In the Name of Jesus
Mark 2,1-12 (cf. Matthew 9,1-8; Luke 5,17-26)
19. Trinitatis 064
Marcellus, captain, Martyr in Spain, † 298
Reformation Day, 1517 (transferred)
30. October 2011
1. Almighty and Gracious Holy Spirit, You have given Your Church the means of grace (der Gnadenmittel) and the preaching office (das Predigtamt) so that absolution for the full remission of sins is proclaimed to guilty sinners crushed by Your holy law. At various times throughout this Church age, Satan and his wily servants have managed to sow doubt and distress among Your faithful people so that they despair of Your love and mercy. Each time You raise up banner-men of the faith who draw Your distraught people back to the means of grace and the comforting gospel. We give thanks for these men and women whose desire for pure doctrine, piety and the gospel promise have restored peace and tranquility to fainting spirits. Make each of us here today faithful heirs of these Christian banner-men so that our support for, and the proclamation of, the gospel is freely passed on to our neighbors and the next Christian generation. Amen.
2. Our sermon text for this morning, dear brothers and sisters, is from the Gospel according to Mark where the Evangelist Mark: 1And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that He was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And He was preaching the word to them. 3And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic carried by four men. 4And when they could not get near Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic: „My son, your sins are forgiven.“ 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts: 7„Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?“ 8And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them: „Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins“ – He said to the paralytic – 11„I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.“ 12And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying: „We never saw anything like this!“ This is our text.
3. Five hundred years ago, the Church was in dire financial straits. Pope Leo X was continuing the rebuilding of the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica Sancti Petri) in Rome begun by his predecessors Nicholas V and Julius II. This grand project was dedicated to the glory of God, the Apostle Peter, and the humble pope. The problem was: Julius II died and had tapped out the Vatican’s treasury. How would Leo fund this grand reconstruction? Architects, painters, and sculptors continued to work on the basilica, but they had not been paid for some time. Eventually, they would stop working for free and on the word of the pope’s good financial credit. When that occurred, all construction would cease and St. Peter’s Basilica would stand incomplete as a Roman black eye for all of Europe to see and snicker at. Leo, therefore, authorized a new round of papal indulgences in return for contributions to fund the basilica’s completion. Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, contributed to the rebuilding program as a way to pay off his enormous debt to the pope for securing his archbishopric. To facilitate this sale of indulgences, Albrecht appointed the German Dominican preacher Johann Tetzel. Then, as it is even today, the bulk of the money would be collected in Germany, just as in 2011 Brussels comes to the Germans and their banks for bailout money to prop up defaulting nations (Greece) in the Eurozone.
4. Wittenberg University, the Schloßkirche (Castle Church, aka All Saints Church) and Martin Luther were in the diocese of Archbishop Albrecht, and therefore obligated to support Albrecht’s sale of indulgences. Luther, however, was more concerned about salvation than money and a restored Catholic basilica. Luther was troubled that his parishioners put their trust in indulgences purchased for their forgiveness, and even then they were never certain if they had enough to cover their sinful debts before Yahweh. Luther, therefore, delved into Holy Scripture and drew out for people the certainty of salvation (Heilsgewißenheit) found therein. Mark tells us in his Gospel: »And Jesus was preaching the word to them«. The Word of God, as you well know, is a two-edged sword: one edge, the law, cuts to the bone when it reveals your sin and condemns you as a sinner; the other edge, the gospel, also cuts deeply into the heart when it rejects any and all man-made methods or means to merit salvation and forgiveness. The Church, and we as individuals, always needs to be cut by the Word of Christ. Thus, the Church is semper reformanda
, always reforming, always going back to Christ and His precious Word.
5. In Luther’s day, the Word needed to be wielded to hack away all the wild growth in the Church that obscured Christ’s merit. Luther and the Reformers took up the Word, re-sharpened with the whetstone of the pure gospel, and cut away everything that diverted the people away from Christ and His righteousness. Many historians and theologians date the beginning of this Church Reformation as 31. October 1517 when Luther took a mighty swing against indulgences and other uncertain methods of forgiveness that left hungry souls still starving for the assurance of their forgiveness.
6. Absolute certainty of forgiveness is the hallmark of Christ and His gospel. In today’s Gospel Reading Jesus tells the paralytic: »Son, your sins are forgiven.« The obvious need was the man needed whole legs, but his deeper need was he needed God to forgive his many sins. Jesus dealt with the paralytic’s sin first, absolved him forgiven and then healed his paralysis. So also Luther. First he restored the bright light of the gospel to the Church by emphasizing that we are forgiven solely and completely by the merit of Christ. He then proceeded to reform those areas in the Church that hindered that bright light from shining forth. Luther and his Reformers where not wrecking balls; they were not wild-eyed, crazy-haired, drunk German barbarians swinging their reforming swords carelessly. Luther and his followers were like surgeons who operate with a tiny scalpel with utmost precision. Luther above all was and wanted to remain Catholic. He wanted to preserve the pure doctrine of the Western Church. He was not interested in throwing everything out and starting over like the radical Anabaptists were doing. Luther boldly said that there is a lot in the Catholic Church which is good and Biblical; he only wanted to get rid of those unscriptural wild vines that had crept in during the Medieval Era. Indulgences were done away with. The liturgy was transitioned from Latin to German or whatever the native language was for the people. The laity received both the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper and thus they had the assurance that in the Sacrament they truly received both the Lord's body and blood for their forgiveness. Such was Luther’s Reformation: he kept everything he could from the Catholic Church, he reformed those areas in need of the fresh, pure gospel and what could not be reformed he got rid of an unnecessary baggage that really did nothing positive for the Church.
