This Sunday, as we observe the Festival of the Reformation, Lutherans should be full of joy, and thanksgiving, and praise to God, not because we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther, but because we celebrate the Gospel. For it was by the Reformation and the faithful reformers who held fast to the Word of God, that the Gospel was exhumed, dusted off, and once again placed as the center of the Church.
As such, with the remembrance of October 31st, 1517 drawing near, the day Luther nailed the 95 theses to the Church door in Wittenberg, it is the inclination of every pastor to craft a sermon that woos the people, incites a flood of compliments, and remains faithful to this historic event in the life of the Church.
But this Sunday is just like every other.
For the dead-in-trespasses-and-sins sinners must still hear of the Crucified-for-trespasses-and-sins Savior. The Law and the Gospel must still be preached to their fullest, calling for repentance and faith in Christ. In that way, it is as glorious a Sunday as any other. For what the people of God truly need is not more information about the 16th c. Reformation, or an inspiring story of Luther. They need the truth that sets them free (John 8:31-36), the Good News of the one who has entered the bondage of our sin, paid the ransom with His blood, and set us free eternally. We need the preached Righteousness of God, revealed in Christ Jesus for all who believe (Rom. 3:21-22). There simply is no other comfort for sinners.
This righteousness is completely hidden and buried, more than anything. The world doesn’t know or understand it at all. Even to the Christian himself it is hard to grasp and can never be sufficiently grasped. Because of that, one must always teach about it and exercise himself in it constantly and well. It is sure that whoever doesn’t have this righteousness nor has at once grasped hold of it when his conscience needed it, when he was seriously terrified of God’s judgment because of his sins, it is also utterly impossible for him to be able to stand firm and remain. For it is sure that there is no other sure comfort that is instituted for a poor, frightened, conscience than this righteousness which our Lord God has created and worked in us for his own sake, without our works and preparations.
Martin Luther, Sermon for Easter Evening 1532, Translated by Joel Baseley, Luther's Family Devotions, 106
Pastors, remember that your sermon needs not be the greatest Reformation sermon ever preached. In only needs to proclaim Christ Crucified for sinners.
Laymen, remember to listen to your pastor’s sermon, not for interesting stories or funny jokes. Listen for the condemning Law, it applies to you, and listen for the precious comforting proclamation of the Gospel.
This happens to be the point of the Reformation: receiving the Gospel.