Note: This sermon was preached at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 25, 2017 on the occasion of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession and in conjunction with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, as well as the congregation’s 175th anniversary in November 2017.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is from 1 Peter 1.13-25
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
Dear brothers and sisters of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, what a momentous occasion that we are gathered for today. We gather to celebrate a wonderful anniversary, actually, two anniversaries. On October 31, 1517, Luther posted his 95 Theses, beginning what we know as the Lutheran Church. 13 years later on June 25, 1530, the Augsburg Confession was presented to Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In presenting this document of faith, the Augsburg Confession was intentionally crafted to present a gentle and peaceful response to the emperor. It was intended only to speak for Saxony. However, as various German leaders read it they indicated that they, too, wanted to sign their names and make it their Confession. So on June 25, 1530, courageous Lutheran laymen confessed their faith and told the emperor and the Roman Church what they believed, taught, and confessed. They relied on the promise of God’s Word, as contained in Psalm 119:46, “I will also speak of Your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.” The Augsburg Confession was presented as a statement of biblical truth and a proposal for true unity in the Christian faith. It has never been withdrawn, remaining the great confession of faith for us Lutherans today.
Today, we celebrate the 487th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession and the clear statement of faith it declared then and that it still declares today. Rarely does such a confession last the test of time as the Augsburg Confession has.
Today, we also celebrate another important anniversary, one that is equally as important as the first to us: 1842. That was the year that St. Paul’s was founded. And 175 years later, she continues to go strong, preaching the Word of God each and every Sunday just as she has from the beginning. Despite the man that stands in this pulpit, God’s Word has been fulfilled just as God declares through the words of His servant Isaiah: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
As we hear from the words of the apostle Peter, we, the Church, are called to be something. We are called to be holy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly feel holy everyday. In fact, there are some days where I just feel downright unholy. But being made holy is not something that I do; rather, it is something that is done for me by someone else. That someone else is who our faith is founded upon. It’s not Martin Luther, though some erroneously make that claim. It’s not John the Steadfast or the German princes of old who made such a confession. Our faith is founded upon Jesus Christ and no one else.
St. Peter was not the perfect disciple as we all know. There were many a time where he lacked holiness, where he fell short of full trust and reliance in Christ. If you, at times, feel just like St. Peter, then you are in good company. We are not holy. We never can be holy…by ourselves, at least. Our holiness comes from Jesus.
Lo all those years ago when the German princes signed their name to the Augsburg Confession, for them, it wasn’t a matter of being holy either. Rather, it was a matter of confessing the Bible as the sole teaching of Jesus Christ. This was not a popular move on their part, as this meant a death sentence for going against the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Though it was not popular, it was proper, for the Roman Catholic Church had confused the teachings of Jesus with that of man.
It is stated in the Augsburg Confession: “The churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith.” The reason why they could say that then, the reason why we can say that now, is because we confess Jesus Christ. It is so easy today to confess anything other than Jesus Christ. Some would even call Christianity absurd. But you and I know that to be false. We know that Jesus is our sole means of salvation. 483 years ago, those German electors were willing to die for the faith taught by the disciples, received from Jesus Christ. 175 years later, St. Paul’s continues that proud tradition of the teaching of Jesus. For the last 175 years, the theme of believe, teach, and confess Sola Christus, Jesus Christ alone, has been preached from the pulpit. Though not always popular, we preach what the Church confesses, or should confess.
As we look at our text today, we are reminded of who we are: blood-bought and redeemed children of God. St. Peter writes, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” A teaching such as that cannot be found among the teaching of man. This wasn’t some epiphany of Martin Luther or Phillip Melanchthon. This is revealed by Jesus for the Church to revel in. This is something that we should want to shout from the rooftops because this declares our salvation and the salvation of all who believe.
The theme of St. Peter’s epistle, the theme of the Augsburg Confession, the constant theme of St. Paul’s for the last 175 years is this: Christ is risen from the dead! The price has been paid for your sins: “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of lamb without spot or blemish.” The eternal Son of God, foreknown before the foundation of the world, came into this world and paid the price for your sin. He redeemed you at the cost of His own blood. And having paid that price to redeem you, He will not leave you or forsake you. That is His promise, His Word: and the Word of the Lord remains forever. You’re no longer fading, falling grass. You’re a redeemed child of God, born again by His Word to live forever.
Many things in this world come and go, things that are here today and gone tomorrow. But when it comes to the things of God and His holy Word, we know that the Word of the Lord remains forever. Today, Christ our Savior comes to you. He speaks His Word to you. He is the Host of the meal, giving you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. He has died and He is risen, so that He might wash you clean, purify you with His own blood. He lives forever; and because He lives forever, so will you. You’re not grass anymore: in Christ, eternal life is yours. This is the Good News that is preached to you, the Word of the Lord that endures forever: Christ has lived, Christ has died, and Christ has risen for you. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.