Colossians 1:21-23: And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in faith, stable and steadfastness, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and of which, I Paul became a minister. ESV
Webster defines it this way: Her-it-age (her’-I-tij): noun 1. Property that is or can be inherited; 2. (a) Something handed down from one’s ancestors or the pastor, as a characteristic, a culture, tradition, etc. (b) the rights, burdens, or status resulting from being born in a certain time or place; birthright. Where were you baptized? The doctrine of the Church’s faith was firmly in place. Where were you confirmed? The doctrine of our faith was firmly in place. What kind of church building did your family go to for worship? The doctrine of our faith was firmly in that place. Today, we’re called to proclaim the heritage of the doctrine of our faith that is still firmly in place.
The rich heritage of our faith is founded on sharing the boldness of our Lutheran Confessions of our Christian faith that has been given to us by God’s grace and Spirit. We may all recall the names and faces of those who helped form the foundation of what has made any of our congregations as a strong example of a Christian worshiping community. The mosaic of your home congregation may have been different than mine, but Finns, Germans, Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians, Dane and many other immigrants began to populate the vast expanse of farms and communities of our new country. Merchants, farmers, teachers, traveling salesmen… all came together for worship, to be baptized, confirmed, fed on God’s Word and Sacraments, to be married, and be buried – all the while embracing the precious gift of our heritage of faith and Confessions.
But, our heritage goes farther back – beyond the Lutheran Church’s that started in the United States in 1847. Our real faith heritage digs back more than 500 years ago, when the Reformation and a brave – maybe stubborn at times – Reformer by the name of Martin Luther began our tradition. Two years ago, the entire Lutheran world celebrated as we commemorated those 95 questions Luther nailed on the Wittenburg Castle Church door. But, for the next 30 years after October 31, 1517, Luther wrote thousands of letters, thousands of sermons and hundreds of books, defending the biblical foundation of our Lutheran Confessions found in the Book of Concord that established this doctrine of our faith in which we firmly stand.
But, the heritage of this rich tradition goes back to the very mysteries of Holy Scripture that is thousands of years old. That is why, on the very early morning of February 18, 1546 – 30 years after the Reformation, Luther’s good friend, Justus Jonas sat mournfully at the bedside of the dying Reformer. Luther was bed ridden having suffered an apoplectic stroke, leaving him almost speechless. Jonas knew his good friend was about to die and be joined into a blessed, eternal peace with God. Fearing his departure was about to happen, Jonas called out to Luther, “My dear reverend father, are you ready to die… trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have faithfully taught in his name?” Despite suffering with nearly complete aphasia, the great reformer sat up and shouted, “Ja Voll! – Yes indeed.” Moments later, Luther breathed his last.
Luther’s last writing concluded with an affirmation of faith: ”Know that no one can have a satisfactory taste of Holy Scriptures, unless he has governed churches for hundreds of years, with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptizer, Christ and the Apostles. Do not assail this divine Aeneid. Nay, rather prostrate revere the ground that it treads. We are but mere beggars.”
Think about it! The heritage of our Christian faith accepts the impossible chemistry alchemy of a Jesus who turned water into wine… the incredible biology of God being born to a virgin mother…the unbelievable physics of Christ walking on water and calming a storm. Our faith resounds when we accept the evidence of life eternal when He raised the dead to life. Faith rejects logic and human reason when we stand in awe before the cross of a dying Savior, knowing that Christ dying on the Cross is the object and proof of our sins forgiven and our guarantee of eternal life. This is our faith in Jesus!
We’re not quite sure what prompted God’s Spirit to lead St. Paul to write his letter to the Colossians. Yet, it’s clear that a deadly virus of thinking had already spread throughout the congregation… somehow reasoning that Jesus had to be something less than true God and true Man. So, St. Paul writes, “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God; He who created all things in heaven and on the earth; He is before all things, and in Him all things have their being.”
Paul makes it clear: Jesus Christ IS God… who donned the mask of human flesh… the Creator of all things, and in Him, we have life, our hope, and Salvation. He’s not only the Head of the Church, His Body, but, He’s the very foundation upon which God grants His daily and abundant blessings.
This blessed hope of life eternal is NOT about what we have to do; nor how we can bring ourselves to God… nor is even it about us… lest anyone can boast. This blessed Hope is for us. It means Christianity is NOT merely a religion – stifled by worldly definitions. Instead, Christianity is a body of faith… promised, proclaimed and enabled by a gracious God. St. Paul explains: “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him …”
By our very nature, we’re born sinners — enemies of God, alienated from God by our carnal minds and actions. The contents of unregenerate hearts is steeped in sin. But, because God took on human flesh for the sole purpose to live the perfect life and offer His life to God as a sacrifice for our sin, we’re now at peace with God by His grace.
Notice that St. Paul didn’t dwell on the Colossian’s sins, but rather defined the corollary of God’s grace: “He has now reconciled us… to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.” Christ isn’t made God and Savior by our assent. He is God and Lord by His very nature. Making Christ optional as just another choice in religions or denying Him as the only means of eternal life simply – tragically – denies the only name by which we are saved.
That’s the divine peace Luther declared in the face of death. That’s the confession of the Lutheran Church and the foundation of all Confessional Lutheran’s long, rich, and faithful history. Even during the times when our nation reels at the thoughts of continuous human tragedy… we may grasp for, but never obtain the means to end the evil and the carnage. We can never find solace in our collective fears and brokenness.
But, as we continue in this sacred inheritance of Christianity, how fortunate for us to know, that with those who die in the true Christian faith…knowing the same blessed hope offered to the beloved Martin Luther centuries ago…that in an overflowing abundance of God’s grace, received with the gift of faith, we can face each day in confidence in Christ Jesus; and in death, by faith firmly grasp the blessed hope of life eternal…faith, stable and steadfastness, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven. We keep this as our heritage. We continue faithfully to bear witness of the one and only Savior of the world. We share His message of peace and eternal joy that those who live in fear and darkness, may come to live in Christ’s eternal Light.
— President Paavola