There’s a lot of “sola” in the Reformation, which means “alone,” and rightfully so! Based on Psalm 46, I set before you another important Reformation truth. Get ready for another Latin phrase. “Non solum,” which means, not alone. October 28, 2018.
Today is our annual celebration of the Lutheran Reformation. It’s a moment for us to reflect upon and give thanks to God for the work that was done about 500 years ago by a monk and priest named Martin Luther as he strove to re-form the church to abandon false and misleading teachings and instead to be in line with God’s truth. Those attempts were met with resistance in different forms and has mutated into various forms since then, yet we benefit today not only from a treasured heritage, but from values that reflect the truth and purity of God’s Word in our worship, preaching, and living as God’s people.
Those core values that came out of the Reformation are often expressed in these three Latin phrases: sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura. This simply means that we are saved by God’s grace alone (sola gratia), his underserved love for us expressed in the sending of his Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. This gift of grace and forgiveness is received by faith alone (sola fide). And this trust and knowledge of God and his grace is found in scripture alone (sola scriptura). If you’re following, there’s a lot of sola in the Reformation, which means “alone,” and rightfully so! But today, I set before you another important Reformation truth. Get ready for another Latin phrase. Non solum, which means, not alone. Maybe you’re thinking that Pastor Strong is trying to start a new reformation. He’s throwing out the solas! That’s not it at all. I fully believe and will teach that God says we are saved alone by grace, by faith, by scripture. There’s no other way! But at the same time, you need to know this important truth, non solum, you’re not alone.
A glance through the life of Luther and you can pick out any number of occasions where he found himself alone. See if you can relate to any of these moments. It started with Martin’s desire to enter into the priesthood, to study religion, rather than to fulfill his father’s desire for him to be a lawyer. His dad was furious. Luther was alone. It continued with Luther’s struggle with his own sinful nature, trying to reconcile his sin and attempts to overcome them with what he pictured as a condemning God. Luther found himself alone in his sin. Later in life he found the truth and joy of scripture and wanted to correct the Christian church to the true gospel. But the Catholic Church would have none of it and kicked him out. He was alone. Luther stood on trial before high religious and political officials and even the Emperor himself where it was demanded that he recant his teachings. He took his stand alone. Luther hid from his enemies in a castle in Wartburg for nearly a year. Alone.
You may not experience the same level of situations that Luther did, but you do know the moments where you find yourself feeling alone. You too have made decisions, even good ones, that weren’t well received by others and you went at it alone. There are the moments where you find yourself alone in your guilt, trying to balance out your life that’s not perfect with the demands of a God who says you need to be perfect. You find yourself alone. You stand in the court of public opinion, challenged to defend your faith or the need for church in your life before your friends. Perhaps you find yourself alone in the room as the only Christian. That’s not to mention the moments where the waters of life are raging, waves of poor health, and bad news, and troubles crash against you and you feel alone. These are times when you and I are tempted to think that God isn’t enough. He’s not with me. I don’t see him. I don’t feel him.
My friends, I’m here to assure you of an eternal truth. Non solum. You are not alone. That’s a treasure that Luther found and stood firmly upon. He found this promise throughout scripture, but especially in the words of Psalm 46. Listen to the refrain that is repeated twice, “The Lord Almighty is with us.” Perhaps you’re familiar or have heard another way of translating this, “The Lord of hosts is with us.” The word that goes along with the Lord here has this idea of being in charge of armies, of angels, of the universe. That’s how it becomes almighty. This is the all-powerful God, who created all things, who is in charge of all things, who has legions of angels at his ready, who protected three faithful men thrown into a fiery furnace, this almighty God is with you! He is an ever-present, always available God. He is the God who dwells in his city – this city being his Church, his body of believers. God is in it and with you with the river of his gospel promises in Word and Sacraments running through his Church making you glad and sharing his presence.
But even more than that, God is with us as he, in all of his deity, took on human flesh to be our Savior from sin. By his perfect life of obedience and taking your place in death, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead to give you eternal life with God. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). God promised first to his people of Israel and still to you today, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). These are the promises that God is truly with you. Non solum. These are the promises that Luther found and held near to his heart. From a worldly view, he stood alone. But Luther knew the Almighty Lord was with him.
You never stand alone because God stands with you. God has been with his people throughout the history of the world. He has been with his Church, never abandoning the faithful proclamation of the truth. Troubles will come both in your life and the life of the church. You can either face them on your own with your own strength or face them with the Lord Almighty on your side and his strength. Non solum. You are not alone.
Let me take you to the Old Testament for a moment. Hezekiah was the king of Judah and of all of the kings that ruled God’s people, one of the best and most faithful. 2 Kings 18 says this, “He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him…and the Lord was with him” (1 Kings 6-7). This is huge because during Hezekiah’s reign, Israel faced annihilation. The Assyrians were on a tear. They had conquered all of the neighboring nations including the northern kingdom of Israel. Sennacherib king of Assyria, surrounded Jerusalem with hundreds of thousands of soldiers. It seemed hopeless. Hezekiah didn’t have the army to defeat Sennacherib. They were surrounded. But Hezekiah went to the Lord. And the Lord reminded him that he was with him. That night the angel of the Lord destroyed the Assyrian army, putting to death 185,000 soldiers and Sennacherib retreated. Not only was the Lord Almighty with them, but the God of Jacob was their fortress. He fought their battle and kept them safe and secure. Non solum. They were not alone.
In an account like that you practically hear the words of Psalm 46 echo. “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.” “He makes wars cease…he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire…Be still, and know that I am God.” The God of Jacob is our fortress, our refuge and strength.
You need a safe place in your life, don’t you? You need to know that you’re protected and taken care of. So, you build up fortresses in your life, places where you can run to be safe from the attacks of life. What do these fortresses look like? The fortress of relationships. The fortress of bank accounts. The protecting fortress of insurance policies. The fortress of our plans. These are things that you put your hope in, that you expect to protect you. But these earthly fortresses don’t stand the test of time. They often crumble leaving you vulnerable. When your faith is attacked, when temptations abound, when the church seems to be crumbling, as the world becomes less interested in the gospel and need for church, you’re tempted to think that God’s not strong enough to deal with the complicated problems that you face in your life.
When you are tempted to place your trust in your own resources or in the mighty institutions of the world, know that they cannot remedy your fears. Why? They can’t match the power of God. God is your refuge and strength. Non solum. You are not alone to face daily temptations. You are not alone to stand before God and fear him. You are not alone when seemingly everyone abandons you in this life. God is your mighty fortress where you are eternally protected.
We sing this psalm to praise the Lord, because he is with us and powerfully preserves and defends his church and his word and his people, you included, against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the relentless hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.
The God of Jacob is our, is your fortress. The Lord Almighty is with us, with you. Non solum!
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI, on October 28, 2018