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Only God Gives Us Our Daily Bread

October 7, 2018

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Mt 6:19-21

God causes beautiful things to grow, to please the eyes, the tongue and the heart. At Thanksgiving we have such beautiful things in view in the church and we thank God for them: fruits, vegetables, cereals and much more. Fungi are also part of our harvest. Among the mushrooms there is a very special variety, the white truffle, which is the most expensive food in the world. A few years ago, a giant specimen was auctioned for more than $ 60,000. CAD! A former owner of a restaurant in the United States had acquired this edible treasure. It was exhibited in the restaurant for a few days, and then the most expensive fungus became mouldy! Nobody could eat it anymore. Well, rightly so, we do not share grief with the old man. We could use the words of Jesus and say: ‘You must not store up treasures where they get rotten.’ Not even where they are eaten by moths; neither where they rust. Nor where they are eaten by bugs, which is how Martin Luther translated “rust” for the first time. The treasures of the world are never safe, and are subject to expiration. Thieves can break in and steal them. And for modern times, we can add: currency devaluation, tax burdens and unforeseen financial burdens that can quickly eliminate savings. Therefore, the good advice of our Lord: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy”.

But what does Jesus mean exactly with that? Does it mean that we must radically give up earthly possessions? That we should liquidate all our bank accounts, sell our belongings and give the proceeds to the poor? Do we have to be monks, who wear nothing but their habit on their body, or vagrants who can carry all their belongings in a plastic bag? No, this is not what Jesus meant. That would be living outside the world; it would be unrealistic. And what would humanity be like if everyone wanted to live like this…

No, Jesus did not mean it that way. But what did he mean? Consider this in light of other statements from the Word of God.

Jesus did not mean that we should live without economic provisions. Joseph of the Old Testament had collected in Egypt the surplus harvest of seven fat years in new and extra large barns, so that in the seven years of shortage there would be enough grain available. That was wise, that was good and that was godly. With this plan of provisions, Joseph did a great service to his fellows and, ultimately, to his own family. Management and reasonable planning is good and necessary; those who do not administer their money act irresponsibly. And also in our congregations: We have to get along well with foresight and common sense in our finances— but still give generously. Then we will not be ashamed in case of unforeseen expenses. Reasonable planning and preparation are good; therefore, the words of Jesus do not refer to these situations.

Jesus rather meant that we should not boast that our future will depend on our own foresight effort. That was the error of the rich farmer we hear of every year in the Gospel for Thanksgiving. Watching him from the outside, he did nothing different from what Joseph did: He put his excellent harvest into new, extra-large barns. But he boasted that his life would be safe for years to come. He had forgotten that only God gives us our daily bread and that He wants to be asked for that bread every day, and that He is to be thanked for that bread every day. He acted in the same way as someone today that made thorough preparations to receive a good retirement pension in old age and be proud that, now that it is already assured, there is nothing else to worry about. But it’s not like that. What happens if that person gets sick and needs care? You will have sorrows and things to worry about, although maybe not financially. What happens if a great economic crisis devours all the accumulated capital? What happens if he dies young? Jesus said: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Whoever transforms his material provision into a treasure in itself and makes his happiness depend on it, that person is a fool, in terms of the Bible. That are not rich for God, that is, their life will decay, as well as their treasures.

Jesus also did not mean that we should despise money and material things, but that we should use them. For some people it is considered pious to say that money is something dirty, something morally questionable. This quickly leads to a mental or spiritual pride, as if only non-material values are justified. On the other hand, we have to recognize that God himself has blessed a number of godly people with wealth: Abraham, for example, or King Solomon. And the seventh commandment says “you shall not steal”; it places our material possessions under the protection of God. The money we have in a wallet or bank account is not dirty in itself or nasty, but a good gift from God, for which we can be grateful. The money is as clean or valuable as the Schnitzel on our plate at our dinners or the pumpkin at our Thanksgiving services. This is precisely the message of Thanksgiving: We must also consider material things as part of our daily bread and as good gifts from God.

Jesus rather meant that we should not cling stingily to the material gifts that God gives us. Stinginess is not something “cool” or “smart”; rather, it is a sin. Jesus once said to a rich young man, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mk10:21) He did not say that wealth in itself is something bad, but that for that young man wealth was blocking the road to the kingdom of God. The young man had his heart in this wealth; therefore, he was not free to love God above all things. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. It does not matter how many possessions you have; whether you think you are rich or someone who simply thinks that you are digging in, as far as money is concerned, but never be stingy! Do not cling to what you have, but spend it with joy, especially when you can help others. The person who can free the heart of material things to the benefit others, will make an amazing discovery: He will realize how his heart is free and happy and that God blesses him. And the money he has given to help others will not be lacking.
Jesus also did not mean that enjoying the things of our world was forbidden. There was this misunderstanding in the nineteenth century, and even earlier among Christians who wanted to be especially godly people. Every time they rejoiced over something mundane, they immediately felt guilty because they ‘should not have any treasure in this world’. This is an incorrect view, a misinterpretation of the text. Jesus gives us a sincere pleasure to be able to rejoice in the beautiful things of this world. He himself provided a large amount of wine at the wedding in Cana, in large quantities, so that people could continue to celebrate happily. And today we can also enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner. For the Old Testament Thanksgiving, God expressly ordered that people enjoy the feast. The same is true of other good gifts from God. Jesus wants us to rejoice fully in both physical things and spiritual things.