7. The Church, however, cannot rest on her laurels. Throughout the ages, great theologians and preachers like Luther, Walther, and Möllering have preserved the comforting gospel for generations of Christians. The Lutherans can speak the words of sola fide et sola gratia (faith alone and grace alone), but they cannot and must not forget what such truths mean. Therefore each week, Christ crucified for sinners is preached from this very pulpit, and thousands of pulpits across this great land. The Church and individual Christians need to be exhorted and comforted with the precious gospel that in Christ they are righteous in God the Father’s sight. The future of the Church, and this very congregation, does not ultimately lie in what we do. Meetings, methodologies, district presidents and bishops meeting at the Synodical headquarters in St. Louis or pastoral meeting in conferences do not spread the gospel. Such things have their place, and their place is to support and encourage the spread of the gospel.
8. The future of the Church does not lie in what we do, but the Church’s future lies solely in what God is doing through Christ (Martens § 3). The great pastors and theologians of the Church are great not because they were eloquent in preaching or competent managers of people and programs. The great ecclesiastical luminaries of the Church are great because they preserve the faith handed down to them from their predecessors who in turn had handed down what they had received all the way back to the apostles and Christ Himself. The greatness of the Church is that she has Christ and that Christ’s gifts is what she hands out to people. You must, therefore, be generous with your offerings so that Christ may still be proclaimed on this corner.
9. Our church’s greatness lies in her mere simplicity: the Word and the Sacraments comprised of words, water, bread and wine. What makes these simple, ordinary means great is that they are connected to Christ and His promises; they give us Christ, and when you have Christ you have the very wealth of God’s heavenly treasures in your hands, in your ears, in your hearts and minds, yes, in your very mouth and tummy. When you receive Christ, you receive the very salvation of your body and soul unto life everlasting! This is what Luther intended with his Reformation.
10. The world and our corrupted reason cannot comprehend this nor understand this. Yet, there it is. Jesus preaching the word of forgiveness to a man and curing him of paralysis. How can He? Only God can forgive sins and cure paralytics, so the Jews rightly concluded. Yes, and therefore Jesus, as the Son of God, has the power and authority to forgive your sins and heal your body from the ravages of original sin. He established the Church and pastors to give that very forgiveness out in the Word and the Sacraments. Such gifts are to be given freely, without coercion, and purely, as Christ properly instituted them for His people.
11. The burning issue among Medieval Christians was their eternal destiny. The Catholic Church prescribed man and various means to alleviate one’s conscience from the fierce and terrible judgment that awaited them when they stood before the throne of God. It might be: buy this new indulgence; say twenty prayers; go on a pilgrimage; revere that holy relic; or a combination of these and any other acts of penance the priest proscribed from the confessional box. The Reformation’s insistence on the certainty of salvation (Heilsgewißenheit) on account of Christ dealt not only with the temporal relief that one’s sins are forgiven this side of eternity, but even more comfortingly that those in Christ no longer have an angry, damning Heavenly Father scowling at them from His majestic throne. Christ and His promised forgiveness set the people free from their uncertain acts of penance. People now confessed their sinfulness, and their pastor told them they were forgiven on account of Christ’s merits.
12. Christ on the cross has redeemed you from God’s wrath and His condemning judgment. The gates of hell are now barred and closed to you, and the doors into heaven are unlocked and wide open for you. This is not merely in a future reality, but it is a right now this very minute reality. Since you have a Heavenly Father who warmly welcomes you into His heavenly reign, you most certainly have the assurance of your forgiveness and everlasting salvation as you live on this earth. The gospel removes all doubts. Stained glass, the Liturgy and the Divine Service (Gottesdienst), the Lectionary, hymns, the preached Word, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, yes, all the means of grace shout with the Triune God’s Divine Voice: you are saved; you are forgiven; you have eternal life all on account of Christ alone (solus Christus) who gives it to you freely by grace. Amen.
13. Let us pray. O Lord, Your steadfast love endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands. Keep the doctrine pure in our midst, the gospel free and the offerings liberal so that the proclamation of Christ crucified may continually be proclaimed from this corner. Amen.
One Message: Christ crucified and risen for you!
All Scriptural quotations are translations done by The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind using the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 4th Edition © 1990 by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, the Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 27th Edition © 1993 by Deutsch Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, and the New Testament Greek Manuscripts, Mark © 1995 by Reuben Joseph Swanson.
Martens, Gottfried. A sermon preached on 31. October 2009 (Gedenktag der Reformation) in Berlin-Zehlendorf, Germany on John 2,13-22. Copyright © 2011 St. Mary Church in Berlin-Zehlendorf (SELK). All rights reserved. The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind, Tr. © 2011.