Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sermon - Romans 3:21-24 - Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

Sermon – Messiah Lutheran Church, Kenosha, WI
Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (observed)
June 27th, 2013
Romans 3:21-24

Dear Friends in Christ,

June 25th, 1530, in Augsburg, Germany, something quite remarkable happened. German princes stood before Emperor Charles V, and for 2 hours straight read aloud a document which publicly confessed their faith. They took their lives in their hands to do so, for the man who began this reformation of the church some 17 years earlier, Martin Luther, had been placed under the church's ban as a heretic and could be arrested on sight to face certain execution. By professing the same beliefs as Luther, they placed themselves at peril with both the powerful church and state.

Why should we care what it says, learn its history, or pay attention to what it teaches? What does a document that is 483 years old have to do with you and me? Hopefully today we can answer these questions.

The Augsburg Confession is a series of 28 articles – topics – that cover the chief teachings of the Christian faith and also a number abuses that needed to be corrected in the church. The first portion, on Christian doctrine, covers God, Sin, Christ, Salvation, the Church and its Ministry, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Repentance, Good Works, and other topics. All things we continue to hold as important teachings, even today. And there is a timelessness about it because the Augsburg Confession is rooted in and clearly proclaims God's word.

This 483 year old document matters in much the same way that the 2000 year old New Testament matters – it informs our faith, it shows us God's Word, and confesses and explains it clearly. The articles are careful not only to confess truth, but also to condemn errors. And what a refreshing approach in today's climate of so-called-tolerance. Where the only thing people think is wrong is to say someone is wrong. The AC has no problem saying what is true and what is false – and we can both agree with what it says and learn from its approach.

If there's one article that best summarizes what the whole thing is about, it's probably article IV, on Justification. It's short enough, so I'll read it to you:

[Our Churches] teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.

If you've been around enough Lutheran preachers, that should sound very familiar. If you've heard enough Lutheran sermons, it shouldn't shock you. We pastors swear a solemn vow to uphold the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions, including this Augsburg Confession – because they are in accord with God's word. And we take those vows seriously. The Confessions show us not only what it means to be Lutheran, but what it means to be Christian.

These are not just ideas that Luther made up. This is a clear expression of what Scripture teaches. Hear it again, from Romans 3:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3:21-24, ESV)

For all of its fascinating history. For all of the drama in the story. For all of the Lutheran-identity patriotism it inspires and the rigorous doctrinal clarity if professes.... The Augsburg Confession is about Jesus Christ. It is about Christ who accomplishes salvation for you because you can't do it yourself. It's about “salvation by grace through faith” in him. And that's not just a slogan. It is the heart and soul of the confessions, of the Lutheran faith, of the rightly understood Christian faith... it is the chief message of the Bible.

Or to put it even more simply, Jesus died for you.

Of course, as sinners, we have a hard time with this simple truth. We want a part in our salvation. We want, by nature, to think we deserve heaven by our good works, or our sincere commitment. But Romans is clear, all of us fall short of the standard – the glory of God. We cannot earn heaven, we do not merit God's favor, we don't and we can't deserve anything but punishment.

But thanks be to God for Jesus Christ! Who became man for us, fulfilled all righteousness for us, suffered and died for us, and rose victorious for us. He gives salvation as a gift, for his own sake, on his own account – freely, fully, eternally. And we receive it with joy.

His sacraments are the same – free gifts of pure grace – a lavish flood of mercy and grace in Baptism – and a rich meal, generously feeding all his people with forgiveness, life and salvation.

If you want to better appreciate these blessed truths, I have a few suggestions for you. I don't usually put “how tos” in a sermon, but I think you might find these helpful. How to know better the teachings of the Augsburg Confession, and therefore, of Scripture:

  1. Read it! It's won't take you that long. And if you do want to dig deeper, read the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which is like the expanded version. You don't need to be a professor of theology or even a pastor to benefit from an encounter with this important piece of our church's heritage. And if you've already read it – read it again every so often.

  2. Attend church! Your Lutheran pastor preaches and teaches in accord with the AC. Give thanks to God for faithful pastors who rightly do so! Here you will hear sermons and teachings that re in accord with this central truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. A blessed truth that we need to hear again and again. You will hear proclaimed what is true, according to God's word. And you will hear warnings about falsehood on the same basis. You will hear that you are a sinner, and you will hear of your salvation in Jesus.
  1. Always look to Christ! If you would believe and live the faith expressed in the AC, it means you trust in Christ alone. Always. Never yourself or your own works or supposed goodness. Confess your sins. Repent. Believe in Jesus Christ for your salvation. He will never leave you without his grace.

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