Reformation Day, Observed, October 28th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Be Still, and Know, God Is Your Savior -Psalm 46:10 and Romans 3:19-28
Be still, and know that God is your Savior.
Seven year old David watches his mom stripping a piece of furniture in the back porch, a boy enjoying watching someone else get something done, imagining in his young mind that by watching and perhaps handing his mother a rag or a tool or her cup of coffee from time to time, he can also take some credit for this good thing being accomplished.
Do you know what Zip Strip is? Rubber gloves, long sleeves and eye protection are called for when using this gooey paint remover, even called for 39 years ago, before the safety nannies took over America. You truly need protection from Zip Strip, because it eats through flesh. So Mom wears gloves, I think, probably not goggles. Little David, watching, supposedly from a safe distance, but always shifting closer to get a better look, wears nothing but the shorts and t-shirt called for on a late summer day in Eastern Montana. But gloves and long sleeves are no protection for what happens next. Safety glasses would help, but there are none. Mom’s scraper sticks, then breaks free suddenly, flinging peeling paint and Zip Strip across the room, one tiny piece finding its target, in the corner of David’s eye, who has crept forward for a closer look.
Screams follow immediately, along with a torrent of tears which limit the damage to his eye. David flees, running into the house, both hands covering one eye, in a fair imitation of a wounded animal bolting off in pain and fear. Mom follows close behind, shouting at David to stop, calling for Dad to come. She corners David in the living room and drags him into the hall bathroom, trying to peel his hands off his eye, stuffing his head under the water now running in the sink.
David is a squirmy little guy, so most of the water splashes on Mom and around the room. Dad shows up, his strong voice and stronger arms manage to cause a small stream of water to pass over David’s eye. But the offensive speck of paint remains; it’s stuck, along with some residue of Zip Strip. “We’ve got to get that out,” Dad announces, at which word David tries to break free again. But there’s nowhere to run in the tiny bathroom. Dad grabs and carries David to the living room, under the big light, telling big brother Karl to go get a teaspoon from the kitchen, the sugar spoon, actually, because it has a finer edge. Fear wells up in David again, but Dad will not let him slip away. Mom holding his legs, Dad straddling his body and Karl holding his head, fearful little David is finally still. He desperately wants to flee, but mother, father and brother simply prevent it. Then, a moment of terror, as the spoon approaches his eye, lids held open by his father’s fingers, a quick, smooth motion, the offending speck is gone, and more tears rush forth to wash and wash and wash the scene of the injury.
Do they teach eye surgery with a spoon in Dad School? I missed that class. Nonetheless, the crisis over, serious injury prevented, David returns to his carefree childhood ways, slightly wiser, although you’d be hard pressed to see any proof.
Be still, and know that God is your Savior. It’s Reformation Sunday. Once again we celebrate the work God did some five centuries ago, uncovering and proclaiming the wonderful truth of His pure Gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, based on the merits of Christ alone, a revelation that God worked through the life and ministry of a German monk and priest named Martin Luther. Luther for years struggled mightily to achieve the righteousness in himself which the Church told him he was required to produce for salvation. He ended up hating the God whose standards of perfection he knew he always failed, fighting and flailing until the day God pinned him down, rescuing Luther with His Word.
In God’s Word, Luther discovered that the righteousness God requires in sinners He also gives to sinners, as a free gift, by faith in Jesus. Saving righteousness is not our work to struggle for, but rather it is God’s gift. Be still, sinner, says God, and know that I am your salvation.
When it comes the question of salvation, of how poor, weak, sin-plagued people can hope to live in a good relationship to the Almighty and Holy God, we still struggle to believe God when He tells us we must be still. Because of our sin we cannot by our works gain the favor of God. God must hold us down and stop our squirming, so that He can tell us the most surprising and best news: God Himself is your salvation. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, solely from His mercy and love, has done it all. God even does the work of delivering salvation to us sinners, through the Words and Signs of forgiveness, forgiveness based in the blood of Christ.
Be still, and know that God is your Savior. Our squirming and running and striving take many forms. Like little David with paint and Zip Strip in his eye, sometimes pain drives us to flee from the very God who alone has the power to help us.
Physical pain from disease or injury can be a huge obstacle. The long, slow, excruciating trudge that is daily life for so many can end up driving people away from God, either because they don’t trust that He cares to help, or simply don’t know that He is pursuing us, ready to heal our deepest injuries.
Mental anguish can be just as bad, pondering the mysteries of the universe, so many of which seem unfair or simply random, like the destruction of storm, fire and flood, or man’s inhumanity to man, or the inability of people to learn from the past, leading us to make the same stupid mistakes, over and over again, until we die.
Perhaps hardest of all is emotional pain. I’m pretty strong, I can bear pain in my body, I can ignore the stupidity of the world. I can endure a lot, as long as there are one or two people who care for me, loved ones on whom I can rely. But if nobody loves me, or worse, if the people I love turn against me and injure me, then where do I run?
