Saturday, August 23, 2014

Reformation Re-Do

Off to Spain – Reformation Re-do, Romans 15:29 
August 23rd and 24th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Our Savior and Concordia Lutheran Churches
Glendive and Fallon, MT

     Is the Reformation complete, or is the Church always reforming?  If you want to get a bunch of pastors arguing, this question will usually do the trick.  I don’t really want to get into it here, except to say that, as sinners, each one of us is always in need of repentance, always in need of being reformed away from our sinfulness and back to the truth of the Gospel.  And the Biblical truths that Luther and his companions rediscovered in the 16th century are still true today.  They made a faithful exposition of Christ’s unchanging teaching. 

     But what if in some land, the Reformation didn’t take?  We cherish the Reformation Good News of salvation in Christ alone, worked by God’s grace alone, received by faith alone, apart from human works, the Good News that is recorded authoritatively in Scripture alone.  But what if there was a place where the pure Reformation Gospel never really got preached?  What if there was a promising start, but then the Reformation was stopped?  And then, what if we got the chance for a Reformation Re-do, a second chance to bring the teachings of Luther to a place where they never received a full hearing? 

     This is precisely the opportunity before us today, in Spain. 

     I will leave for Spain by way of you.  I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.  Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Rome, telling them that he planned to visit them on his way to preach in Spain.  The Apostle promised he would come to them in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.  It is my very great privilege and pleasure to be with you and serve you here today, and to tell you about the adventure that Shelee and I have been called to enter into, to head to Sevilla, Spain, where I will work as a Church Planter.  It is my prayer that today, like Paul, I also will come to you in the fullness of the blessing of Christ, and, in a few months, that I will also go to Spain with that same full blessing.   

     Spain is a beautiful country, with incredible architecture and history, a vibrant and boisterous culture, beautiful beaches and mountains, and a proud and lively people.  Shelee and I had the privilege of living there, 20 years ago, during my last tour in the Marine Corps.  We loved the Spaniards we met, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  But we could also see that while Spain is an outwardly religious country, the reality is that the Church in Spain is full of errors, in particular the worship of  Mary and a heavy stress on earning forgiveness.  And the Church is dwindling.  Today, while most Spaniards would say they are Roman Catholic, attendance at Church is very low, and most Spaniards are very secular, focused on worldly things.  Which of course makes Spain and the United States pretty similar.  There in Spain, as also in our nation, people need the same thing, to hear and receive the fullness of the blessing of Christ that Luther and the other reformers rediscovered.  Spain needs a Reformation Re-do. 

     The Lutheran Reformation did take hold in Spain, back in the 16th century.  Thanks to the shared Latin language and the printing press, the evangelical discoveries of Luther and Melanchthon and the others  made their way all across Europe.  The Good News of the pure Gospel did what it always does, working in the hearts and minds of people in Spain, especially amongst monks and priests, in particular the monks and priests who lived in a monastery outside of Sevilla. 
     One of those monks who was converted to the evangelical faith was Casiodoro de Reina, the man who first translated and published the Bible in the Spanish language, as Luther did in German.  But the Reformation died in Spain.  Quite literally, it was killed, or driven out.  Casiodoro de Reina did his translating in northern Europe, where he fled, when the Spanish Inquisitors were on their way to Sevilla to arrest him and others.  Dozens of Christians who believed the Good News of the pure Gospel paid for their new faith with their lives, being burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition.  Hundreds more were imprisoned, or forced to flee. 

     The King of Spain was a devout Roman Catholic who also demanded that all his subjects be of the same faith, driving out or killing any who were suspected of not accepting the teachings of Rome.  Spain became the defender of the Papacy, and the most Roman Catholic of countries.  Which means, sadly, that while Christ has always been named in Spain, since the 16th century the Gospel has only rarely been preached in its fullness.  Instead of hearing of free salvation for sinners achieved by Christ, whose blood paid for all sins, Spaniards were taught of purgatory, where most would go to work off sins that they hadn’t paid for in this life, and of the sacrifice of the mass, the teaching that in the Lord’s Supper, the priest is making a small atonement for sins, because they say Jesus on His Cross didn’t make full atonement for all sins.  Spaniards were taught to pray to saints, especially to Mary, and that they had much work to do to earn their way into Christ’s favor. 

     For over 400 years, Roman Catholicism was the only legal religion in Spain.  Only in the 1980s was this law changed.  But now it is legal to go and teach something different.  Now we are free to go and proclaim the fullness of the blessing of Christ.  Now, four and one half centuries after its unsuccessful beginning, we have the opportunity to bring the joy of the Reformation, the joy of free and full forgiveness in Christ, delivered to sinners today, through Word and Sacrament ministry. 

