Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
October 29, 2017
Text: I Thessalonians 2:8, Old Testament: Deuteronomy 34:1-12, New Testament: I Thessalonians 1:2:1-8
On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther sent a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz Germany. Inside the letter were Ninety-five Theses or Disputations on the Power of Indulgences. Luther was the professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenburg.
He intentionally chose that day to send his letter. It was All Saints Day, All Hallows Day, or Hallowmass – a day in western Christianity when it was believed a deep spiritual bond existed between the Church triumphant in heaven and the Church militant on earth.
All Saints Day is a day for the Church to give thanks for the lives of the saints, their sacrifices for the faith, and their example as followers of Jesus Christ. Luther’s letter to the Archbishop of Mainz was meant to honor the Apostle Paul. Paul’s teaching about Jesus’ gospel that inspired Luther’s letter to the archbishop.
Luther rejected the Church’s teaching on indulgences as a means to avoid the punishment of death for sin. He preferred what he had learned from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2:8: “You are saved by grace through faith, and it is not by your own doing.”
You are saved by grace through faith and it is not by your own doing.” This is not a message of fear or threat. The Apostle Paul is not describing a God who is trying to coerce men and women to be better people by using the threat of eternal punishment. The Apostle Paul is describing a gracious God whose compassion inspires people in the Gospel message.
Grace is the appeal of the Gospel. Grace ought to be the teaching of the Church on the topic of sin. Methods of grace ought to inspire the flock of Jesus Christ to be devoted to Him. Grace ought to lift the leaders of the Church to elevate people into God’s presence with joy and gratitude.
Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk who knew what it meant to lose Christ as a comforter. He rejected Church legalism in Christianity – as if making payments of money could free people from the punishment for sin.
Only God’s grace and mercy frees people from sin.
Luther read the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans with great relief:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace
The message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ is a tender message, a comforting message, a loving message, a gentle message of love.
The appeal of the gospel is what brought the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. The appeal of the gospel’s gentleness is what inspired the Thessalonians to become Christians.
The nurse who is caring, who offers grace and compassion even when the troubled child is acting out, even when the child does not appreciate the offer of love, even when the child says they don’t want the nurses’ love because they are independent – this is the model of Christian caring.
God had inspired Paul so much through Jesus’ care of him that Paul was offering himself like a nurse to care for the Thessalonians. Regardless of whether they understood the message intellectually, regardless of whether they agreed with the message completely, regardless of whether they committed themselves to the message totally, Paul the nurse modelled the grace of Jesus Christ.
He lived the Gospel’s appeal in his own life for the Thessalonians to see.
God’s revelation to Martin Luther was mediated by Jesus Christ’s grace which inspired the Apostle Paul’s missionary outreach. Luther envisioned a Church that lived the Gospel appeal like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. He sensed the people of the Church would be inspired by such a recasting of the Church’s life.
This is the central message of Reformation Sunday.
We are the inheritors of this legacy of God’s grace. It’s a spiritual endowment that is more than the intellectual assent of our minds. It’s a spiritual inheritance that is lived in the quality of our living like a nurse caring tenderly for her own children.
God is our Heavenly Father who cares tenderly for His children. His caretaker is the blessed Savior Jesus Christ.
The appeal of Christ’s Gospel isn’t in words of flattery that we are inherently good.
The appeal of Christ’s Gospel isn’t in how many dollars we receive for being Christ-like.
The appeal of Christ’s Gospel isn’t for receiving words of acclamation for our spirituality.
The appeal of Christ’s Gospel lies in its own love giving to heal guilt’s wounds that come from not knowing God.
If we’re to be the Reformation Church in the integrity of God’s Holy Spirit for Christian life, we’re to be determined to share who others not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves because others have become very dear to us.
Others are dear to us within the Christian community outside the walls of this sanctuary. Others are dear to us outside the community of Jesus Christ in our neighborhoods and at work. Others are dear to us beyond our land in countries far away – not just countries that are our national allies but countries that threaten the people of this land.
For we are the people of Christ – a nursing, compassionate, caring people sincere in our love for the children of God!
To Christ be the glory and honor, now and forever! Amen.