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I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.


For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (ESV)


God's Truth

Wednesday of Pentecost 21

16 October 2013

In 1546, Martin Luther travelled to Mansfeld to mediate in a dispute among the princes that were lords in that small dominion. Politically speaking, it was probably a wild goose chase because the princes of Mansfeld, like modern Lutheran voters assemblies, were famous squabblers. Luther's mid-winter trip also hastened his death by putting extra strain on his weakening heart. He died of congestive heart failure on 18 February 1546, after commending himself to the care of his gracious God. Before he left Wittenberg for Mansfeld he preached what would be his last sermon, a last will and testament to the congregants there. A month later he was with Christ, his Lord.


Typically, Luther's sermon spoke of the glory of the Christian and the life and gifts granted to the Christian in Christ through the church and also the sinfulness of humanity from which we have been saved through those gifts. Luther never avoided the confession of human weakness since he was so thoroughly convinced of the gracious strength of God, who saves the weak, granting them abundant and overflowing spiritual gifts. Over the decades, while issues changed and church history swirled around his head, Luther never changed his message of a gracious God saving sinners. He could not be deflected from that message. Thus it is right that this last Wittenberg sermon should repeat those themes.


Luther always thought those simple and basic themes were in danger from the propensity of fallen humans to challenge God's wisdom with their own judgment. This propensity of old Adam he called "Lady Reason." She was a kind of prostitute who sought to entice humans away from God's simple, even foolish, wisdom by claiming the ability to outwit God. According to Luther, Lady Reason always focused on human morality and capacity for spirituality. Luther rejected this claim to spiritual wisdom as a lie and a return to the law as the way of salvation. Human self-will is always crying out: "Hey! Look at me. See what I can do." And in matters not touching the spiritual life, human capacity for work, service and success is indeed great. Humans are a special creation of a good God who makes very good His creatures (Gn 1:31), so in creaturely matters there is plenty to shout about. Just not in spiritual matters. It would be like my wife claiming that because she is superb at making cheese cake, she would also be expert at repairing automobile transmissions. God has placed dominion of the creation in our hands. He has not placed dominion over our souls into our hands. He is Lord of the matters of the spirit.


Because He has dominion over our spirits and the life, which He grants to us in Christ, we must be constantly in the things which give life. This side of the grave the game will never be up: "It isn't over until it's over." For that reason God puts into the hands of the church the gracious gifts of preaching and sacraments. The very things that create and sustain faith are continually at our disposal. This is why Christians gather with all the faithful, as God commands (Heb 10:25), to hear the Word of God, receive the food of immortality in the Lord's Supper, and see to the baptism of all people. We sinners continually return to the things that give life, that life might be sustained among us. Preaching and teaching are continually putting Lady Reason in her place, putting her out in favor of God's truth.


Martin Luther


"Now that we have been made rich through Christ the Lord, transferred from the dominion of the devil and the world to his kingdom (Col 1:13), that is, into the church of Christ; now that we have the Word and the sacraments, now that we have been baptized, now that we are sons and heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ the Son of God (Rm 8:17), who has given us eternal life, now it is necessary that we look to and really devote ourselves to the glorious calling and gifts.


"After baptism there still remains much of the old Adam. For, as we have often said, it is tame that sin is forgiven in baptism, but we are not yet altogether clean, as is shown in the parable of the Samaritan, who carried the man wounded by robbers to an inn (Lk 10:30-37). He did not take care of him in such a way that he healed him at once, but rather bound up his wounds and poured on oil. The man who fell among robbers suffered two injuries. First, everything that he had was taken from him, he was robbed. Second, he was wounded, so that he was half-dead and would have died, if the Samaritan had not come to him. Adam fell among the robbers and implanted sin in us all. If Christ, the Samaritan, had not come, we should all have had to die. He binds our wounds, carries us into the church and is now healing us. So we are now under the Physician's care. The sin, it is true, is wholly forgiven, but it has not been wholly purged. If the Holy Spirit is not ruling men, they become corrupt again. The Holy Spirit must cleanse the wounds daily. Therefore this life is a hospital. The sin has really been forgiven, but it has not yet been healed.


"So there must be preaching and everyone must also take care that his own reason may not lead him astray. If we were altogether pure, we should have no need to be admonished, but would be like the angels in heaven with no need of a schoolmaster, and do everything willingly of ourselves. But since we are still confined to this miserable carcass, which in time the worms will devour (though it deserves something worse, to burn in hell eternally), it is necessary constantly to resist and put off the old man and his works and put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (Col 3:10). Usury, gluttony, adultery, manslaughter, murder, and others, these can be seen and the world understands that these are sins. But the devil's bride, reason, the lovely whore comes in and wants to be wise, and what she says, she thinks, is the Holy Spirit. Who can be of any help then? Neither lawyer, physician, nor king, nor emperor; for she is the foremost whore the devil has. The other gross sins can be seen, but nobody can control reason. It walks about, cooks up fanaticism with baptism and the Lord's Supper, and claims that everything that pops into its head and the devil puts into its heart is the Holy Spirit. Therefore Paul says: As I am an apostle and God has given me the Spirit, so I appeal to you (Rm 12:1; 1Co 4:16)." 
Martin Luther, Last Sermon in Wittenberg 

Lord Christ, since you have made us rich in You, transferred us from the dominion of the devil and the world to his kingdom, that is, into Your church; since we have the Word and the sacraments, since we have been baptized, since we are sons and heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ the Son of God, who has given us eternal life, enable us to look to and really devote ourselves to the glorious calling and gifts which You have given us. Amen.


For Diane Garner, that the Lord Jesus would be her ever present help in trouble


For all those who are working to bring to completion the capital campaign of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would have joy in their labors


For all those who seek to adopt children, that the Lord Jesus, who blessed the little children by taking them up in his arms, would bless them as they go through the adoption process
Art: Eyck, Jan van  The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429) 

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