     And so, in the year 2000, the Lutheran Church of Argentina, with support from our LCMS, began mission work in Spain.  It has not been easy going, but today there are 5 small congregations spread across Spain, and one Spanish native pastor, along with three more men studying for the pastoral ministry.  The entire Lutheran Church in Spain is smaller than Our Savior’s, but the Lutheran faith is present, being heard, and growing.  My call is to come along side the existing work, specifically, to work with the Spanish native pastor, Juan Carlos, who serves the small congregation in Sevilla, as well as working as an engineer in an aircraft factory. 

    The tasks I have been asked to pursue are very exotic.  I have been asked to study the Bible with people, and teach Luther’s Small Catechism.  I am charged to lead and teach the liturgy, to preach, baptize babies, and administer the Lord’s Supper.  The setting and the language will be different, the strength of our LCMS congregations and pastors will be far away, but the essence of my call in Spain is the same as it has been here, the same as Pastor Hageman’s, the call of a pastor to deliver the fullness of the blessing of Christ through the preached Word, and through Water, Wheat and Wine.  And, just as pastors and congregations always have a concern for mercy, so also in Spain we will be looking for opportunities to serve the needs we see around us.  My wife Shelee, who has extensive experience in pro-life work, will especially be watching for opportunities to continue this important work in Spain.     

     All of this, of course, will require money.  But God will do what He always does, raise up faithful congregations and individuals to fund His Mission.  My day to day work for the next several months will be looking for those congregations and individuals who want to partner in this work in Spain.  I get to go around visiting congregations, groups and individuals to tell them about the great things God is doing in Spain.  And I get to talk a little bit about stewardship…   
     Don’t worry, my stewardship bit is very short.  My prayer is that you will all support my work, with your prayers, and by staying in touch, and, as you are able, also financially.  But I want to make sure we have stewardship straight in our heads and hearts first, before anybody even considers giving to support my work.  So, three things about stewardship. 

     First of all, stewardship is not about money.  Ultimately, the only thing we are stewards of as pastors and congregations is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The treasure we have been given to invest in the world is not money, but the full blessing of Christ, the full and free forgiveness He won for all people on His Cross.  Yes, being good stewards of the Gospel does take money, and time, and dedicated people.  But first and foremost, to be a good steward, you must be filled with the Gospel.  So that’s the first rule of stewardship: be filled.  Be regular in Church, receive the Sacrament whenever you can, read and pray the Word during the week.  Be filled with the Gospel that you are also called to steward. 

     Second, support your local congregation.  Your first mission concern is your home congregation.  Support your congregation with your time, financially, and even more, with your prayers.  The Mission of God in this place begins, continues and always returns here, to God’s gathered people, coming together to be blessed by Him.  Support your congregation first. 

     Third, as God gives you the desire and ability, support other Church work and human care efforts beyond your congregation.  You can’t support everything.  God doesn’t want you to support everything, just a few.  Maybe you’re interested in supporting my work in Spain.  I would be honored to go to Spain as your missionary.  Or maybe you have an interest in something else, some other mission field, or maybe life ministries, or some other need.  Great.  Give, participate, be a part.  Obviously, we want to support work that is in concord with our understanding of the Gospel and the entire Word of God.  But if you are moved to support a cause that is furthering the Mission of God, great.  Go for it, because God will use your contribution, and you will also receive joy from it, the joy of sharing the fullness of the blessing of Christ.     

     When we have been filled with the full blessing of Christ, then we quite naturally want to be a part of getting that blessing to others.  We are sinners, undeserving of God’s favor, and yet we have been and continue to be blessed in the very richest ways.  We are sinners who depend on God’s grace, and so we understand why it is so important for all people everywhere to have someone come to them with the fullness of the blessing of Christ.   Everywhere Paul went, he very consciously sought to come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.  That is, Paul always sought to proclaim the full, radical, 100%-God’s-work Good News, that in the man Christ Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Son of God, sinners have forgiveness and righteousness before God.  In Jesus, there is for every sinner the gift of justification, that is, the declaration that you are not guilty, and so you are worthy to stand before God and live with Him forever.  This gift is received by faith, completely apart from our works, when we believe that for Christ’s sake we are forgiven. 

     This is God’s Mission, delivering the full blessing of Christ.  He is doing it in Spain, and I’m excited to go and be a part of that work.  God is also doing it here in Glendive.  Wherever you are, be filled with Christ’s full blessing, and look forward to seeing all the great things He is doing, for you, and for the world, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.  

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