand years of silence on justification by God's grace, and the righteousness of God, given as gift, had culminated in Christians languishing in a fearful despair and anxiety.

Thousands had, in their previous predicament of sin, cried out in vain, "What must we do to be saved?" Their answer as they lay shattered beside the crystal highways of Mediaeval theology was rerouted to paying indulgences for departed saints, to human works, to their own penance, repentance, works of satisfaction and service. Christ and his fully sufficient service was silenced and the Word about faith gagged. Instead even more shattering stones were hurled at them knowing full well the impossibility of travelling along the road to glory by themselves.

Even learned men like Luther tormented themselves seeking, by themselves, to perform the righteousness that God expects of anyone who wishes to come into his holy presence.

Lamination and Reformation

Thank God for laminated windscreens. Even though my windscreen bears the scars of travelling along an old crystal highway, my journey was not halted nor was it shattered. Even though the road train rattled me, its debris didn't destroy my vision; I could still travel on.

The windscreens of the past, which once would have shattered from the impact of stones are long gone. We certainly still have windscreens but now they are laminated keeping the glass from shattering into a thousand pieces, or worse, from sending great spikes of glass back into the people in the vehicle.

These windscreens stand the test of time, the fragile glass protected from shattering by the thinnest invisible layer of laminate plastic. Sure we still see the results of what the old crystal highway might throw at us—large stars might appear on our windscreens—but they don't stop us from travelling towards the goal, toward the end of the journey.

Thank God too for the Reformation, for the reformers return to the law being laminated to Christ's vicarious action alone, for Martin Luther, and those, who, like him, were recaptured by the grace of the gospel, Philip Melanchthon, Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae.

These men and thousands upon thousands have been reconnected with the love of God, through the righteousness of Christ, justification at the hand of God, day after day as they live the faith given to them in baptism, taught to them by Christ as their hearts are opened to his Word—preached from pulpits and taught by teachers—and to the faithful reception of Jesus body and blood in the elements of bread and wine, which Jesus himself instituted for us in his Word.

The rediscovery of the gospel in the Reformation is the lamination of our lives in Christ Jesus and the lamination of the church, protecting it from the evil attacks of the devil!

The Heavenly Crystal Highway

So now we no longer have a struggle with the law that ends in eternal death. There is no need to be fearful of having our vision of the heavenly goal shattered by the unattainable demands of God's holy law.

The law like the glass still exists but it is bound to Christ as is the glass to the laminate in today's windscreens. Hear God's word again for your assurance as you travel laminated and stuck to Christ and his promises in this life. First from St Paul in:

Romans 3:20 …no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

This faith is ground in Christ's fully sufficient service, alone, made know to us through his word, alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit, alone, and gives us the freedom to travel with unshatterable confidence towards eternal freedom with Christ. Now hear and believe what God the Son himself says and teaches us:

John 8:31b "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 34 [Then Jesus continues], "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

You have held to his teaching! Yes you have sinned, but faith not of yourselves has given you the ability to hold on to Christ and to faithfully endure. Faith has brought you to church, faith has enabled you to confess your sin, faith has drowned you in the gracious, righteous, justifying, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ for you and faith has set you free! So you too will be free indeed. Amen.