Whatever pain you may face, the God who is your Savior knows it. No matter how torn and broken your body, no matter how dark your thoughts, no matter how great your heartbreak, God allowed Martin Luther to re-discover and proclaim to the world this Good News: On His Cross your Savior has swallowed up your pain, buried it in His own broken body, understood it with His own mind, even felt the anguish of abandonment by His own heavenly Father, all so that you may find in Him relief for all your hurts. Luther did not discover a God who takes away all our pain in this earthly life, but rather he discovered the God faced and defeated all our pain, by His death and third day Resurrection. Luther discovered the God who faces your pain with you, because He has made it His own. Luther discovered the God who carries you through the pains and joys of this life, unto that day when pain will be no more, tears will be more, when life will be fulfilling and joyful, forever and ever.
Be still and know: God is your Savior. Often we flee from God, because we don’t want anyone telling us what we can and can’t do. We don’t want to be still before God and receive His salvation, for that is to admit we can’t earn it. Like little David, “helping” his mother refinish furniture, we want to claim some credit for helping with salvation. After all, aren’t we taught from an early age to carry our own weight? Isn’t it true that we will get out of life only as much as we put into it? We know how life in this world works. What we so easily forget is that salvation is not found in this dying world, nor is it primarily about life in this dying world, but rather salvation comes from above, and is focused mainly on our hope for glorious life in the world to come.
As we heard last Sunday, God’s ways are not our ways, thankfully, because our ways are all fallen and broken and incapable of making the leap from the kingdom of this earth into the kingdom of God. We hate this law of God, maybe most of all, this unavoidable decree that no imperfect, sinful thing will ever come into God’s eternal kingdom. So also we by our fallen natures hate free grace, because in our sinfulness we think we are pretty hot stuff, and so God must be impressed with what we bring to the relationship.
Be silent. Shut your mouth. Stop talking or thinking about your works, for by works of the law shall no human being be declared righteous before God. All are sinful, there is not one who does good among all the descendents of Adam. All have sinned and lack the glory of God. Be still, sinner, you cannot win God’s favor. Be still, and know that God is your Savior. For we hold that one is declared righteous by faith in Christ, completely apart from works of the law. “I can do it” or “we can do it” are fine slogans for building a house, or running a business, holding a brats give-away, or winning a football game. But don’t bring your imperfect works into the work of salvation. God will reject you for this, for to insist on your own works in salvation is to devalue and heap scorn on the once for all sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus, crucified for all the sins of the whole world. Was it because of your own merit that Jesus died, your soul to win? No, it was grace, and grace alone, that brought Him from His heavenly throne.
Be still, and know that God is your Savior, with free grace, free forgiveness, free salvation, for you! Good news, right? Yes it is. But we’re not home yet. Even still, we may struggle to be still and receive the gifts of Christ, because of our ignorance and faulty thinking.
God has free salvation for me, but, I might wonder, how do I receive it? If we forget God’s plan for His Church, if we are ignorant of His means of grace, that is if we do not know how and where and through what means the forgiveness of Christ is delivered to sinners today, we could spend our whole life running around in a frantic search for the fountain of eternal life. Our hunger for rescue can even work against us, if it causes us to listen to those who locate salvation in actions, people or things that God never ordained. If we forget where Jesus tells us to go to receive forgiveness, if we listen to those who say God doesn’t work through humble means like words and water and wheat and wine, then we may seek salvation in Christian living. "Look at me, at all I do. I’m a loving Christian, this is how I’m saved, right?" Or we may succumb to the temptation to look for salvation in the spectacular: "Look at me, I speak in tongues, my pastor heals the “sick,” I worship so fervently I fall into a trance." Or, if we are a bit more realistic and personally humble, we may find our version of salvation in a person or an institution: "I obey this man or this church body, and this is why I’m saved."
All of these things we do are, of course, works, works which may have some earthly benefit, but still works which St. Paul rejects in salvation. For by works of the law no flesh will be declared righteous before God, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Because we are sinners, none of our works are perfect, each time we try to keep the law, as we should always be trying to do, we are also reminded of the many ways we fall short.
Be still, and know that God is your Savior. For now the righteousness of God has been revealed, through the life and work of Jesus Christ. He is the faithful one who has become our salvation, fulfilling the law of God with His life of service, removing the penalty of sin by His sacrificial death, delivering His free gift of righteousness through His chosen, humble means of Word and Sacrament, the proclamation and application of His holiness which makes us new, makes us children of God. In the proclamation and distribution of God’s merciful gifts, God’s not guilty verdict is applied to you and me. Even more, we are declared to be faithful, fruitful, beloved children of God, by our faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit even starts to produce real fruit in our lives, once we are still, and know that God is our Savior.
So, be still, and know that God, Jesus Christ, is your Savior. From His gifts we live, ever being reformed by the Holy Spirit. And, to our surprise, being before God results in the most joyful, active life, for the better you know that God is your total and complete Savior, the more free you will be to truly live, to truly love, to truly rejoice, because with God as your Savior, nothing can defeat you.
God grant you stillness, peace and joy, in your Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.