Rather, Jesus thought that joy in God and in his Kingdom should spread joy to others. “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” Jesus said. God in heaven must be our greatest treasure; we should put our hearts solely in Him. Luther expressed it well in his interpretation of the first commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (as we have learned from the Catechism). (And in the Large Catechism, Luther goes on to say): “I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god”. Whoever covets the goods of this world more than God and his Kingdom is not following the will of God and is worshiping idols. Once, Jesus compared the kingdom of God with a precious treasure that is worth selling all possessions to acquire it; and in the Sermon on the Mount he taught — shortly after the words of our sermon text: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v.33). Is this how you live? And we can put ourselves to the test, for example, with our contribution to our church. Calculate what you spend for yourself monthly on beautiful things that are not really necessary, for example, going to restaurants or movies, or trips and excursions or even your hobbies. Then compare that amount with your monthly contribution to your church, and then consider: What does this comparison tell me? What is more valuable to you; is your treasure in heaven or on earth?

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Jesus tells us. The best things in life are not reprehensible or bad, but compared to God and his kingdom they are not really a treasure because they are fleeting and therefore not that valuable. And therefore it is logical that we should gather the imperishable treasures of heaven, not the “treasures” of the earth that do not last. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus states: For those imperishable treasures in heaven you do not need to work or strain yourself; you cannot, neither are you good enough to get them. God gives you these eternal treasures through his son Jesus Christ. Through holy baptism he has already granted you that heavenly inheritance. Through his Holy Word, through his Holy Communion and through the promise of the forgiveness of sins he makes you rich again. You can realize that here, in your church, where you can store up heavenly treasures. Here God gives them to you and to all believers. And then the crops with which we decorate the church will go beyond themselves. We are not only grateful for our daily bread and the material things with which God pleases us. In addition to pumpkins and apples, we also have bread and wine; but these are in the Lord’s Supper, representing the body and blood of our Lord, and these give us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven. Yes, our own church is a treasure barn, much more crowded than the largest barn or the largest vault in a bank. And you are invited to be served here for free and to be rich in eternity. Thank you, dear Heavenly Father, for being so good to us! Amen.

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It’s all about the heart attitude

August 26, 2018

cain y abel13th Sunday of the Holy Trinity

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.”  Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

But the Lord said to him, “Not so anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.  So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Gn 4:1-16

Cain and Abel: at first glance, a well-known story; second, a strangely dark story; third, a story with a clear message: The attitude of our heart is very important! God is testing our hearts with this story, whether we consider it good or bad. In the same way that is said in the psalm used for our confession: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139: 23)
Adam and Eve had been expelled from paradise for their sins. However, God remained faithful to his blessing of creation, which he had pronounced: “Be fruitful and increase in number…” (Genesis 1:28). Adam and Eve had children: Cain, Abel and daughters, who will be reported in the next chapter of the Bible. Children grew up. Cain and Abel shared the farming work: Cain cultivated the field, and Abel took care of the cattle. We must also assume that both chose women from among their sisters and had children. Then the event with the offering took place. Cain took part of his harvest and put it on an altar for God. Abel chose sacrificial animals from his flock, the best firstborn animals. The Bible says, “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” Abel also places his gifts on the altar. And then he says: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” How God made them know to both, it does not appear there, we can only guess. Luther, in his interpretation, said that God kindled Abel’s offerings with fire from heaven, as he did many times in the past, but he did not ignite Cain’s sacrifice. Anyway, he let Abel know that he accepted his sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Why did God do that? Because Abel offered his sacrifice with a believer’s heart, but Cain did not do so. In Hebrews we read, “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings” (Hebrews 11: 4). Abel really wanted to please God and thank him for everything. He also hoped that God would be merciful despite his many sins. Cain, on the other hand, did not offer with a pure heart. Luther said that Cain was not humble and was proud of his preference as firstborn; maybe he looked disdainfully at his brother. It is also worth noting that Cain did not bring the first fruits of his crops, while Abel lovingly chose the best for God. In any case, God did not look with grace at Cain’s offering because of the impurity of his heart.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we offer, we have to offer with believing hearts! What can we offer? For example, our time and our money. Let us allow offer time for God to praise him from the heart. Let us allow time for the Word of God, so that God can increase our faith through his good news. If we offer time with a believing heart, let us offer the “first fruits” of our time to the Lord, the “fattest”: let’s start each day with a morning devotional and start the week by worshiping God in the church every Sunday. But if the heart is not pure, or when joys or sorrows of this life are more important and our faith is ignored, then we will only have little time for God, perhaps a few minutes before falling asleep, or an occasional attendance at the church. Such sacrifice of Cain is not pleasing to God, because of impurity of heart. And the same thing happens with money: “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9: 7) – the one who gives out of gratitude and joy; is the one that really offers: for the congregation, the mission and the needy. He will also want to give an important part of his money, since Abel gave the best of his animals from his flock. But who does not care much for the Lord and the building of his kingdom, will have no more than a tip for Him. It is rather better to keep these offerings directly; for there is no blessing in those. God looks at the heart. Perhaps you are asking yourself alarmed now: how can I make an offering like Abel’s? The answer is: Look carefully at the sacrifice of the Son of God Jesus Christ, who has been delivered by you. Look how he did everything for you and how he became poor to make you rich. Then, with the right attitude of heart, you will gladly give of your wealth and use your life for God.

But let’s see how it happened with the story of Cain and Abel. “So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” it says. He became jealous of his brother and angry with God. He frowned, revealing what his heart was like. Then God questioned him. We do not know how God spoke to Cain, either by a voice from heaven or by the voice of his conscience. Luther said that his father Adam had spoken with Cain in the name of God. Whatever it has been, God questioned Cain. God meant well with him. He wanted to prevent Cain from being destroyed by a bad attitude of his heart, and therefore warned him not to do it. He said, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Cain, however, did not give himself up to reason, but let himself be carried away by his anger. His evil heart took him even more to sin. Finally, Cain killed his innocent brother. What a human being is capable of doing, to the point of killing for not wanting to humble himself before God!

Dear brothers and sisters, we are shocked by such an act. We are impacted when we experience in our days, when we hear for instance of: children who kill their parents, brothers who kill each other in wars, yes, even parents who lay hands on their children. Maybe we think: they are not normal, they are not human anymore. And yet, unfortunately, everything we see through sensationalistic media is too normal and too human. It appears a bad heart, a bad heart that can live in any human being. “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” says God (Genesis 8:21). We all know the hatred and jealousy against our brothers, be they biological brothers, or the Christian brothers or simply the human being. In the eyes of God, we can become murderers, because God sees the heart. “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer” wrote the apostle John in his first letter with reference to Cain (1 John 3:15). And Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount that he who is angry with his brother is not better before God than he who kills. Yes, this is also in our hearts and can arise frequently. Although we do not crush anyone’s skull, because we have too much education and we also fear the consequences, but we let others feel our hatred in other ways: with sharp comments, with gossip maybe, or out of contempt, or a two-faced politeness. “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” God told Cain, and he also tells us. Oh, that our bad heart does not determine our speech and our actions! But we cannot do it alone. We must have our hearts clean through God, through His Son, Jesus Christ. Purified by what we ask of the heavenly Father: “Lead us not into temptation” Let us not let wickedness control us, but let us ask God to deliver us!

Let’s see now how the story ends. It’s pretty dark, of course. God asked Cain about the evil fratricide. Cain at first gave a shameless response: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And God was clear: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” and after the punishment, God told Cain: “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” Then a freezing horror seized Cain: now he was aware of what he had done. “My punishment is more than I can bear,” he moaned. It could also be translated: “My sin is too heavy”. In Hebrew, there is one and the same word for action and consequence, sin and punishment. The knowledge of sin always happens in connection with the judgment of God. We do not know if Cain truly repented. Repentance goes one step further and includes the confidence that God will forgive guilt. Luther and many Bible commentators say that Cain could not find reparation; the lack of repentance would have led him only to despair and finally to condemnation, as was the case, for example, with Judas Iscariot. I have some hope that perhaps Cain has finally found penance and his soul has been saved despite his grave guilt. However, God released a little of that heavy curse. Cain was afraid of the bloody vengeance of the descendants of Abel, but God protected him with a sign. That is also obscure, what kind of sign was that, we do not know. What is clear is that God in his great mercy could also forgive a great sinner like Cain.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is our great comfort and our certain hope: Even though we have fallen into temptation, even if sin had overcome us, we can repent through penance and confession with the hope of God’s forgiveness. No sin is so heavy that it cannot be forgiven. Only the stubborn heart, which cannot find the return to God who recognizes the depths of guilt and punishment, cannot believe in the mercy of God. When you are in danger, when your faith threatens to become extinct and there is only darkness and despair in you, remember the sign of mercy that God has made you: your faith in him, in the first place, and your holy baptism. This is God’s sign that death and sin should not prevail over you, by high merit of the blood of Jesus Christ, which also flowed through you. Think of this sign; keep in mind the love of God! Keep your heart clean and renewed and full of faith! Because the attitude of the heart does matter; God is looking at your heart. Amen. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Blind faith or spiritual blindness?

June 3, 2018

lazarus

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores  and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,  for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31

What do you think about hell? Surely you will answer me that if heaven exists, which is our goal in this life on earth, hell must also exist because that is also stated in the word of God.

Have you heard about those investigations about experiences that are supposed to happen beyond life? They are called near death experiences (NDE)? These are perceptions of the environment narrated by people who have been about to die or who have gone through a clinical death and have survived.
Such experiences may consist of a variety of feelings including disconnection from the body, feelings of levitation, total calmness, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light.

Generally, everything starts with a blinding light. They leave their bodies, stand up and look at their lying corpse in a hospital bed or on the stretcher of an ambulance. Then, they cross a long, bright tunnel at breakneck speed, and on the other side a fascinating place awaits them. Embarrassed by the beauty, they claim to meet a person who radiates light: God, Jesus, the Father, a Guide … it depends. “Your time has not come yet, you have a mission to fulfill on Earth,” the shining entity tells them.
After this encounter, they perceive how their soul returns to Earth, abandoning the warmth and security of light to return to their lifeless bodies. People who have lived a near-death experience (NDE) claim that there is something beyond and, with a few exceptions, all agree that they have been able to see the same heavens.

There are, however, some who claim to have seen the dark side of the beyond, a dark place populated by creatures of the satanic imagination: demons, harpies and similar monsters. In 1975, the book “Life after Life” was published by Raymond Moody, the first book to collect the stories of people whose hearts stopped beating for a few seconds and who were then revived. The American pastor John W. Price has been studying near-death experiences since 1969 and published: “Revealing Heavens: The Christian Case for Near Death Experiences”. Almost all stories follow a similar pattern: separation from the body, tunnel, and luminous entity, peaceful place in which there is a division of some kind-a fence, a stream or a low wall-that symbolizes the irreversible transition to the beyond that the people never get to cross.

However, few researchers in this field deal with the “negative”, “opposite” or “infernal” types of NDE in their books. The people in the first category are those who go through the usual process, although in this case there is a component of suffering or resistance to leaving the body. In the second type, the person is trapped in a vacuum, in a dark space of absolute calm, sometimes full of geometric figures, seized by the feeling that everything is absurd, that nothing makes sense. In the third case, the person is in the true hell, surrounded by flames and demons, locked in a sordid space and with no possibility of escape. Around 5-10% of people with NDE experiences saw this.
Here is the testimony of a negative experience:
“I started to go down, everything was dark and there were people screaming, fire, everybody wanted to drink (…) It was more than a tunnel, it was a gigantic passage, I was floating down … I saw a lot of people screaming .. I would say that there were at least a million, they were miserable people and with a lot of hatred inside them that kept saying they wanted to drink, there was not a drop of water … Suddenly I saw it, in front of me, with little horns, and I recognized it immediately: it was the Devil himself! ”

Is this all really true? We do not know yet. What we do know is that the lives of all these people changed dramatically after these experiences.
Our reading for today tells this kind of story: “‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’”

If we analyze these contemporary stories with Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus, there seems to be no contradictions. Surely Jesus composed his parables with facts of reality, reality that living people don’t know about.
I am convinced that there is a heaven and a hell because the Bible affirms it. And that there is a place reserved for believers and another place for those who do not want to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of the one God. Although today’s sermon topic is not concretely about the reality of hell, our subject is about a reality even sadder than hell itself. It is the reality of those who are spiritually blind. Those who are not able to believe, those who are not able to entrust their lives to Christ, those who make fun of the word of God and who do not have the spiritual capacity to believe in this as God’s Word.
We always say in the church that Christ invites us to believe in his word, nobody is forced to be part of the church. Jesus says:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”(Rev 3:20)

Christ invites us through his call. Every time we read his word he calls us. At this precise moment when we hear this message, Christ is also calling us, inviting us. It is our decision to accept believing, confide and put God first in our lives, (which is called trusting him) and regard his word as the true Word of God and not merely the words of men. When we are able to take that ‘leap of faith’, or to open the door to Christ, then our life begins to change radically and surely, like it does for those who have returned from a supposed encounter with death.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31) There we have the certainty of salvation. That personal decision does not transform us into perfect people overnight. Rather, it is a process of change of our essence that is been built with the goal of daily obedience to the word of God. That decision does not make us perfect, but it does save us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) That’s Jesus’ invitation and that is the guarantee for everyone who decides to start believing in Jesus Christ: heaven, eternal life, and paradise await them, but not hell.

What was the sin of the rich? Being wealthy? No, the sin of the rich man was to not believe in God. The sin of the rich man was to not put God in the first place of his life. He made riches his priority, in such a way that he even forgot his neighbour at the front door of his very same house. The sin of the rich man was to worship the material with indifference to the will of God. The sin of the rich man was indifference to the church, the communion of saints. The sin of the rich man was the lack of respect for the things of God. The sin of the rich man was not taking God seriously. The sin of the rich man was, as the language of the Bible states, the lack of fear of God, and also godliness.

As I said earlier, this is sadder than hell itself. Being able to choose heaven or hell and because of a spiritual blindness not choosing knowingly. Not being able to choose for the good is already a curse and it is something very sad. When we speak of believing, we are not referring to merely believing with the lips, as many people used to say that they do “believe in God”. Truly believing in Christ means having a fear of God. As Martin Luther once said, there is a great difference in being able to say ‘Jesus is the Lord’ to saying ‘Jesus is my Lord’. The second can only be said by a true believer, one who fears God. And when we use the word “Lord”, we refer to someone we choose to obey.

The saddest thing is spiritual blindness. Jesus says: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”(Jn 9:39)
And so the parable continues: “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Being able to believe in God, as Christ, Lord and Saviour, and to fear God is a blessing that not everyone can show. It is the same thing we read last Sunday when Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”. (Jn 3:3) Today, God invites us again. Like every Sunday, He invites us to believe or to reinforce our faith. Not everyone can believe; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says:
“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Cor 3:16)

People who choose to work in the church for God, as is the case today with the installation of the new church council, should be very aware of all this. The task they assume is of great importance. If we really do it with fear of God, it will be a great blessing for this church and an abundance of blessings for every one of you. When we begin to work and give our talent to God with true faith, even if we can only do little, that little will be miraculously multiplied and magnified because we will be doing it for God. This is so for it involves the action of a faith that is addressed in the first place to God.

God does not look for people who can do great things; God only seeks for us to surrender to Him. He is the one who performs miracles not us, but for His miracles to take place we must be His instruments, we must remain in true faith, in surrender and in the fear of God. I read a great phrase of the well-known missionary to China, Hudson Taylor: “God uses people who are weak and feeble enough to lean on Him.”

Let’s show God that the faith we confess is not a mere tradition but a living faith, instilled with fear of God. Let us show Him that we want to give him the first place of importance. That way God will not only intervene in the believers’ life, but He will also give us eternal life.
Amen.

E. P.

The Day of Rest

April 14, 2018

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 2:1-4
—–
Every time an artist or an artisan finishes his (or her) work, after many final touches, the moment comes where he washes his hands, and even takes off his work clothes and dedicates himself—including his collaborators or close friends, to contemplating the work in silence. He looks at it and admires it and possibly, if the work has been done with perfection, it is very likely that both the artist and the other people contemplate it in silence. After that silence, there follow the words, the comments and even praises and exclamations for having done a good job. The same happens with music, for example, concluding a concert. Everyone remains silent for a while until the music is extinguished and then they begin to applaud.
The silent pause at the end of a wonderful work of art or music is like the end point at the end of a sentence and is part of the perfect enjoyment of what has been achieved.

God’s creation can be compared to a wonderful piece of art or music. God himself realized that what he had created in six days was very good. Now, the only thing that was missing was the silent rest at the end, the seventh day, the day of rest. The account of Creation says:
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”
Rest at the end brings the work of creation to perfection. It is not that God has been inactive since. His creative work continues, with each flower, each butterfly and each baby. However, the Creator after the day of rest remains as active as before the day of rest: Before the day of rest that created the world from nothing, and with it created the natural laws by which all things must work together. After the day of rest, His creation continues through these natural laws or within the framework of these natural laws (unless He performs a miracle, as an exception).
God’s day of rest represents a break in his work; the “work of art” of the first Creation has faded. Of course, this general pause is still part of the rhythm of the work of creation; it is counted as the seventh day. Of course, God could have made the world slower, or faster, with a snap of his fingers. But He has created a great rhythm for our world and especially for us humans with these seven days: the rhythm of the week.

