Of Masks and Martin and Our Reformation Faith

A loyal reader pointed out this by Pastor Rick Sawyer on the ACELC website:


Lots of masks at my front door last night! How about yours? Happy post-traumatic Halloween to us all! No more door bells setting the dog to yapping! Just a few artificial cobwebs still hanging from my neighbor’s trees (she likes to go all out!) and too much candy left in my house for me to consume!

Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve. Of course, it was also the Feast of the Reformation yesterday, though most of us likely observed it Sunday!

So, are the masks off yet?

What I mean is, do we rah-rah being Lutheran on Reformation Sunday without the Faith we believe, teach and confess actually going further than skin-deep?

If we observed the feast of the Reformation, chances are we heard from John 8. Have you noticed that Christ is speaking to “believers” in that chapter?

ESV John 8:30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

As if it weren’t enough to say it once, the Evangelist makes sure we hear it twice; after all, what unfolds next will make it easy to think that Our Lord wasn’t speaking to believers at all! So, John writes . . .

ESV John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. . .

Unfortunately, what John 8 reveals is true for all of us at one point or another. It was true for St. Peter at Caesarea Philippi, where he made the good confession and was commended by Christ. Then, after hearing the precious Gospel preached, how the Son of Man must be crucified and rise again, Peter lets his heart get the better of him and he rebukes the Lord, saying: “This shall never happen to you!”

The Lord pulls the mask off rather abruptly after that, revealing who is really speaking in and through the passionate eruption of Peter’s love for his Savior. With a bluntness that would get the average LCMS pastor in some pretty hot water if he spoke to any of his members in the same way, Jesus says, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” You no longer have the things of God in mind, but those of men.

If Peter’s mask can come off that quickly, anybody’s can! So, when the believing Jews start turning, well, rather more into a mob of the Walking Dead than the living disciples of Christ, it shouldn’t surprise us! One moment, they’re described as having “believed in him,” and the next, as if hell had burped out a host of zombies!

ESV John 8:33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Umm, apparently zombies don’t remember their past life, ‘cause the Old Testament’s FULL of God’s people being enslaved – by Egypt, Babylon, not to mention their own persistent tendency to take what God gives as a Gift and turn it into the works by which men think they can carry on in their own ways, having put on the right costume, rung God’s doorbell and run off with His treats to play all the tricks they want on their neighbor! As if God’s going to be fooled by our veneer-thin plastic masks!

Jesus isn’t fooled. That’s why He puts no stock in the believing of men, but pokes His finger through our molded make-up and touches on the heart of the matter. “If you remain in – abide in – My Word, THEN you are truly My disciples; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”

It’s not about our hearts, but about HIS mouth! You know, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by Christ’s preaching!”

The problem with us, however, is that we’re so sure of our believing that we really don’t like the words coming out of Christ’s mouth! What’s this about calling us slaves to sin? What’s this about Jesus talking as if everything depends on Jesus! Aren’t we something, in and of ourselves? Can’t God see that we believe!?

When Luther posted His 95 Theses, the first of which said that when Christ said “Repent,” He meant that the whole life of the Christian should be one of repentance, Luther was trying to get us off US! It’s not about me! It’s about Jesus!

When we say, “Sola Fide” at Reformation, we’re not saying that I’m saved – as long as God can seen in my heart that I believe!

We Lutherans do a lot of rah-rahing without really paying attention to the Scriptures or what our own Confessions say on the basis of them!

It’s not what I say I believe, but what Christ speaks, does and gives; and what He goes on giving and doing and saying in and through His Holy Ministry in the Church (which Luther called the Larvae Dei – or Masks of God through which CHRIST is at work to save us)! Nothing skin deep about them! No way! Scratch beneath the water of Baptism and . . . Jesus! Scratch beneath the preaching, teaching and absolving of your pastor and . . . Jesus! Scratch beneath the bread and wine of Holy Communion and . . . Christ’s own Flesh and Blood!

