Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | June 28, 2009

Sermon on John 17:17

A sermon for the Feast of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25)

Jesus Makes This Truth Evident

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

John 17:17: Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Next week there will be movies, festivals and firework displays reminding us of some powerful words:  We hold these truths to be self-evident. It was our founding father’s conviction that everyone has certain unalienable rights – regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity.  Especially great among these were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  By calling them “self-evident,” they claimed that these were absolute truths, known to all.

While we have argued and debated these truths, there aren’t many people in America and in many countries around the world who wouldn’t agree:  there are certain, absolute, unalienable truths.  Just last week, in a message to Iran, our President called the freedoms of speech and assembly “universal rights.”  They don’t need to be created by anyone, they don’t need to be invented or thought up, they just need to be protected.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.

We also confess truths.  It’s what our founding fathers did at Augsburg.  They confessed so that all Christians might unite in agreement on one Christian truth. But there’s something different about their truths.  While Jefferson called his truths “self-evident,” we must admit that ours are not quite so self-evident.  The truths of the Christian faith must be made evident.  Hence, the princes at Augsburg offered to present further information on the basis of the divine Holy Scripture. This is how another group of Lutheran confessors put it 50 years later in the Formula of Concord:  We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

But, like those “self-evident” truths of our American Declaration, there are arguments and debates about the truths of Scripture.  Some say that whether you follow Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, or Jesus, as long as you’re sincere in your faith you’re on the right path.  Some deny that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are effective means of grace, that is, tools God uses to distribute His salvation to us, but rather only symbols reminding us of God, or ceremonies we perform to commit ourselves more fully to Him, or sacrifices we offer to merit His grace, or just rituals we do because, well, that’s what we’ve always done.  Some deny that the Bible is true and error-free in every word.  Some say that your truths are your truths and my truths are my truths and we shouldn’t judge each other, we should just all get along.  For every article of the Augsburg Confession we read and hear today, for every article of faith revealed in the Bible, we can find many who oppose them, reject them, or would revise them.

Do we find ourselves among that group sometimes?  Do we want to tweak our teachings a bit?  To fit in?  To make St. Mark, or the Wisconsin Synod, or Lutherans more appealing?  To feel less theologically backwards in such an enlightened era?  To avoid those awkward talks about why we don’t worship at your church and why you can’t commune at ours?  Are our truths not quite so self-evident?

Jesus says, Sanctify them by the truth, your Word is truth. In a world of truths that are revealed to be wrong, false, or just plain opinions, there is one unshakable truth – the Word of God.  For God does not change like shifting shadows.  God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind.  His Word is truth.  The Scripture cannot be broken. He says what He means and He means what He says.  And He explains Himself.  Over the course of 1,600 years, through dozens of Spirit-inspired men, He revealed the Truth again and again and again.  He made it evident.  He wrote it so that we know it.  And at the center of it all is Jesus.  As our founding fathers said almost five-hundred years ago, as Scripture has taught for 3,500 years, so still today we know, we believe, and we confess, for Jesus made it evident:  Our churches teach that human beings cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works. But they are justified as a gift on account of Christ through faith when they believe that they are received into grace and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. There’s where it starts.  Everything builds on that.  That’s God’s honest truth.  Amen.

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Responses

  1. Thank you so much for the encouragement to keep in the Bible. In this time of my spiritual search, it is very helpful to read posts and comments to encourage me to keep Scripture in its rightful place in my life.

  2. p.s. I wrote a post and mentioned this post with a link back here on my blog. Thanks so much!!


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