1. Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The message from God’s Word this morning will focus on the 3rd Article of the Apostle’s Creed with Martin Luther’s Explanation that we just recited a moment ago. It’s entitled, “Why Do You Go to Worship,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. A few years ago there was an article that was making its way around Facebook entitled, “12 Reasons Why a Pastor Quit Attending Sports Events.” This is a parody as to why people don’t go to worship or join a Christian church. This list raises a number of interesting issues worth some thought and some discussion. 1. The coach never came to visit me. 2. Every time I went, they asked me for money. 3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly. 4. The seats were very hard. 5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with. 6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing! 7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home. 8. The band played some songs I had never heard before. 9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands. 10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up. 11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway. 12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best. As I read this list I gave a laugh and saw the truth in the rather weak excuses people often give for leaving a church or the church. There is an important message and insight here.
3. Martin Luther reminds us in His explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, Enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith... For many Lutherans these are some of the most beloved words from Luther’s Small Catechism. These words teach that saving faith in Jesus is not the result of my reason or effort, but the work of the Holy Spirit alone. These words are an outcome of the Reformation’s central insight that sinners are declared righteous before God for Christ’s sake alone, by Grace alone, through Faith alone.
4. These words teach that even saving faith itself is a divine gift. For many Lutherans, if they remember and can recite anything from Luther’s Small Catechism, it’s these words. Less remembered, if not often forgotten, is the rest of Luther’s explanation of the Third Article: ...in the same way as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
5. Here Luther teaches that the Holy Spirit hasn’t given the gift of faith to me alone, but to the whole Church. Here we learn that the Holy Spirit alone keeps me and all believers in that faith in this Church alone. The fact that the first part of Luther’s explanation is so well remembered, and the second part is so easily forgotten may help us diagnose a perennial problem and provide a solution to that problem as well.
6. Years ago at KFUO Radio Station in St. Louis, MO, our Church body’s own radio station they had open lines for their listeners asking the question, “Why do you go to church?” Have you ever wondered that? Why did we go to worship on Sunday? For me some people might say it’s pretty easy from the fact that its my job as a Pastor. But what about you? Revivalist preacher Billy Sunday is supposed to have said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.” This is certainly the wisdom in American Christianity today. And no wonder, by and large, American Christianity doesn’t confess the first half of Luther’s explanation to the Third Article, much less the second half.
7. For many Christians, saving faith isn’t a gift given by the Holy Spirit, its an act of your will and a decision of your mind. So, maintaining that saving faith is likewise your action and decision. The Sunday morning service is just a convenient gathering place for like-minded Christians. Attending Sunday services is like eating at Chic-fil-A, or shopping at Hobby Lobby. It’s just something Christians do to support a Christian organization. It’s encouraged, but not required, and certainly not necessary. Ask the average church-goer, “If you stopped going to worship, would you eventually stop being a Christian?” and the answer will be a firm “no.” But is that true?
8. What does the second half of Luther’s explanation to the Third Article say again? “In the same way as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” Luther is describing not only what makes you a Christian, but also what keeps you a Christian. Both are the work of the Holy Spirit alone, and both happen in the Church. You may object, “When Luther uses the word ‘Church’ he’s speaking of the Church in a spiritual sense, the invisible Church, not the church I attend on Sunday morning.” I respond, yes and no. Yes, he certainly is talking about the invisible Church. But where does an individual Christian find that Church? Is that Church an intangible idea, a purely spiritual reality, inaccessible to us? Or is that Church actually found in the church you attend on Sunday morning?
9. It’s the role of the Church in which the Holy Spirit keeps you in the one true faith and forgives all your sins through the proclamation of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Thankfully, it was a listener to the St. Louis KFUO radio program who provided the most important answer to that open lines question, “Why do you go to church?” There were lots of other answers: “I need the company of my fellow Christians.” “I need a spiritual oasis from the world.” “Church is my spiritual family.” “The Bible tells us not to forsake meeting together.” “My presence at Church is my witness to others.” None of these answers are wrong. But none of them is THE answer. Finally, one listener put his finger on it: “I go to church because that is where Jesus has promised to be forgiving my sin. And that is the only thing keeping me a Christian.”
10. Think about that with me. We go to worship because it’s the only thing keeping us Christians. In Matthew 18 Jesus is telling parables about how He finds lost sinners. He is teaching about the forgiveness of sin. He is talking how that forgiveness is distributed in His Church. Right in the middle of all of it Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This is Jesus’ promise to be present forgiving sins where Christians gather around His Word and Sacraments. Martin Luther writes in the Smalcald Articles: God is superabundantly rich and generous in His grace and goodness. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached. He commands to be preached in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20: ‘Where two or three are gathered together, etc.’ (SA, II, IV)
11. Only in church—where Jesus has promised to be present forgiving sins through preaching, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Absolution, and mutual witness of other Christians—does the Holy Spirit make you a Christian and keep you a Christian. This is why you go to worship. If you stopped going to church, would you eventually stop being a Christian? Yes, you would. You cannot remain a Christian without Jesus. And you can’t find Jesus anywhere else than in church. Why do you need the Holy Spirit to begin and sustain this faith in you? Because by nature I am spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, as the Scriptures teach; therefore, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” The Scriptures teach in 1 Cor. 2: 14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Eph. 2: 1 says, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Rom. 8: 7 says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” Eph. 2: 8–9 states, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 1 Cor. 12: 3 says, “No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.”
12. There’s no such thing as a lone-wolf Christian. You didn’t become a Christian by your own reason or strength, and you won’t remain a Christian by your own reason or strength. You didn’t make yourself a Christian and you can’t keep yourself a Christian. Stay away from church and you are going it on your own. You are staying away from the work of the Holy Spirit. If you decide to try it all by yourself, you will fail, you will fall from the faith, you will stop being a Christian. This is why a faithful pastor actually cares if you are in church on Sunday. This is why such pastors regularly visit those who can’t come to church on Sunday by reason of health or other circumstance, bring them God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper, and remind them that if they cannot come to church, the Church will come to them. This is why, in the past, such faithful pastors would travel dozens or hundreds of miles on horseback to bring God’s Word and Sacraments to isolated families and villages. This is also why rather than simply “doing evangelism” or “doing mission work” the Church has sent pastors to plant a church—a place of worship with an altar, a pulpit and a font—where no churches exist. This is why the Church has chaplains serving the deployed military and those in prison.
13. We need to embrace all of Luther’s explanation to the Third Article, not just the first half. If all you confess is that you cannot become a Christian by your own reason or strength, you are still a lone-wolf Christian, relying on yourself to remain so. But when you also confess that you cannot remain a Christian by your own reason or strength, then you have every reason to go to Church. You also have the comfort that it’s not up to you, but up to the Holy Spirit to keep you with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, to daily and richly forgive all your sins, to raise you up with all the dead on the last day, and to give to you and to all believers in Christ everlasting life.
14. The real reason to go to Church is because Jesus has promised to be there in His Word and Sacraments forgiving your sins, and keeping you in the one true faith. The real reason to go to Church is because Jesus has promised to be there keeping you a Christian. So go to worship. You have every reason to do so. Amen. And now the peace that passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.