Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Feast of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession 6/25/2023. The service was broadcast live on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Augustana Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s epistle lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Augsburg Confession, click here.
This last week, the Titan submersible suffered a catastrophic pressure implosion; sadly, taking the lives of five poor souls. Among those lost was a French oceanographer, a billionaire British explorer, a Pakastani businessman and his young son, and the CEO of OceanGate, which designed the sub.
Before we go further, I need to say something about this illustration. This is not a judgment on the CEO, nor is it a judgment of those who perished with him. This tragedy is not meant to be a perfect analogy for the matter at hand, just as the parables are not meant to be perfect analogies. The main point is THE point. So, just as Jesus was not disparaging farmers in his agricultural parables, neither am I condemning these voyagers, any more than I would condemn the passengers and crew of the Titanic.
They were diving down to explore the wreckage of the Titanic, when the sub’s hull was breached, which at that depth would have been like a bomb going off.
The CEO was ultimately responsible for design, inspection, safety, waivers, etc. To his credit, he was not like many leaders, more than willing to risk the lives of others, while he himself sat in safety. He trusted the work he’d done. He trusted his experiences. And he showed that by going on the voyage himself. That’s something that inspires the trust of others.
And that’s just what happened. Those voyagers trusted the CEO, and the work he’d done. Except, perhaps, with the exception of the 19 year-old boy. He was reportedly untrusting of the whole situation; but was willing to risk it, if risking it meant bonding with his father. Though he’s been a source of much public criticism, which I’m not interested in doing from here, we do respect and admire the conviction of a man who will go down with the ship. He trusted the work he’d done, and he put that faith into action, by joining those men on the voyage he designed.
This is why we love Reformation Day. We love the determined look on Luther’s face (real or imagined), as he pounds the hammer like a battle axe, shattering the papacy into pieces.
But these 95 theses, points that Luther wishes to debate, actually assume the non-biblical idea that purgatory exists. Thus, the 95 Theses aren’t part of our Christian confession of faith. And we actually reject the premises built into some of them.
If the 95 Theses were a submersible, we wouldn’t take them into the Charles River. Parts of it are good, right, salutary, and eminently quotable. But some of the ideas built into them would have to be scrapped.
The Augsburg Confession is dramatically different. Though it is not the total sum of all we believe, teach, and confess, it holds pride of place in our public confession of faith. We are not saying that these are interesting topics to debate. We are saying that this is the confession of faith that is in accord with God’s Word. If the Augsburg Confession were a sub, we’re saying that we would take it to the depths of the sea.
But, our confidence is not sufficient. The world is full of misplaced confidence. Misplaced confidence gives way to pride, to ignorance, and to death. We actually need to be certain that our confidence is not misplaced.
These are the doctrines dealt with in the Augsburg Confession:
- Who God is
- Original Sin
- Who the Son of God is
- Justification (i.e. how we are saved, and made righteous before God)
- The Ministry (i.e. how this salvation is obtained)
- The New Obedience (how, then, shall we live?)
- The Church
- What the Church Is
- The Lord’s Supper
- Confession (we never got rid of it)
- Repentance (which is more than just feeling bad)
- The Use of the Sacraments
- Order in the Church
- Church Ceremonies
- Civil Government
- Christ’s Return for Judgment
- Free Will
- The Cause of Sin
- Good Works (do them)
- Worship of the Saints (don’t)
- Both Kinds in the Sacrament (Jesus said “take eat, take drink.” So, let’s do that)
- The Marriage of Priests (The Bible says we should)
- The Mass (we need to celebrate it rightly)
- Confession & Absolution (revisited and explained)
- The Distinction of Meats (Have sausage in Lent or don’t; that won’t save you)
- Monastic Vows (contrary to the way God made us)
- And finally, Church Authority (what the Church may mandate, and what it may not)
This is not something exclusively for the clergy to debate or academia to publish on. This Confession was presented by laymen, who took their stand on it. We don’t quiz confirmands on the Augsburg Confession. The Small Catechism is the standard among us. But we could stand to include this as well in our devotional reading. At a minimum, we could remind ourselves that, whether we are studying the Small Catechism or the the Augsburg Confession, we have to ask if this is what God’s Word itself says. Are these a faithful presentation of God’s own words to us?
This Confession is not about disputing philosophical approaches, or parsing theories about the Word of God. This Confession is about the actual words that God Himself has spoken to us. How are we saved? How shall we live? There are right answers and there are wrong answers. And the stakes are higher than a trip to the bottom of the ocean.
Paul writes in our Epistle that you are not merely to be made righteous, i.e. justification. You are to pursue righteousness. You are to chase after it. Strive for godliness in your life. Faith is not only something to be believed inwardly, but confessed outwardly.
Love one another, and love your enemies. Not in theory, and not as an ideal. Pray for them. Do it today. Be steadfast. Be immoveable. That’s not the same as being stubborn or curmudgeonly. It is a disposition wrought in you by God because His Word endures forever. By clinging to Him, you will not be moved either.
That is a confidence that ought to make you patient and gentle. Since you need not behave with the violent and imprudent measures taken by those who are insecure because they are not grounded in God’s Truth.
What, then, does fighting the good fight of faith look like? It looks like you actively taking hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and which you now confess before one another and the world.
Jesus made the good confession before Pontius Pilate, and Jesus has also confessed you before His Father in Heaven. At your Baptism, He proclaimed that you are His own, and, He has given you His Holy Spirit, that you would say the same; that you would trust in Him alone in depths of woe, in calm and strife, in life and in death, now and forever.
Now to Him who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.