Reformation Sunday LSB #’s 651, 656, 580
Text – Revelation 14:6-7
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, & he had the eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language & people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God & give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea & the springs of water.’
IT JUST TAKES ONE WORD – NO ONE IS LEFT OUT
Those words of St. John paint a beautiful picture – the proclamation of the loving intentions of God. They tell not just the old story of Jesus & His love, but of words & actions doing what God gives us to do for every nation, tribe, language & people. “It is time!” the angel warns us. Today the judgment of God examines what we do to celebrate God!
It is time! The focus is clear for what He makes possible with us: “Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea & the springs of water.” What we do & how we do it either brings attention to us as the “doers,” or to God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit! It is the will of our Lord to accomplish His kingdom purpose in & through us.
As a nation, how have we done? Not perfectly, right? And in terms of how we think of or treat black & brown citizens in our country, not great either, right? We say we love God, yet at times we either fear or reject people of color. We are impacted by messages that divide us. We hope that the struggle will go away & we’ll all be better “by & by.”
The eternal Gospel joins people together in the one message of Good News. The eternal Gospel points to giving the same message to & for all peoples, tribes, languages & nations. We know our minds are in need of transformation. Even the message given by the Church leads some to be confused.
Today we are reminded in the Gospel account from John 8:34, where Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Yes, we practice sin when we do not accept & speak well of our brothers & sisters with a different color of skin. There is prejudice in this world – & it starts with the way we discount Jesus by what we say & do … or fail to say & do. Whatever gets in the way of God’s Kingdom work in the way we think of black & white skin in our nation – that’s the focal point for this sermon series!
From the Reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress” come these words in stanza 3:
Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him!
One little word – that’s what I want to send with you today. Sure, you’ll attach other words to it, but listen for how the phrase “one little word” can inform our faith walk on this Reformation Sunday. John has this vision by the power of God’s Spirit. Let’s set the stage:
There’s the Lamb of God, standing on Mt. Zion, God’s hill of life; 144,000 people with the Lamb AND the Father’s name on their foreheads; a sound like the roar of rushing waters (think Niagara Falls); a loud pealing of thunder ringing out. These people were singing a new song before the throne of God.
The four living creatures, & the elders – what they sang no one else could learn. Why? The living creatures & the elders knew the song writer. You need to know the song writer to sing this song. They knew for Whom they were singing. They were pure, keeping themselves from anyone who could lead them to lose their focus.
In what they did, they followed the Lamb of God, because a price had been paid for them. They were, in one little word – holy! They did not lie or say half-truths. What they said, they did! In another little word there was – glory! The way God created them to be, that’s how they were. Glory – the way God created them to live – that’s how they lived. Glory – the way God treated them – that’s how they treated one another. Glory – giving God the firstfruits of themselves. The Corinthian congregation, one of many backgrounds of people & a living marketplace of opinions, received this from St. Paul:
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) That means we have the light shining where there is darkness. The knowledge of the glory of God is ours to share.
This eternal Gospel of giving glory to God is made possible in the Living Word, of whom John writes, “…the Word became flesh & dwelt among us, full of grace & truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only son from the Father.” (John 1:14) The eternal Gospel of the glory of Jesus makes the eternal Gospel of the first angel true today & true for eternity.
That eternal Gospel is for Every Person! This should be easy. Does God love you? Yes! Do you love God? Hopefully you say yes! Do you love all people? Like Peter, answering Jesus’ question, “Peter, do you love me?” we say, “Yes!” Then Jesus says, “Feed my sheep!”
On a different tangent, “Who is to give glory to God? All people, right? Who can be made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ? All people, right? Who is present in the beginning, & now, & in the future? Jesus, right? “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday & today & forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Remember the words from A Mighty Fortress? “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us!” The theme of this sermon series is “Heart Issues are Hard Issues!” There are hard issues of our hearts working to devour us as a country, even bringing division in the church & the body of Christ. This is the hard issue, the devils all around us that mess with our hearts: Our nation, our church body, our district, our congregations – & yes, we in our hearts, struggle to accept the phrase “Black lives matter” because we are thinking about the name of the group along with everything we’ve heard said & done by the founders of the group.
The message of the pain & suffering of many is lost because we believe what some do in the name of BLM to be the only message. White folks & many black folks alike are more apt to say, “All lives matter.” It is more in tune with the truth we Christians believe, that God loves all people. We wonder, “How can black lives matter more than any other lives?”
Let me try to explain my thoughts in this way: Consider Jesus as He taught in Luke 15 about the lost sheep. There are 100 sheep but one goes missing. Jesus leaves the 99 & goes after the one: “For the Son of Man came to seek & to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). In effect, Jesus is saying, “Lost lives matter!”
Of course the 99 count as well, but they are not the ones in danger of being left behind. The one sheep not in the fold is. “One sheep matters!” One, out of many sheep, matters! In that way we are able to say, with agreement, that “Black lives matter.”
Deciding to love others as we love ourselves is NOT OUR idea. It is a command, an expectation, a teaching that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, had from the very beginning. God instructed Moses & the people of Israel:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:17–18)
Who should make the first move to begin the process of reconciliation & healing? In the Bible study by Rev. Haney One Nation Under God: Healing Racial Divides in America, session 5, “What Can I Do?” states, “The division between black & white in our society & in our churches too often tries to get solved by taking sides & proving the other wrong.” Let me tell you from my experience: in Detroit, in the late 70’s & mid-80’s, working with LCMS congregations to develop black lay leadership was not popular among white pastors.