This rhythm is not only wonderful in itself as a great work of art, but it is also good and useful for us humans. When it is said that God “rested” on the seventh day after the six days of creation, the Hebrew word “Shabbat” means “rest” in its original text. Or in English, “Sabbath” means nothing other than “day of rest” – a day of rest; a “celebration” in the original sense of the word. By the way, this type of celebration is also expressed in the English word “Holidays” (Holy Day); God has also created this: with the rhythm of day and night, he created half a day to work and another to rest; In connection with this, he has also created our human need to sleep. Just as a person should stop working and rest at night, after six working days, we are supposed to have a day of rest.

This order in creation was later confirmed in the third commandment of God and Martin Luther summed it up in the following way in the Small Catechism:
“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
The original text was presented to Moses by God on Mount Sinai and it is longer:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20: 8-11).

We see that even in the third commandment, the Sabbath is not spoken as such, but rather as part of the rhythm of the week: Six days of work, one day for rest. God gave us an example for establishing this day as a day of rest, the seventh day of creation. And the two words “bless” and “sanctify” are not missing: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (or made it holy).” “To bless” means “Give away, or grant.” The day of rest after six work days is a gift from God; we are happy and grateful that we do not have to behave like machines all the time, but that we can enjoy the tranquility of the seventh day.
We are grateful for this heavenly and wise schedule, for the daily rest and the night of sleep.
If God had not given us the blessing of rest, many hard-working people would feel compelled to work for seven days, and employers would not see why they should release their employees over the weekend. But from God’s gift also come from God’s command: He not only blessed the seventh day for us, but also sanctified it, that is, set it apart. He has done it with the purpose of remembering his ingenious and wise weekly rhythm and, on our part, to sanctify the seventh day, to separate it, and to spend it in a different way than the working days. By the way, God’s blessing and sanctification apply to all the commandments: because God’s instructions are beneficial to us, he expects us to abide by them. The same applies to prayer and participation in Holy Communion. These are also gifts from God that we should not despise and disrespect; rather, we must remember them and use them advantageously and properly.

Back to the subject of the Sabbath: What does it mean in practice, to sanctify the day of rest? Should we lie in bed all day? Or are we allowed to go on trips and play sports? Or do we have to go to church? Is it possible to do light work if it is not a way to make a living, but rather a hobby? What did God Himself do when He finished creation? Or did he really do nothing? Please, do not expect from me for a concrete answer!
We would misunderstand God and his day of rest if we thought that it was about observing certain exact rules of the Sabbath. Jesus explained what it is all about and summarized it. He said:
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).
We should not ask: what is allowed and what is not allowed? But we should ask: What would be good for us, what would be best for us and our fellow people for the improvement of body and soul on that day?
It has been clear to believers of all times that communion with the Word of God, prayer and worship is an excellent means of rest for the soul or the spirit; therefore, Sunday service should not be neglected without a serious reason; not simply to please God or the pastor, but above all, as a favour to oneself. God blessed the day of rest and sanctified it, and we sanctify it (make it holy) by following God’s example and resting from daily work and giving our soul the greatest blessing that exists: the Word of God and Holy Communion.

Jews and Seventh-day Adventists always celebrate their weekly day of rest on Saturdays. There is nothing wrong with that, because that is what corresponds to the ancient Jewish tradition. Traditionally, our days of the week were also counted in the same way: Sunday was the first day of the week. Saturday was the seventh or last day of the week, and therefore served as a day of rest according to the example set by God in creation. But because the week is a cycle, you can start counting on any day. We could agree and say: let’s always start the week on Tuesday; then Monday would be our seventh day or day of rest or Sabbath; for God it would be just as right. The Colossians clearly say:
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16).
Modern society allows the week to start on Monday with the first business day, then Sunday is the seventh day, our Christian day of rest.

However, our Sunday tradition is much older than the modern working week. Nor is it a coincidence or an arbitrary decision that Sunday has become popular in Christianity as a sacred day. As early as the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine declared Sunday as a national holy-day in his empire, and in New Testament times, Christians gathered for worship services on Sunday, the first day of the week according to traditional Jewish customs. The reason for the change: Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week — since then Christians celebrate this great event every Sunday: Jesus, the light of the world, has overcome the power of death and enlightens us with the eternal light of God. Exactly a week later he appeared to the Apostle Thomas, also on a Sunday; we heard it in today’s Gospel. And exactly seven weeks, or fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, at Pentecost; that also happened on a Sunday. Isn’t this a reason to celebrate, the weekly celebration of the new covenant that Christ has given us!

We Christians no longer celebrate the seventh day like Judaism, the Sabbath (for us Saturday now), but the first day of the week, Sunday. On this day we think of the resurrection of our Lord; because according to the Gospel report the women came to the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week and found it empty (Mk 16: 2) That is why the ancient church named this day “The Lord’s Day” (Dominus Dei). Each Sunday is a small festival of Easter. Some see in this change a great meaning: in the Resurrection of Christ a new creation begins and we do not celebrate the conclusion of the old creation but of the new one. Like for the people of Israel the rest from work and confession to God shaped the Sabbath, these two main points still remain on our Sunday: “Rest from work and Worship to God”. During the worship service the congregation thinks of God’s great works. If for the Old Testament the Sabbath was the liberation from bondage of slavery in Egypt, in the New Testament it is liberation from sin and death. That is why we announce in every service to Christ and His Church as a reason for joy, hope and new life. Amen

The Lord makes alive

April 3, 2018

Resurrection Sunday

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap.

