Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sermon 6: Ain't no use jivin'

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain't no use jivin', ain't no use jokin'
Everything is broken

- "Everything Is Broken," by Bob Dylan

Luther giving Holy Communion
"This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them. 
"He who is not thus prepared should abstain for a while from this sacrament, for this food will not enter a sated and full heart, and if it comes to such a heart, it is harmful. Therefore, if we think upon and feel within us such distress of conscience and the fear of a timid heart, we shall come with all humbleness and reverence and not run to it brashly and hastily, without all fear and humility. So we do not always find that we are fit; today I have the grace and am fit for it, but not tomorrow. Indeed, it may be that for six months I may have no desire or fitness for it.... 
"...For this bread is a comfort for the sorrowing, a healing for the sick, a life for the dying, a food for all the hungry, and a rich treasure for all the poor and needy." 
- Sixth Invocavit Sermon
Having scolded the people of Wittenberg for rushing after new outward practices in the Lord's Supper as the sign of their freedom in Christ, in sermon six Luther turns to the heart of the matter: how should Christians conduct themselves at the Table?

First, Luther said, it is not simply a matter of eating and drinking, but there must be faith which makes the reception worthy. "Christianity consists wholly in faith," affirmed the reformer.

This faith, he went on, must be the faith that Christ has taken our sins and reconciled us to God. A person with such faith can appear at the sacrament without fear.

If this is what coming to the Lord's Table is all about, he then argued, no human being has the right to make a universal law that everyone must partake of communion on a certain day because that person would have no way of knowing if faith is alive in each heart or not.

Those who have this faith are those who have felt "terrified and trembling" in heart because of not knowing where they stand with God. This creates a hunger to have someone stand before God on our behalf, one who can deal with our sins. "This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them."

Luther then suggested that people who are not thus prepared should abstain from the sacrament, even perhaps for as long as six months.

He concluded the sermon with a description of why the Lord's Supper was given. It is designed to comfort the sorrowing, heal the sick, give life to the dying, feed the hungry, and provide rich treasures to the poor. If we do not know ourselves in such a needy condition, why then come?

Ain't no use trying to jive God. He knows our hearts.

  • A pastor is called to help people deal directly with God. Pastor Luther is ultimately not concerned about whether people follow him, or Karlstadt, or Melanchthon, or any other person. His own experience and study of Scripture had shown him that each individual must face the issues of sin, forgiveness, and assurance. The Lord's Table is one of those settings in which these concerns become clear for people. It would be good for pastors to regularly clarify the importance of individual faith, even as we seek to build up congregational identity in our churches.
  • Be careful of becoming overly subjective. On the other hand, there is a way in which the things Luther talks about in this sermon can lead to an unhealthy subjectivity among our people. Luther's words can be misread to appear as though they are saying we must constantly feel a sense of deep guilt and shame about our sins before we are worthy to come to the Lord's Table. If we take this too far, we can have people depending on their own feelings and experiences rather than the objective Word of Christ and Sacrament. Luther is not so much urging that each worshiper must have a particular emotional experience here. That would be a work. Instead, he is clarifying the very meaning of the sacrament. It is bread for the hungry and drink for the thirsty. Those who do not grasp their need should not come. Why would they want to?
  • Tearing down and building up. It is significant that this sermon comes right after Pastor Luther gave the congregation a tongue lashing about their enthusiasm for external practices. Immediately after wounding them, he provides healing instruction. After tearing down their false ideas, he quickly rebuilds an evangelical vision and understanding of what the Lord's Supper is all about. He doesn't leave them lying low in the dust. He goes directly from rebuke to edification. 

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