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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

This I Believe

Reformation Sunday

God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;

he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,

the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease

to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

he burns the shields[d] with fire.

1He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

A pastor, wearing his clerical collar, got on a plane and sat down next to a man for about a 3-hour trip. “Oh, oh,” the man thought to himself, “a man of religion. I’ll head him off.” So he said to the pastor, “I have a very simple philosophy about religion: ‘Do unto others.’” And he thought he had silenced the clergyman. But the pastor was gracious and said to the man, “I see you have a little button on your lapel. What is it?”

“Oh, I’m an astronomer,” he replied. “I’ve just been to a convention.” And he continued talking about the latest research about outer space.

When he finally took a breath, the pastor said, “Well, that’s all very interesting, but I have a very simple philosophy about astronomy: ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star.’” :)

Well, astronomy isn’t simple, and neither is religion. Nor is it simple being a Christian in today’s pagan world.

Now here we are again at the time of celebration of the Reformation. How do we celebrate it? Why do we celebrate it? One thing is for sure: we didn’t come here to worship Martin Luther. God could have used any humble man to start the Protestant Reformation.

But we have come here to thank and praise God for the blessings we’ve received through Martin Luther. Think of some of those blessings he brought to light:

· The open Bible, for all to read

· Justification by grace through faith

· The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers

· The biblical doctrine of the Lord’s Supper

· Popular education

· Our heritage of hymns and liturgy

· Civil and religious liberty (which is being attacked again today)

But today we’re going to look at something much simpler than all of those things, yet something with great meaning: Martin Luther’s Coat of Arms. Something with great meaning because in effect it says, “This I believe.”

“This I believe,” it says. That sounds almost like the title of an essay, like the kind of thing assigned to the members of a confirmation class. If you were told to write a paragraph, or a page, on the topic, “This I believe,” what would you write? I suppose a lot of us would look to the historic creeds of the church and take our lead from them. Because that’s exactly what the church’s creeds are: essays on the topic, “What do you believe?”

If writing such a theme would scare you, how about drawing what you believe? The kids are used to doing that kind of thing. Drawing something and then explaining what it means.

Martin Luther lived at a time and place in history when devising a Coat of Arms was a common practice. Every family wanted to have one, not just the royalty and the nobility; and Coats of Arms were designed – like company logos today – for different occupations and businesses, as well as towns, cities, and states. Producing a Coat of Arms was supposed to say something about you.

And that’s the way Martin Luther thought about it when he set out to design a Coat of Arms. It would be a sermon in symbols, a graphic way of bearing witness to the world, “This I believe.” He wrote, “The first thing expressed in my seal is a cross, black, within the heart, to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saves us.”

Luther begins his seal where his theology always began – at the cross.

The location of the cross in Luther’s Coat of Arms is significant. It’s in the center of everything – like a bulls eye on a target, the thing you’re looking for, aiming at, concentrating on – a reflection of St. Paul’s confession when he wrote, “I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2)

Note that the cross is not only in the center of the seal, but also in the center of the red heart. “For with the heart one believes, and so is justified.” The colors are important, and Luther chose them carefully as part of his confession, writing, “Now, though the cross is black, the color of death, and an instrument of pain, yet it does not change the color of the heart, does not destroy nature. It does not kill, but keeps alive. ‘For the just shall live by faith,’ by faith in the Savior.”

Christ died – so that we might live!

And so the heart is fixed upon the center of a white rose, which is a symbol of the Christian life that is made possible by the cross of Christ – the Christian life that is to be the blossoming of faith into action. So Luther writes, “The white rose shows that faith causes joy, consolation, and peace.

Long ago, the prophet Isaiah had written, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) And Luther wrote, “The rose is white, not red, because white is the ideal color of all angels and blessed spirits.”

Like the triumphant saints in Revelation 7:14 who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Luther writes, “The rose, moreover, is fixed on a sky-colored background.” Both of these elements are important, the rose and the sky beyond. As Luther writes, “Such joy of faith in the Spirit is but an earnest and beginning of heavenly joy to come.”

An “earnest” in the sense of a down-payment, so the color is blue, the liturgical color of hope. Again, Luther writes, “Though not yet revealed, our heavenly joy to come is anticipated and held by hope.”

The life which Christ gives us, symbolized in the white rose – the life which is Christ’s gift of grace, symbolized by the cross, and faith, symbolized by the heart – this life is able to be seen for the wonderful gift it is only when it’s viewed against its true background, its ultimate goal of Heaven.

“And around this ground base is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in Heaven is endless.”

A circle, of course, is one of the traditional symbols of eternity, a figure that has no beginning and no end. “such bliss in Heaven is endless,” Luther explains, “and more precious than all joys and treasures.” And so the color gold, “since gold is the best and most precious metal.” (Luther)

And so Luther’s explanation of his Coat of Arms, which began with the cross of Christ, ends where the Creed ends as well, with life everlasting. Martin Luther’s seal is indeed a sermon in symbols, a confession of faith, a teaching tool, something we can look at and say, “Yes, this I believe!” For this is the very essence of our Christian faith, as Martin Luther himself summarized. “Christ, our dear Lord – He will give grace unto eternal life. Amen.”

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