In addition, not all black congregation leaders imagined change would happen. The uncertainty of who would have to give in & lose became evident. The fear of not wanting to offend the other was obvious. The desire to have quick fixes like having a black pastor to reach more black people to join the church was tempting.
Wondering if the Michigan District would step in to give us help or to stop what we were trying to do was always present. Yes, there was that fear of those with power; yes, there was fear of not being good enough; yes, there was that fear of “what would people say?” Glory to God was & is not complete when people are seen as being unequal & are not treated with equity.
To explain the distinction of equity, picture three children trying to watch a ball game through a fence: The fence is six feet tall. Each child has the same size box to look over the fence. The tall child stands on the box & can see over the fence. The 2nd child is not as tall, but standing on the box, & on his tiptoes he can just see over the fence.
The short child stands on the box, but even on his tiptoes all he can see is the fence. Equality is giving each child the same sized box. Equity is giving each child what he or she needs to see over the fence. Equity is what Christ creates for us & gives to all who follow Him.
The preamble to the Declaration of Independence says, “All men are created equal,” right? Yet, when we decide, in our mind, that some are not worthy of being treated with equity in opportunity & justice, we have not only denied that we are equal, but we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. Not loving our neighbor means that we do not love ourselves. Not loving our neighbor means that we do not love God with heart, soul & mind. Not loving God brings the judgment of God into the present. Not loving God shows that “glory to God” is not clear in our message.
If the message given is about us, about our congregation, about what we stand for, about what we make most important, & does not draw people to the eternal Gospel that sets us free to give glory to God, then there is still work to do.
Considering people – what they are allowed to do, what they can say to us, what they need to do – based on the color of skin is a sin. What is the message we give? What does God’s eternal Gospel empower us to change? What we can do about it is the Bible Study challenge in Session 5.
Let me be personal here. I, who have written this sermon, am white. All the ministry God gave me to do was in the majority black community. I failed so many times. I messed up. I said uncaring things. I said to myself, & to people of color with whom I lived & worked:
“I want you to know something that I must keep up front in my mind. I know that I can leave the struggle of my learning what it means to be white. I can go back home to blend in with people who discount you. That is my position of privilege. I can avoid my failings & walk away. That’s my position of privilege. I don’t need to keep learning how you put up with misunderstandings & mistreatment that I, & people who look like me, bring against you in our country. That’s my position of privilege. Yet I know that I depend on you for helping me grow & learn. It’s even a privilege for me to expect you to help me. But I’ve learned that it is not your responsibility to fix me or make me feel comfortable. I must become uncomfortable if I want to learn how to decrease myself & increase who you are in my life. I also know you cannot stop having a darker skin than mine, which in this country leads people to think of you as less than me. I know that the power to be free from all this for you & me is not in keeping ourselves separate, but being in JESUS, the One who unites us as one with His Father & our Father.”
On this Reformation Sunday, when we are able to give glory to God, the judgment of racial sin, of not accepting the other person because of the color of skin, is redeemed. We repent of what we represent to one another by learning how we have failed each other. We look different, but all of us are sinners.
When we realize, confess & celebrate that God forgives each of us, we then see one another as God’s own. Instead of seeing what divides us, we see in each other the ONE Jesus who unites us. The hurts inflicted on people because of the color of skin are expressed, condemned, repented of, & forgiveness flows.
We learn how we can celebrate what God has done – & still will do – in making us one. And life, God’s new life, comes into us – as different-looking as we are – yet as beautiful as God has made each of us. With joy we give glory to God, but this learning is difficult.
We ask “Can blacks trust white people? Can we & they learn how white people hurt & are confused & want to hide because they carry the story of the mistreatment of people due to the color of their skin? Can we learn how white people need help to grow?
Can whites trust black people? Can we & they learn to be constant in making sure that whites can & will change?” It will not happen if left to ourselves. It is natural in our experience to be divided. It is in our sinful nature to believe that nothing good can come of this sermon series.
Jesus wants all people to be free, as He said, & the Holy Spirit has given us these words in the Gospel reading, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son [Jesus] sets you free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:34–36) We’ve got some soul work to do. White folks, you cannot hate black folks & stay or live freely in the kingdom of God. Black folks, you cannot hate white folks & stay or live freely in the kingdom of God.
What is the one word & phrase the devil uses to divide us? In our country today it’s the word “Black.” Yes, Black lives matter, but not because others do not matter. Which leads to that one word – fear. It is time to admit the need for more equity, more of what people need to be free from fear. Jesus matters because white & black are divided in fear.
So what is the one little word that can knock Satan out, which can “fell him” as we read in the hymn? Jesus!
“For us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.” “The old evil foe now means deadly woe!” “This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged, the deed is done; One little word – JESUS – can fell him.” “Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is!” “He helps us free from every need that hath us now o’ertaken.”
To get to “all lives matter,” we must work until Black lives matter in our hearts & minds – & in the decisions we make. Jesus leads the way! Yes, this freeing kingdom message can & is to come from the Church for both black & white people.
“Fear God, give God the glory, worship Him who made heaven & earth, the sea & the springs of water” (Revelation 14:7) – & we might add – the diverse skin colors of His people. No one is left out! Give glory to God! Amen!
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet