But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

The Festival of the Reformation

Psalm 34:1-2, 11, 22

Because we are using the Chorale Service today, we are not singing the Introit that is appointed for the Festival of the Reformation. But if we were, this is what it would be, from Psalm 34:

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.”

When we commemorate the Reformation of the sixteenth century, we usually think about the important things that people like Martin Luther did back then, to restore to the church a purer and clearer proclamation of the gospel, and to purge the institutional church of many moral and doctrinal corruptions.

We have a tendency to look to the past, with admiration for the courage and conviction of the Reformers, and with gratitude for the things they accomplished. We know that we benefit from what they did 500 years ago.

But on Reformation Sunday, we should not look only to the past, and to the events of the past. We should look also to the future.

Consider not only what you as a Christian and as a Lutheran have received from previous generations of faithful preachers and teachers, but also what God wants you to pass on to your children and grandchildren – and to the next generation in general. Listen again to these lines from Psalm 34:

“Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.”

The Reformation did indeed clarify for the church what God’s saving message, concerning his redemption in Christ, actually is – in the face of the confusion and ignorance under which the souls of many people in medieval Europe had been languishing. The Smalcald Articles, in beautiful simplicity, summarizes the Biblical preaching of the Reformers in these words:

“Here is the first and chief article: That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, ‘was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification’; …he alone is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’; and ‘the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’; furthermore, ‘All have sinned,’ and ‘they are now justified…by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…by his blood.’”

“Now because this must be believed and may not be obtained or grasped otherwise with any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3: ‘For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law’; and also, ‘that God alone is righteous and justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.’”

“Nothing in this article can be conceded or given up, even if heaven and earth, or whatever is transitory, passed away. As St. Peter says in Acts 4: ‘There is no other name…given among men by which we must be saved.’ ‘And by his bruises we are healed.’”

This is the Scriptural message that God has brought to us, to comfort us in our sorrow, and to strengthen us in our weakness. Our sin alienates us from God. This message, concerning Christ and his atonement, brings reconciliation.

Our sin makes us guilty before God, and calls down his judgment. This message, concerning Christ and his justification, brings forgiveness.

God’s law, proclaimed to us in all its accuracy and severity, has shattered for us the myth that humanity’s deepest problem – our sin problem – can be solved by human self-improvement efforts, human mental adjustment efforts, or even by human religious efforts.

It is the cleansing power of God’s gospel, applied to us with all of its healing gentleness in Word and Sacrament, that has lifted us up into a living hope, founded upon the love and mercy of Christ. He and he alone has done everything that needed to be done, for our reconciliation with God, and for our forgiveness before God.

As St. Paul writes in today’s reading from his Epistle to the Romans: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith.”

This message – this Christ-centered and grace-filled message of salvation – is the message that the Lutheran Reformers proclaimed. It is the message that the genuine Lutheran Church of today still proclaims. And it is the message that we believe.

It is the message that liberates us from our guilt and fear, for a life of joyful service to our neighbor in Christ’s name. It is the message that brings a heavenly light to the moral and spiritual darkness that otherwise would enshroud us.

But will our children and grandchildren also believe this message, and partake of all its benefits – both in this life and in the life to come? Will the next generation know and experience the comfort that we know and experience through faith is these divine promises?

This is to be a concern for all of us – not only parents, but all members of the Lord’s church. God would guide all of us, through the words of Psalm 34, to do and say what the psalmist did and said: “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”

This is a sacred duty that God has entrusted to his whole church – to his new Jerusalem, the spiritual Zion to which all nations are invited. The words of Psalm 48 are words that are therefore addressed to all of us:

“Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad… Walk about Zion, and go all around her. Count her towers; mark well her bulwarks; consider her palaces; that you may tell it to the generation following. For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death.”

We read in Psalm 119: “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” And as the Book of Revelation teaches, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed an “eternal” gospel.

The gospel of Jesus Christ will never stop being true. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is of no personal saving benefit to anyone who does not believe it.

“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” But if Abraham had not believed God, he would not have been counted as righteous before God. He would have lived and died under God’s condemnation, and would have been lost.