1Sa 2:1-2.6-8a

For sure, some of us will have already gone up some of those high buildings. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the city of New York, and I went to the top of the Empire State Building with its 102 floors. When going up with the elevator people do not realize the acceleration and the great vertical speed that these elevators reach. It is an impressive movement: it is perceived a little in the stomach, or it is felt in the ears and when the elevator brakes, the body seems to be a little lighter than normal. The person who is interested in technical characteristics will realize that there is a very powerful electric motor hidden there.

If you allow me the comparison, this elevator can be compared to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the “force of gravity” of death, Jesus returns to life and rises from the grave on the third day. Today, we can say that we are celebrating it in real time. The day before yesterday, Good Friday, had a sober service with less happy melodies, as well as our custom of putting black paraments and not placing flowers on the altar. And today, everything is white and the songs and lyrics are happy; we had a festive Easter breakfast and today a service where spirits are more encouraged. The saddest day and the happiest day of the church year are very close to each other. If we observe the mood difference that they evoke in us, we can compare it with a mood that rises, like the speed of one of those elevators: from the underground of sadness to the viewpoint of joy. Our Lord has risen, alleluia! He is no longer dead; he is no longer in the grave, but lives! What a great upwards movement!

“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up” reads our preaching text. This word of the Old Testament has been confirmed and fulfilled with the Easter miracle. In this way, we can realize what the above and below would be: the deceased are deposited in the ground; his world is therefore ‘below’, there one can say there is the kingdom of the dead; there is where the darkness is, there is night. Above, on the contrary, it is day, there is the light, above is the life, and above is God. The Passover is, so to speak, the miraculous elevator of Jesus that goes up, towards the light. We call the “resurrection” the mightiest powerful miracle that pulls up.

But the Bible does not speak only of the resurrection by itself, but also that Jesus was raised. Not only is it that “Jesus is risen”, but also: “God raised him up”. This is how it is formulated in our text, of the Paschal promise of the Old Testament: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
There we are, so to speak, with that huge and powerful elevator engine. It is the Father in the heavens who has taken his Son from the grave and death, he with his great power of life, with his creative power, with his all-powerfulness. Easter allows us to be amazed at what God is capable of doing.

That is why, and we should take note, His power acts in both directions. In other words, it not only goes up but also down. And the same goes for the elevator engine: it pulls up and it drives down. And our preaching text does not omit it:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
Some do not realize this. The resurrection is a miracle of God, but death, is it not something natural? To go up, you need strength, but to go down, doesn’t the law of gravity take car of that? But let’s think about the death of Jesus: Who allowed Jesus to die? The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus? or Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus? or the Pharisees who, filled with hatred, planned to kill him? or Judas who betrayed him? or he himself who, despite the danger, nevertheless preferred to enter Jerusalem? Behind all those earthly reasons is the ultimate reason and this is God Himself. The Heavenly Father had determined that his Son should die, that is why he sent him into the world. That is to say: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.

And to this day it is like that. The last cause of a person’s death is not senile weakness, or terminal illness, or the incompetence of doctors, or the miscalculation when passing a car, or the deadly bullet of the murderer – the last cause is always God who has determined death as a consequence of sin in our world. Again: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.

But he also brings life back; he causes us to rise from the dead. He did this with Jesus and in this way he showed that he will also do it with all of believing humanity. Whoever belongs to Jesus must once “descend into hell” (as our Apostle’s Creed states), that is, to the place of the dead, but God will raise them up to have them in his celestial glory. That is the precious Easter message for us today. Just like that wonderful event that happened two thousand years ago, it is the Gospel message of life for today. And it does not wait for our death to begin acting. No. If we believe in Jesus, the resurrection force of God begins to work in our lives right now. That is very clear, when we are aware of the words of the Old Testament that we are sharing today:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
There was once a woman who had not fared so well in life. Certainly, she had a good husband, but they could not have children. This made her get sick every so often. She also had an enemy who, thoughtlessly, mocked her infertility. The woman prayed to God, and finally God answered her and granted her a son. She was so happy that she composed a psalm of praise. The psalm speaks of how God, through his power, can change the things that we consider to be ‘impossible’ to change. ‘The barren women have children, the rich become poor, the poor become rich, the dispossessed take on power, the princes or rulers are overthrown’. And it is precisely in this context that the word of the prophet is applicable to what we are reflecting on today, the resurrection of Christ:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
By the way, the woman who had prayed was called Hannah and her son was called Samuel. Our reading comes from the book that was named after him. So, this relates in a very personal way to us, to our life. Maybe we have similarities with Hannah’s life, in terms of waiting for an answer to our prayer. Perhaps more than one of us today has the spirit of Good Friday rather than of Easter Sunday. You may find yourself very down, in terms of spirit, you are beaten, depressed, lying on the floor. You hear the word from deep down, from down there. But, today is Easter and our Lord has been raised for two thousand years. And God is almighty, like a powerful engine that wants to lift you up, carry you up. That’s what he wants to do with you today. That is what the Lord wants to do with us as a Christian congregation, as a Pilgrim church. This is what Hannah’s testimony shows, and what she wants to show most of all is the resurrection of Christ. God wants you back up; he wants to raise you, to put you on high so that you have another spirit, to put your sight on the horizon again. Ask him, trust him and be patient. And do not forget that Easter means that your Lord has already risen!
It is true that we have to cross the valley of darkness. No matter how much encouragement God has given you in this life, the day will come when he will take you down to the place of the dead; but not because he wants to leave you there. No, it’s for another reason. For the same reason that it took place on Good Friday and Jesus had to die on a cross: because that belongs to God’s plan. And after Easter we realize it. It is only for that reason that you will have to go downwards once so that God can then lift you definitively upwards, upwards, to heaven where the risen Lord will also be waiting for you. “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”. Amen.

