SCRIPTURES – Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; 1 Thess. 2:1-13; Matt. 22:34-46
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22)
Today we celebrate that fateful late October day 497 years ago when Martin Luther, a monk and parish priest in the little German town of Wittenberg, went to the door of his church and nailed to it an announcement calling for a debate in the Church on 95 Theses, or statements, he had written. They dealt with such matters such as the forgiveness of a persons’ sins and the setting aside of their punishments. I’d like to summarize for you what Luther said in his 95 Theses, and also reflect upon God’s great commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which, although he did not refer to them specifically, are a major emphasis in his 95 Theses, with a story: my favorite Halloween story, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
What a great story is “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” It features Charlie Brown, a good, thoughtful, and caring kid who’s so inept that he cannot even cut two simple eyeholes in a sheet for a ghost costume. So, he goes out trick-or-treating in a sheet that’s full of holes. Then there’s Pig Pen, whose own ghost outfit with perfectly cut eyeholes cannot hide who he is, for billowing out from underneath it as he walks comes a cloud of dust. Lucy dresses as a witch because, she says, a person’s costume should be the exact opposite of what that person is like. Right! Finally, there’s Linus, who skips all the festivities in order to sit out all night in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin, who will come to the most sincere pumpkin patch in the land and shower with gifts those who are there. But, as all the other kids leave him, laughing, he calls out, “If the Great Pumpkin comes I’ll put in a good word for you!” Then he gasps and says, “Oh, no, did I say if? I meant when! Ohh, I’m doomed!” And, sure enough, the Great Pumpkin does not come. Linus is not sincere enough, and he spends the night alone.
Martin Luther would have loved “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” For, it does a great job of making the point that no matter how hard you try, no matter how well you cover up, your failings and sins will always come forth. You’ll never be good enough for God or be able to hide from Him your sins and lack of faith. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” is such a Lutheran show! It warms my Lutheran heart.
So it’s true, then: Lutherans really are the happiest when we are the most sinful and miserable! Oh, not at all. We have a wonderful God and a wonderful salvation from Him! But, it is only when we realize the full extent of our sins and what they do to us that we can truly realize God’s wondrous salvation and rejoice in His love.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is no request, no gentle urging or hope. It is a demand that must be met! You shall love, and with your entire being! But, who can?
Is it loving to remain silent and not point out a person’s sins, and so let him remain in them and face trouble and punishment, because you don’t want to make him feel badly, or cause him to think badly of you? Of course not.
Is it loving to remember wrongs done to you and hold onto anger in your heart because of them? Many more sins come from doing this, for this is not what God does but what the devil does. But, how can you forget them? Memories are not easily erased.
Is it loving to call Jesus your Lord and your Savior but then not eagerly confess your sins to Him and be willing to be a great sinner so that He can be a great Savior?
We love ourselves. We want to focus upon our goodness, not our sins. We’re to stop doing this and love God, and also in His name love others above ourselves! This is what God demands. This is what we must do.
So, how hard will you try? Martin Luther tried harder than you. He made lengthy and frequent confessions of his sins, but often felt just as bad after he finished. Like Linus, he just wasn’t sincere enough! He spent hours in prayer on his knees, but after he finished would realize he had forgotten to pray for someone in need. Like Charlie Brown, his best efforts were inept! He tried with all of his might to do what was good and help others, while inside he became angry with those who didn’t work as hard. Like Pig-Pen’s dirt, his sins billowed forth and could not be covered over. Luther knew he could not love God as He demanded and so despaired of gaining God’s salvation; until, finally, he realized that it was not the greatness of his love that would save him from going to hell for his sins, but the greatness of God’s love for Him in His Son. We always fall short and fail; but Jesus? Never! He, the eternal Son of God, is the sign and presence of God’s love. When He became a human being and lived among us, had no desire to do anything other than what His Father commanded. He truly loved the Lord God with all His heart and with all His soul and with all His mind! And then, He loved us sinners by serving us, and especially by taking our sins upon Himself and enduring the punishments of death and hell for them in our place. It is His great love, and not our efforts, that frees us from our sins’ condemnation! He frees us to love our heavenly Father who loves us.
How such love changes us and changes our sins! Oh, we’ll always be sinners, until the Lord delivers us from our sins by our death and resurrection. But, God no longer sees them in you who trust in Jesus, for He charged them against Jesus! And so, they have no voice before Him. His commandments cannot condemn us. We are forgiven! We live in God’s love. Nothing can now condemn us!
Knowing this enabled Luther to find peace, and to even laugh when confronted with his sins. Luther told some friends one time during dinner that when feelings of guilt came upon him, as they often did during the night, he saw this as the devil holding his sins before him. He told them, “I have come to this conclusion. When the argument that the Christian is without the law and above the law doesn’t help, I instantly chase him away with a fart. And when he further tempts me with silly sins I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too. Have you written it down on your list?” God keeps no list, you see, and so it doesn’t matter if the devil does. We’re free!
Knowing that you live in God’s love because of Jesus, and not because of anything you do, also frees you from the burden of wondering whether you have done or can do enough to satisfy God. God is satisfied because of what Jesus has done. And so, we simply do what we can, leave the results to God, and go about with glad hearts. To those who emphasized what he had done to reform the Church, Martin Luther responded: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word did everything.” (Sermon on March 10, 1522)
Because of Jesus life is new. Life is good! We can now go about like Snoopy and simply dance in joy and gladness. God forgives us in Jesus and loves us in Him! He’ll take care of things, and take care of us, as we live in Him. Thanks be to God for His love and mercy in Christ, our Lord! Amen.