The fact that Abraham was a descendant of Noah, and of other men of faith in earlier generations, would not have saved him. By faith, Abraham himself was an adopted child of God – as are all who trust in the Lord’s promises, and are indwelt by his Spirit.

Many of us have grandchildren. I myself have been blessed with 14 of them. But God does not have any grandchildren – only children. No one has a saving relationship with God through his parents’ faith.

In a certain sense we could say that we who believe in the pure gospel of divine grace, as it was restored to the church by God’s providence in the Reformation, are children of the Reformation. But just as there are no grandchildren of God, so too is it the case, that there are no grandchildren of the Reformation.

Each generation must claim the evangelical catholic spirit of the Reformation, and the Biblical gospel that was proclaimed by the Reformation, as its own.

If not, the spirit of the Reformation will die. And the souls of those who do not trust in Christ for their salvation, will likewise die.

If you are a child of God, born again by his Word and Spirit, this in itself is no guarantee that the generation that comes after you will likewise be filled with the life of God’s Spirit. If you are justified by your faith in Christ, and if you have the hope of eternal life through the resurrection of Christ, this in itself is no guarantee that your children will share in this salvation.

They cannot believe in Christ unless they hear about Christ. And they cannot hear about Christ unless they are taught. If God’s message of forgiveness in Christ is not brought to them, they will not know this forgiveness.

In the post-Christian world in which we live, those who embrace and promote false ideologies that are hostile to the gospel, will certainly not be silent in their attempts to lure the children and youth of the church away from the safety of God’s truth – through all the mechanisms of the popular culture that are permeated with their destructive errors.

The legacy of the Reformation, which is so important to us, must not be a legacy that finds its end in us, and in our generation. It is, rather, a legacy that we receive for ourselves, only as it then passes through us to others.

We are, of course, not responsible for things that God has not commanded us to do. You are not to blame if your child – or anyone else with whom you have shared the gospel – refuses to believe it, or ceases to believe it.

Someone who rejects the gospel will have to give an account of himself before God. You can’t make someone believe in Christ.

God will not call you to account for the unbelief of someone who had a chance to believe – perhaps through your influence and words – but who refused to do so. But God has commanded us – according to our respective vocations – to participate in bringing his Word to all nations, so that all nations will have a chance to believe it.

“All nations” includes your nation. And your nation includes your family and friends.

Today – Reformation Sunday – is a good day for all of us to admit before God that we have not taught the fear of the Lord to our children – and to the church’s children – as we ought to have done.

The day on which we all remember the renewal of the pure gospel of God’s forgiveness in Christ, is a good day to acknowledge that we need that forgiveness. We have not been as diligent as we have been called to be, in telling the next generation about the glorious Zion of God, where all penitent sinners find a home with their Lord forever.

And then, on this Reformation Sunday, also be the Lutheran that you confess to be. Repent of your failures – these and all others.

And believe the promise of Christ, that all of your sins are forgiven and washed away for his sake – because they are. Be justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

And for those of you who are communicants at the Lord’s altar, in this faith also partake on this Reformation Sunday of the body and blood of Christ, by which all of these blessings were won for you on the cross, and through which all of these blessings are delivered to you now in the sacrament.

In Christ you are not condemned: not because of your success in living up to your calling; but because of Jesus’ success in living up to his calling: his calling to be your Redeemer and Savior; his calling to be your companion, your protector, and the forgiver of your sins.

And as a justified saint of the Lord, who is saved by faith and not by works, seek, then, with the Lord’s help, to bear the living fruits of your living faith, as would be pleasing to him.

Ask him to open your eyes to see with greater clarity how and where you can speak his Word to the younger generation. Ask him to fill your heart with courage and wisdom, so that you will fulfill this duty joyfully and faithfully.

As the Lord gives you the opportunity, bring your children and grandchildren to church. Bring them to Sunday School. Encourage all your friends to do the same.

Pray with your children and grandchildren at home, and read the Bible to them in the family circle. Talk with them about the things of the Lord.

In your own life set an example for them, that they may see your humility before the Lord. Show them what the priorities of their life should be, by letting them see what your priorities are.

As a testimony to our children and to all people, and for the sake of our own souls, let us by faith, and in the strength of Christ, live always in the peace and confidence of which Psalm 34 speaks:

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.”