Rev. E. Pellini

A Savior born to us

December 27, 2017

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
Isaiah 9:6

Today, Christmas is considered a family holiday. We enjoy meals in common, we sing Christmas hymns and we are happy for the many gifts! For people who don’t have family, parties are often difficult to pass.
But it doesn’t matter, whether in a family or not, during Christmas Christians celebrate that God allows us to belong to his family. Although we often ignore God or even reject him and his church, he sent his Son Jesus so that we can once again have a relationship with him.

A child has been born. So what? Every day around 300,000 children are born in our world. Why do we celebrate the birth of a single child? In addition, this child came to the world under very special circumstances, but that was a very long time—two thousand years. Why do we celebrate the birth of this child in such a special way on this day? The answer is given by the little word: “us.” In the book of the prophet Isaiah it reads: “a child was born to us”. It is nevertheless thus: when a child is born somewhere, one hardly reacts. But when a baby is born within one’s family, it is an event of great joy. Then there is no other topic of conversation: a child has been born to us, a person has been born and it touches every family personally. And the same thing happens with the child in the manger: it is not simply that he comes to the world but that he comes to the world for us, for each of us personally, “A child was born to us”. It was born not only in our midst, but for us. The Christmas story is not a beautiful story of distant times, but an event that has to do with all the families of the world and that is related to each and every one in particular. This “us” is decidedly important. Luther highlighted it in the Small Catechism in part of the Holy Communion:
“Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”.

When a child is born, many ask: What’s his name? Yes, what is the name of the child that was born? His name is Jesus and to us the name means: “saviour”, “redeemer”, “healer”. God, through this child, wants to save, redeem and heal us. He wants to get us out of the swamp of guilt and pain in which we are more or less stuck. He wants to free us from all the evil bonds that prevent us from living a good life. He wants to heal that which is destroyed and more than anything, heal our relationship with God. From there everything else can be healed.

“A child is born” is nothing other than the message of the angel: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you”. (Lk 2:11) But Jesus is not the only name of the child; He has other names. We hear from the prophet Isaiah:
“Wonderful Adviser or Counselor and Mighty God.
He will also be called Father Who Lives Forever
and Prince Who Brings Peace”
What powerful names for a baby! But this is what it is about: with these names we are going to experience that this apparently helpless child is very powerful—powerful enough to be our Saviour, redeemer and Healer. This child is almighty, is also called eternal Father, and is the only begotten Son of God the Father, the Almighty. With Jesus it is different from all the other “heroes” of the world we know: They have a great mouth and a certain attitude, but they cannot really help and do something sensible. Jesus Child, on the other hand, seems to be small, weak and helpless, but He is really the Saviour, Redeemer, Admirable Advisor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The child also has more names: He is called Christ, Messiah, the Anointed, the Son of God, the Son of Man, Son of David, Son of Mary and Emmanuel, which means: “God with us”. And there we meet again this little word “us” that touches each one of us. “A child has been born to us”
Some hymns say: “We sing to you Emanuel, Prince of Peace and source of Grace / Flower of the sky and morning star / you are the Son of the Virgin, Lord over all the lords”.

There is a German saying and song which goes: “Everything has an end, only the sausage has two.” Today, some may want this preaching to come to an end, and I won’t disappoint you, I’ll finish in a moment. Yet for a couple of days we will continue to remember Christmas and then everything will be over. In one week the year will end. All human life also comes to an end and finally, even this world as we know it. But what has started with the birth of this child will never end.
Isaiah prophesied:
“Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”(Is 9: 7)
Even though Jesus later died on the cross, he rose from the dead, lives and reigns for eternity. And he is always here among us and with those who believe in him.

God wants to have us in his family again, even though we may be deserving of punishment for not wanting to know anything about Him. His invitation is clear: From being enemies we can become his friends and family—now and for all eternity. This is a good reason to celebrate Christmas and to tell it to friends and the whole family. The decision of whether you accept God’s gift of a new life with Jesus is up to you. If you want to know and experience more about what Jesus has done for you and what it means to give your own life to Him, we will gladly help you in this church.

Whoever trusts in Him and accepts Him as his Lord and Saviour can be led through death and inherit wonderful, eternal life in heaven. Everything has an end, this message also, this Christmas, this year and the entire world, but the lordship of Jesus Christ has no end and we too will not have an end because he has come for us as our Saviour and because we want to belong to Him. Amen.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas!
Rev. E. Pellini

