In two back-to-back sermons (well…back-to-back in terms of their sequence in the church year), Martin Luther takes up two highly related— and highly divisive— theological topics: in his 1537 Gospel sermon for Trinity 18, he preaches about Law & Gospel, with specific reference to the article of New Obedience; in his 1544 Epistle sermon for Trinity 19, he preaches about the Third Use of the Law, with specific reference to the Old Man/New Man dichotomy. If you want to know what Luther thought, i.e., how he preached, about these very important, very significant theological topics, you will definitely want to check these out.
For those of you who attend churches that use the three-year lectionary and might understandably not be aware, in the old Lutheran lectionary Trinity 18 is this coming Sunday, September 25. (NB: “old”, i.e., used in the Western Church since Gregory the Great; “old Lutheran”, i.e., used by all Lutheran churches until the latter half of the twentieth century.)
If you’re interested, I have been posting Luther’s sermons— Gospel and Epistle— Sunday by Sunday, paired with a matching cantata by J. S. Bach, introduced by the Rev’d Tapani Simojoki, host of Lutheran Radio UK’s Sunday Cantata program. The sermons are long, i.e., definitely something you could read split-up over the course of your week, especially if you wish to read both— and you really should! The Sunday Cantata episode, on the other hand, lasts only half an hour— you’ll feel it to be too short!
(Am noticing that I’m writing “i.e.” a lot. So many ea sunt!)
As these two Sundays come upon us, I will change the link URLs to the respective installments of the ongoing project just alluded to, “Bach Cantata/Luther Sermons.” For now, though, you can find the sermons here:
- Martin Luther, 1537 Gospel sermon, Trinity 18: “The Doctrine Concerning the Law and the Gospel” or “The Greatest Commandment and Christ”
At the risk of being a wee bit polemical, I should issue a warning: if you’d rather your meme-powered, socially-mediated, rollicking-good-timey, internet simulacrum of ACME Confessional Lutheranism™ remain un-upsot, then don’t read these sermons. They will haunt you. They will disturb you. They will tear a teensy-weensy hole in your party whistle. They will take the spring out of your deely-bobber. The clichés which only yesterday made you feel like a wise and wry theologian when you sanguinely memed them forth on the Facebooks may henceforth make you feel like an idiot. As the epistemological philosopher Kevin Garnett once said of knowledge: “Once it’s obtained, it’s obtained.” Hmmmm. Yes.
Oh, and they will also show you your Savior, strengthen your faith, and teach you wisdom— perhaps not in the way to which you have become accustomed, but this is their special virtue. They are good sermons. Martin Luther was a true preacher of Christ. But he was no reductionist.