October 24, 2015 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Ole and Lars were working for the city public works department in Duluth. Ole would dig a hole and Lars would follow behind and fill the hole in. They worked up one side of the street, then down the other, then moved on to the next street, working furiously all day without rest, one digging a hole, the other filling it in again.
An onlooker was amazed at their hard work, but couldn’t understand what they were doing. So he asked Ole, ‘I’m impressed by the effort you two are putting in to your work, but I don’t get it — why do you dig a hole, only to have your partner follow behind and fill it up again?’
Ole, the hole digger, wiped his brow and sighed, ‘Vell, I suppose it probably looks odd because ve’re normally a three-person team. But today Sven, who plants da trees in the holes, called in sick.’
You see how important the middle is? At the center of things you find the focal point which holds all the rest together. This week we are celebrating the Reformation of the church, which began when a German monk named Martin Luther wrote up 95 points for debate on items of corruption and failure in the church that needed to be addressed and changed. At the center of the Reformation was the argument that the Church had gotten off-track and was focused on things like power, wealth, control and worldly pleasures. On his pilgrimage to Rome, the headquarters of the church, Luther witnessed all kinds of con artists selling fake religious items and relics—in Luther’s words, “enough splinters of Christ’s cross to make at least a dozen crosses”— the sale of indulgences, where people could purchase the forgiveness of sins not yet committed or buy their relatives out of purgatory into heaven, and even brothels specifically for monks and priests. Luther and the other reformers of the church introduced the “solas” as the mottos of the Reformation:
Sola Scriptura = God’s Word Alone
Sola Fide = Faith Alone
Sola Gratia = Grace Alone
To put it all in a sentence, “we are saved by God’s grace, through faith which comes from the hearing of God’s promises in the Word.” Nothing else saves us, not our works or deeds, not the traditions of the church, not by anything bought or sold in Rome no matter how religiously significant.
This is the center of Lutheran theology, “We are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith, which comes from the hearing of God’s promises in the Word.”
Those promises that are so central are the promise of God’s love for us, God’s care in providing for us, God’s presence with us through times of joy and sorrow and hardship and suffering—no matter what, even death—because there is also the promise to forgive out sins and blot out our guilt because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by his death on the cross, and defeated the power of sin and death by his glorious resurrection. That’s the final promise of God to us, the promise of the resurrection, where we will all receive new and eternal bodies to live life in the Kingdom of Heaven forever. Our faith comes from the fact that these promises are made by God who is trustworthy and always keeps his promises. And God’s grace means that God makes these promises as a gift because God is good; it doesn’t depend on our good behavior or our spiritual excellence, only on God’s love.
Almighty God, our Rock and Fortress, our gracious and trustworthy Lord, keep us always focused on the Gospel, the promises you make to us in baptism and holy communion, your Presence among us, and your great love for your creation. Help us to live in ways that reflect your love and grace to all we meet each day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.