Returning to the Gospels

October 22, 2017

Commemoration of the 500 years of the Reformation

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

Matthew 10:26-33

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
What a challenging verse, especially in our time, when there are so many martyrs in the world who are still preaching about the living God of the Bible, and while at the same time there are even also many churches and Christian institutions that water down the message of the Word of God, the Bible!
Luther knew very well what this word for today meant. He discovered it when he read the Bible for the first time. And he felt that all the plain and simple truths of the Bible had to be said in his church. Luther’s courage was to free the power of the clear and simple truth of the Bible with the intention of it being understandable by everyone. This Word came to change the world at that time.
And that word also challenges us today to continue proclaiming the only truth of the Bible in a clear, simple but challenging way.
In the history of the church, every time that there was a real revival movement and a strong presence of the Holy Spirit was when the believers started to once again read and believe the word of God, the Bible, above the wisdom of the world.
And that is unfortunately happening in our society today where many believers dilute the message of the Bible to adapt it to the whims of the world. And Martin Luther was known to precisely lead himself according to the Holy Scriptures and not the teachings of the societies that have often contradicted themselves.
Everyone of us as believers and each of our churches will receive God’s blessing and receive the presence (this we call anointing of God) as long as we return again and again to give sole authority to the Holy Scriptures and so confess Jesus Christ before people. As the Bible says: “God has given the Spirit to those who obey him”. (Acts 5:32)
Luther, when he began to read the Bible, returned to the sources of the Gospel, felt relieved and loved by God and free of the demands of a church that dictated what had to be fulfilled in order to “earn heaven.” He realized that true good works are those that come from a grateful heart, which is a product of faith in Jesus Christ. (Just as he said, “Faith in Christ is the beginning of good works.”) They are works of love for one’s neighbour and they are not a competition for salvation. The sacrifices imposed by religion and all demands (fasting, celibacy, renunciations, personal sacrifices, processions) lead to nothing. Rather than heaven, they often produce boasting because those who practice them believe they are better than others. In others, they lead to despair because nobody can fulfill everything to perfection.
That is why one of the greatest re-discoveries that Luther made was to read the Bible and to confirm the truth that, up until that moment, had been hidden. He summed it up in four fundamental notions for our salvation:
Only by faith
In Luther’s time, people were practicing religion for fear of going to hell. People did everything they could to secure forgiveness while on this earth.
Today, it is very unlikely that people run after forgiveness and are interested in life beyond death. But almost everyone runs after being recognized and pursues what the society in which they live deems of worth.
What Luther rediscovered was that recognition and worth in this life can be received instantly and freely from God. No study or career, no sacrifice, no effort or willpower, nor richness can make us perfect. No strict observance of religion guarantees eternal life. No good deed or any volunteering of any kind in society will bring us closer to God or forgive us our sins. Only by faith we are able to approach God, obtain his forgiveness and live as true Christians. And what is faith? It is not a mere acceptance or observance of some doctrine, but a deep trust in God and our decision to surrender our life to Him. It is the confidence that by the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross my guilt for my sin has already been paid for and that God transforms me into a new person. It is to know that I am unworthy, but that God gives me worthiness. It is trusting that God loves me and invites me to his Kingdom.
Religion is often a bag of inherited traditions and ceremonies from the past while faith is an experience of forgiveness of sin and a new life in community. It is to know that we are accepted by God and invited to live in fellowship with other people of the same faith. God loves you, God forgives you for the work of Christ, and God changes your life. God puts you in a church. God creates with you and with other believers in Jesus Christ a new family that lives in a different way and that is often opposed to mainstream society’s way of living. With believers, God creates an alternative to the world.
How does this faith take place? Through the preaching, teaching and, of course, hearing of the Word of God, which is accepted precisely with faith, in the midst of a congregation in which all members help each other. In order to achieve its growth in faith and love, a church needs minimal organization: meeting places for worship, teaching, Bible study, preaching, and celebration of the sacraments.
“We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16).
Grace alone
It means that God forgives the sinner freely and mercifully, not because he has done things. Five hundred years ago people did not know how to earn God’s favour. They believed that as greater was the sacrifice or work, as greater was the merit. Some even punished themselves to the extreme for this reason. The Reformation insisted that salvation is a gift of God. God does not have to reward anyone. What he does, he does simply because he wants to. Such is the nature of true love; is not sold or bought, but is given, accepted and lived. It must be highlighted that there is only one condition for God to give us that salvation and that condition is to repent our sins and decide to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour and to commit our life to God by faith. That’s the first step.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2: 8).
Only the Word
That is the Holy Scriptures, or the Bible. Where did these ancient teachings about the punishments of purgatory, indulgences, personal sacrifices or the need for good works come from? Where did the commercialization of divine forgiveness come from? Where did the business of selling the grace of God come from? From the Bible? No, not at all.
For many centuries there had grown within the church a tangle of human teachings, speculations, popular traditions, church decisions, beliefs and customs. That jungle had covered up the biblical message. –In the same way as many philosophies and new age teachings are covering the true message of Christ today—
The Reformation again maintained that only the Bible is the source and standard for Christian faith and life. Therefore, he rejected everything that was not found in the Bible. Among these rejected beliefs are works that grant merit, indulgences and purgatory. This was the only way to re-emphasize the teachings of Christ. The Reformation placed clear and simple preaching at the center of worship and promoted the Bible among all the faithful. All believers must know the Word of God, feed their faith with it and lead their lives according to it. Without the reading of the Scripture there can be no Christian faith.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).

Only Christ
The Middle Ages saw the acceptance of a great number of mediators between God and human beings: virgins, saints, angels and patrons of all kinds, even priests themselves, the sacrificial works of the faithful, indulgences and relics (especially bones and the remains of saints).
Once the incomparable value of the work of Christ was rediscovered, the Reformation insisted that only Christ is the mediator and saviour of those who believe. Salvation is only his work. All other help or intermediation is unnecessary and also contrary to the Bible. The reformation rediscovered that every believer can and should have a living relationship with their Lord. That relationship is maintained through prayer, Biblical study and active participation in the congregation.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2: 5)
Many of the mistaken practices of that time have already been overcome or at least “softened”. It is not necessary to maintain hostility towards the faithful of other churches, as was done in the past. But what we must do is affirm our own faith in the gospel. We must know in what and in whom we believe, know why we believe, have the personal certainty that we live from God’s forgiveness, and participate with conviction in the congregation of believers.
If we believe, feel and know this, and if we remain joined to our church and actively participate in its mission, true and renewed faith in Christ will grow in us just as Luther wanted to teach to the church of his time.
May the Lord, give us the faith that it is nothing other than a miracle of God, –for not everyone can believe, only those touched by the Holy Spirit– but also the decision to trust our life to God, because there are many who know that God is real but they do not decide to entrust their life to him yet.
May God give us courage to be believers but also to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and to speak about what the Bible alone says about Christ to those who do not know Him yet; a courage that before God will be transformed into blessings and joy for our lives and our churches. Amen.