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….
My wife and I were in a furniture store a few weeks ago looking for a new couch. We had been saving our money in order to get a bigger couch that fits better in our limited-space home. The idea was to have more seating space for our upcoming “Christmas Open House.”
We walked around the store about an hour or so, sitting on various couches. We talked with each other about colors, fabrics, and styles.
After a time, I began to notice an older couple kind-a, sort-a following us. They too were looking for a new couch. It became apparent to both of us that we had similar tastes.
My wife and I struck up a conversation with them about couches, fabrics, and eventually life in general.
After we finally decided on a couch, they came up to us and told us that they liked us. They knew I was a pastor and they offered to come to worship in the near future.
But then the lady warned me, “But I’m a staunch Catholic.” I told her that was okay with me. Our church welcomes all people. And besides, even though we are Lutheran, we are also catholic – just reformed!
She laughed at that. They said they’d see us soon and we parted ways.
“We’re all catholic.”
I believe that to be true -that all Christians are actually all “catholic.” The word “catholic” – the common noun and not the proper noun – means “universal.”
It is a word that means the entire Christian Church on earth. I am a Lutheran catholic and this week is my opportunity to celebrate my Lutheranism.
By the way, did you know that to be called a Lutheran was originally meant as an insult? It was a pejorative used by officials in the Roman Catholic Church to mock those who followed Martin Luther in the 16th Century.
But give any insult five hundred years and it can become a badge of honor, as it is for me today.
To be Lutheran means, to me, to have Jesus Christ as the center of all that I believe, say, and do.
To Have Jesus Christ as the Center.
Recently, a mentor of mine entered into the Church Triumphant (he died). The Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel taught for decades at my alma mater Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. A book of selected sermons of his was published a few years ago.
This quote is from a Reformation sermon he preached in England in the early 1960’s.
“Whatever we say about the catholic church must have Jesus Christ as its center. Apart from Jesus Christ there is no catholic church, and there is only one catholic church, for there is only one Jesus Christ. Although we may muddle and contradict this fact, Jesus has His one church. The particular job the world catholic has is to affirm that no kind of distance divides us” [Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel, p 303 ©2019 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO].
Dr. Nagel taught me that to have Jesus Christ as the center means to get back to the basics of who we are and how we got that way.
Because of Adam and Eve, we are all fallen sinners. Their choice to reject God and follow Satan and their own hearts infected all their children – including me and you – with original sin.
We still sin today – over 7000 years have not fixed our original problem. In fact, there is only one possible fix – Jesus Christ!
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born to be our substitute, lived perfectly to be our righteousness by faith, died on the cross to forgive all our sin, rose from the dead so that we, too, will rise from the grave one day, and ascended into heaven with the promise that He will come back and take all believers to heaven to live forever.
Muddying the Waters
But 1500 years after that people muddied the waters again! Jesus’ message – and the Apostles’ message – was that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
But over time that gave way to the idea that “certainly I must do something!”
After 1500 years of this getting progressively worse and progressively entrenched in the Church one person asked the question – but what is the Gospel? What is the Good News? That person was a German monk named Martin Luther.
Again, Dr. Nagel:
“The tragedy of the Reformation was that when Luther raised questions of the Gospel, he was given no…answer. The government of the church felt itself bothered by some unheard of little Augustinian monk from the remote cow pasture of Wittenberg, and it told him to be quiet. Luther pleaded for discussion of the Gospel. He was met with the naked demand to recant and to submit to the pope. The Ninety-five Theses were no Declaration of Independence but a request for discussion and debate. When Luther recognized that the pope pulled one way and the Gospel the other, the Reformation began in earnest.” – Norman Nagel, in a sermon delivered on Reformation Day 1963 in England. [ibid pp 304-5]
What happened was that Luther rediscovered the Gospel. It was there all along hiding in plain sight! And ever since, Lutherans have been calling all Christians – indeed, all people – back to the basics of this.
We are sinners. We are saved by Grace alone. Through Faith alone. Revealed in Scripture alone. And all this because of Christ alone.
This Leads Us Here … to Church
Getting back to the basics means getting back to Christ
However, I’ve heard the following – and frequently – “But pastor! Surely I can be with Jesus anywhere!”
The result of this is that people stay away from church. They say they can experience Christ just as well, if not better, in the forest preserve, at home with my family, or anyplace else other than church.
Yes, Christ can be experienced just about anywhere.
But “where is Jesus Christ? You won’t find Him up there or in here among flowers and birds, babbling brooks, or glorious sunsets. Christ is there, of course, but that is not the place appointed by Him, the place where He first does His real work with us. He addresses us, takes hold of us, and imparts Himself and His gifts to us through His Word and Sacraments. Where they are in action, there Jesus is present and in action, and wherever He is thus, there is the catholic church” (ibid p 304)
But Jesus first comes to you in the Church – at the Baptismal fount. Jesus comes to you in the Word of God that is read and preached in the Church. Jesus continues to come to you in, with, and under the bread and the wine in the Church.
Also, in the Church you join together with all other Christians, as well as joining together with Christ!
“When you stay away from church for no good reason, the bad reason is basically some diminishing of Jesus and intrusion of human factors. You are content with yourself and feel that you can manage another week without gathering in the name of Jesus and receiving forgiveness and strength from Him through Word and Sacrament…. [Your membership in the Church] is powerfully expressed as you worship your way through the liturgy, which is a pattern of worship with which you join fellow members in the catholic church of many centuries and many places. This reaches a climax in Holy Communion when we acknowledge ourselves to be together with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” (ibid pp 306-07).
The reality of today is that there are Lutherans, there are Roman Catholics, there are Baptists, Presbyterians, and others.
The reality is that we have differences.
But here’s the reality of Reformation Day – we are all, all, saved by Jesus Christ. Empowered by Jesus Christ. And called by Jesus Christ to get back to the basics – grace, faith, Scripture – to tell others about Jesus Christ.
When we get back to the basics we will be able to tell others the truth that God loves them and has saved them through Jesus Christ alone.
Heavenly Father, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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