On this day in 1530 a man named Christian Beyer stood before Emperor Charles V and a host of other people to make a confession of what his group, derogatorily called the “Lutherans,” believed. As he stood to confess the faith, he did so on the basis and with the comfort of Holy Scripture: “I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and will not be put to shame.” There was a lot at stake—livelihood, reputation, and even one’s life. Just seven years prior two young men, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, were burned at the stake for confessing what was called “Luther’s doctrine,” which really is the doctrine of Scripture. And Luther himself could not come to Augsburg to confess the faith because there was a bounty on his head. Today the Church gives thanks for the host that has gone before us that boldly and unwaveringly confessed the Scriptural, Christian, and Apostolic faith, and prays for the strength to do the same.
As we enter into the second half of the Church Year, our attention shifts. In the first half of the Church Year we focus on the life of Christ. Annually we repeat the cycle of birth—life—death—resurrection—ascension—giving of the Holy Spirit. Having heard once again what Our Lord has done to accomplish our salvation, we now ask a very Lutheran question: “What does this mean?” In other words, what implications does the first half of the Church Year have on my life today? Nothing the Church does is haphazard or accidental. The paraments and vestments have changed to green, the color of life and growth. Now our attention shifts to our spiritual life as it grows out of the life of Christ. The love He gave to us, embodied in His death and resurrection, we imitate by caring for others, by using the gifts and abilities God has given us to serve our neighbor. The faith created by the Word, seeks to grow and do those things which are pleasing to God.
The christian faith is full of mysteries, things we will never be able to wrap our minds around. As hard as we try to explain it, the rational mind does not have the ability to comprehend the mysteries of the faith. The Lord’s Supper is a mystery. How can the Body and Blood of Jesus be present at the same time as the bread and wine? From common sense we know that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. If I try to occupy the same space as the wall, I’m going to hurt myself. If two cars try to occupy the same space, the police have to be called and maybe even a tow truck or two because it’s impossible for the cars to coexist in one place. How can Jesus, as we confess, be born of the Virgin Mary? How can Jesus exist without the necessary mode of conception? And today we confess something we cannot begin to explain but must take as a matter of faith. How can there be one God but three Persons? How can they be coequal and share the same majesty and not have one before or after the other? Mortal, fallen minds cannot understand the mysteries of the faith, but God uses these mysteries for our salvation and for our good, to teach us that we are not able to do everything ourselves and must rely fully on Him.
What does god reveal to us in the account of the Tower of Babel? He reveals to us that one common sin infects us all, the sin of pride. We think we know better than God, that we can outsmart Him and that we don’t really need Him at all. Look at the people at Babel. They are already the descendants of Ham, who sinned against his father, Noah, by showing off Noah’s nakedness to Shem and Japheth. So now, relatives of a cursed family seek to avoid any further curses from God. The history of the Flood is still common knowledge. They know that it came about because of God’s righteous wrath over the great sin of the people. So instead of intending to amend their ways, the people in Babel come up with a way to avoid any future punishments of God—or so they think. They abuse technology for their own sinful gain by making bricks by a new method and build a tower that reaches to the heavens. That way, should God change His mind and send another earth-covering flood, they can climb the tower and be safe, not in God’s divinely-inspired ark, but by the work of their hands. God sees this rebellion, knows that their future wickedness will know no bounds if left unchecked, and so He limits their collaborative potential by confusing their languages.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.