It’s about Jesus! Or as Jesus puts it, “If the SON sets you free, you are free, indeed!”

If the SON says you’re forgiven, your forgiven! If the Son says it’s finished by His dying on the cross, then it is! Forget about what YOU say and listen to God’s Son!

That made the Pope on his throne just a little nervous! It made the Jews in John 8 rabid! Today, someone would tell Jesus He was speaking as if only Jesus is going to heaven and everybody else is going to hell! They’d say He needed some work on interpersonal relations; needed to work on speaking in a way people can hear!

Jesus would say: “They’re hearing me just fine. They just don’t like what they’re hearing! Their problem is that they are not of My Father but of the father of lies! They are sons of darkness and hell, not of light!”

Yeah, that’ll get you a visit from the District President or Circuit Counselor, for sure!

You might hear the letters CRM float around! Maybe a nice vacation, Jesus, or a call to a congregation where you’ve got a better fit with the people!

Instead, Jesus stuck it out and they crucified Him. He went the distance, despite all the outcries against Him, all the acrimony and hate. He did it in love – for their salvation!

1500 or so years later, Luther got excommunicated. He didn’t play the political game. He didn’t play nice with error. He spoke the truth – in love, and those who were against it heard him loud and clear. Luther was willing to discuss and debate, of course, but he would only be captive to God’s Word and sound reason. He stepped on some pretty big toes when he said that councils and popes can err. That’s like saying Synod in convention can err! I wonder if anyone told him he wasn’t following the agreed upon way of voicing his dissent? Luther just wanted the Church to get back to its proper moorings. If he was wrong, he was willing to listen. But he wouldn’t be quiet.

Neither would Our Lord! Christ kept speaking until the masks of those who believed came off and their unbelief was revealed. He wasn’t being mean or cruel or intentionally divisive; not in a bad way, at least. He was being their Savior; stripping them down until there was nothing left for them but Jesus, along with everything He said, commanded, did and put in place for their freedom! To oppose that isn’t of the Spirit, but of the Father of Lies. So, Jesus called Peter “Satan.” And Jesus told the Jews who had believed in Him that they were the spawn of hell, as long as they kept opposing what He said.

By that, He meant to save them! Sadly, instead of repenting and being His disciples, instead of being set free, they chose slavery to their own sins, desires and opinions. They chose to keep Christ at arm’s distance and so picked up stones to kill Him!

What a lesson for us all, now that the rah-rahing of being Lutheran is over and the costumes are put away!

We say we are Lutherans, but that is no child’s game; no costume party! What the Lord says to us is not always easy to hear! It calls us all to repentance, for feigning love of Christ but then, not trusting what He has given us, not even wanting to hear and learn it as we should! We bandy about the name of Luther, but if he were our pastor, preaching how the false teachers should be pelted with dung and driven out of the church, how many of us wouldn’t be phoning someone to complain about how unloving Pastor Martin is!? Would we be unsure about associating with someone who is, well, that volatile, impassioned, whose convictions run so deep that he doesn’t seem to pull his punches, but even dares speak out against what synods had put in place long before?!

Do we still have the depth of Luther’s conviction? I wonder. I wonder how many of Luther’s sermons I could get by with in today’s Missouri Synod; how many times the term “damnamus” would be permitted before someone said we needed to play nice. I wonder how many who take pride in the Reformation would have a fit to hear Luther urge them to private confession or to make the sign of the cross? I wonder how many of us who loudly assert our agreement with the Lutheran Confessions don’t really care to hear what they have to say or look beyond a bare surface treatment of their words? I wonder how many of us prefer them not to interfere with our way of doing “ministry”?

Yes, Halloween’s over and the masks are off! But Christ and His Word remain, and He would have us remain in them! Only in the external Ministry of the Faith He put in place, which Luther boldly confessed, do we remain His disciples – and truly free!

A Happy post-Reformation – All Hallow’s Eve to you! And yes, that would make this a Happy All Saints’ Day to one and all!

Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Brandon, MS

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