REFORMATION SUNDAY, A – October 29, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; 1 Thess. 2:1-13; Matt. 22:34-46

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2)

 

500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, a little-known monk named Martin Luther used a hammer to nail 95 Theses he had written to the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. Was it his hammer that began the Reformation and made Martin Luther into a household name throughout Europe, a hero to some and a heretic to others? No, it was a far bigger hammer: the Word of God. “My word is like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces,” declares the Lord in Jer. 23:29. By His Word God hammered upon Luther’s mind and heart, breaking him and changing him from a heretic to a hero, from a sinner to a saint (a holy person). By His Word God would do the same with you.

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” God hammers in His Word. Holiness: this is what God is all about, and what you are to be all about.

“You shall be holy.” This is not an option, a choice for you to consider. It is a demand, a requirement from the God who is over all creation and is your judge. “You shall!” And the holiness He demands is far more than change and self-improvement.

We know all about self-improvement. We seek bodily health through diet and exercise, and spend large sums of money on healthier foods and club memberships. We seek to improve our mental and emotional health with self-improvement books and with games that challenge the mind. What about the spiritual health of holiness? How much money and effort will you spend on this? As much as Martin Luther?

Ø  He gave up all that he had, entered a monastery, and there denied himself worldly pleasures, believing that by doing so he would find holiness.

Ø  He viewed the relics of long dead saints, such as this gold forearm and hand that supposedly contained a piece of bone from the arm of one of Christ’s apostles.

His Prince, Frederick the Wise, displayed in Wittenberg 19,000 such relics, one of the largest collections in Europe! Luther prayed before them to gain a blessing from God.

Ø  He confessed his sins for long hours and did countless acts of contrition.

Despite all this he still struggled with unholy, sinful thoughts and desires. Nothing he did could silence the blows of God’s hammer and satisfy His demands for holiness. Nothing you can do will do so, either.

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Doing your best and being the best you can be, and even removing yourself from sins and temptations, will not improve you to the point that you are holy. Holiness is far more than the absence of evil, or being more good than evil. And besides, the more you consider God’s holy Law the more you will find the evil of sin in your heart and mind. You cannot escape it!

Ø  God warns in Lev. 19 against slander and the holding of grudges. Why? He knows how easily we do such things when we are mistreated or do not get our way, and how quick we are to see and hold onto the sins of others!

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” God is the bar, the standard! Being holy means being like Him! Crushed by the impossibility of this because of his sin, Luther could only cry out to God, “I am Yours; save me!” (Ps. 119:94) Make this your cry. For, God alone is your hope; your salvation; your holiness.

I am Yours. Holiness is not focusing upon and improving yourself, but turning away from yourself and to God alone. But: can you turn to Him? For, He is infinitely greater than you. You cannot take Him as yours if He does not wish to be yours.

Ø  You cannot show up at the White House and stay there overnight, or use the President’s credit card or drive his car, if he does not invite you to do so.

You can call God yours only if He has given Himself to you; and He has. He tells us this even in His command, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” God calls Himself “the Lord your God.” Your. He has given Himself to you. Luther finally came to see this and realize that God’s holiness and righteousness does not primarily mean that God is holy and righteous in Himself. It means that God offers and gives His holiness to us.

But, you are not a Luther. Has God really offered Himself to you? Here you must look at Jesus, and never take your eyes off of Him. He is God in our flesh, a human being who is just like us! Surely this shows God’s love for us and His desire to save us. We don’t need an unattainable example of greatness to emulate. He came to be our Savior! And this is what we see as He wields the hammer of God’s Word in today’s Gospel. He pounds it very hard: “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.” But He wields it among those who oppose Him, who twisted God’s Word and used it to hammer Him. He goes even to them and offers Himself even to them!

This is all a prelude to His greatest offering of Himself: the giving of Himself to the evil of the sins of all of us, of the whole world, on the cross. There He bears our sins, becomes the enemy of God, and endures God’s hatred of sin. There He offers His life for sinners, and by His death frees us from being condemned for our unholiness. Dying on the cross is Christ’s greatest act of holiness; His greatest act of love. It is His creating of holiness for us, a holiness that He offers to us freely in His Word.

It took a while – years – but Martin Luther came to know this. Do you want to remember and honor him? Do you want to celebrate the Reformation? Above all, do you want to honor the God who has honored you with and in His Son? Then hammer the Word of God into your heart and mind, for all of Christ and His holiness – indeed, all of God – is offered to you in His Word. Hear it; read it; learn it; meditate upon it; and, above all, believe it. Take to heart what Martin Luther says about it:

“The Word of God is the true holy thing above all holy things. Indeed, it is the only one we Christians acknowledge and have. Though we had the bones of all the saints or all the holy and consecrated vestments gathered together in one heap, they could not help us in the slightest degree, for they are all dead things that can make no one holy. But God’s Word is the treasure that makes all things holy. By it all the saints themselves have been made holy. At whatever time God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or pondered, there the person, the day, and the work are made holy by it.” (Large Catechism, 3rd commandment)

This is so because in God’s Word you have Christ and His holiness. You have the Lord your God. Jesus promises (John 5:24):

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment,” (and so is holy!) “but has passed from death to life.” (from unholiness to holiness)

This is all yours in Jesus, the Word made flesh… your Savior… your holiness! Amen.