You may be familiar with the "solas" of the Reformation. Sola is Latin for "alone" or "only." The three most familiar solas are sola scriptura (scripture alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and sola fidei (faith alone.) Which is to say, we teach that scripture alone is the basis for what believe. We believe that we are saved solely by God's grace, through faith in the saving work of Christ alone and not through our own works.
There are a couple other solas that were prominent during the Reformation that you may be less familiar with. The first is Solus Christus, or Christ alone. In a sense, this is the most important sola. We are saved through the atonement that Jesus made when he died on the cross. "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
The last of the five solae comes to prominence about a century after the Reformation. Soli Deo Gloria means to God alone be the glory. J. S. Bach wrote the initials S. D. G. and the bottom of all his sacred compositions, short for soli deo gloria. Bach understood that his vocation was God-given, and he hoped that when the music was played and sung, it would point toward God.
The truth of Scripture rediscovered during the Reformation is that according to Scripture alone, we are saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. To God alone be the glory.
The Sweet Names of Death
The world has many euphemisms for death, some of which are a bit crass, phrases like, "kicked the bucket," "pushing up daisies," "bit the dust." I could go on. Sometimes we use such phrases so we don't have to speak about the reality of death. Death can be an uncomfortable subject of conversation. Often, we avoid the topic so we don't have to confront our own mortality.
But Christians speak about death differently. We are much more realistic about death. First, we recognize that all people die because all are sinners. Physical death is the consequence of sin, both inherited sin and the sins we commit. Christians also recognize the eternity of the soul, and that although we were spiritually dead the Christian has been crucified and raised with Christ in our baptisms. Though we die, we know that our souls go to be with the Lord, and our bodies will be raised to eternal life on the last day. Thus, we have different ways to speak about the death of the believer.
Scripture provides us with mortis dulcia nomina, Latin meaning “The Sweet Names of Death”. These ways of talking about death reflect the reality of what we believe. Here's a list: “Gathered to one’s people” (Gen. 25:8, 17), “Departure in peace” (Luke 2:29), “Depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23), “Taken from evil” (Is. 57:1), “Sleep” (Matt. 9:24; John 11:11; 1 Thess. 4:13; Daniel 12:2), “Rest” (Rev. 14:13; Heb. 4:11), “Passing from death to life” (John 5:24), “Deliverance from evil” (2 Tim. 4:18), “Gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Luther writes: "Scripture has a lovely manner of speaking of death and the deceased,” and then proceeds to set forth this 'lovely manner' ... We must henceforth learn a new speech and language in speaking of death and the grave.… That is not a human, earthly language, but a divine, celestial language. For the like you find in none of the books of all learned and wise on earth.… But among Christians this should be a familiar, common, and current speech.”
As God's people let us have confidence that for us death is but sleep, and our Lord will return in glory to awaken us on the last day, to live forever with Him.
Doubling Down on Idolatry
God allowed His people living in Judah to be taken into exile by the Babylonians in judgment over their idolatry and their abandoning of the Lord and His ways. Some remained in Judah of course, but some of these fled to Egypt in fear of further Babylonian conquest. While in Egypt, the people once again began worshipping false gods, including "the queen of heaven." So, Jeremiah was sent to call the people to repentance and to remind them that their idolatry is what put them in this situation in the first place. If they did not repent and change their ways, they wouldn't survive in Egypt or ever be able to return to their homes in Judah. (Jer. 44).
It was a stern warning and based in historical fact. The exiles responded to Jeremiah's words by saying, "As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster" (Jer. 44:16-17). Stunning. The people not only ignored Jeremiah, they doubled down on their idolatry! They were determined to serve their false gods, which were really no gods at all.
How does such idolatry look in our day and age? Our idols are perhaps not as obvious or "in your face" as those of the Israelites. We don't typically say that we will make offerings to some false god. Yet we do it. We commit time and money to things that don't matter, things, people, institutions that we put our trust in over and above God. We may know more about our favorite sports team or celebrity than we do about God's word. We may prioritize time on Sunday morning for family, fun, or sleeping in over hearing God's word and receiving His sacrament. As God's chosen people, we should respond to God's rebuke concerning our own idolatry not by saying, "we will not listen to you," but "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner."
Call Upon the Name of The Lord
In Genesis 4 we find the chilling account of Cain killing his brother Abel. After Cain is sent away, Moses gives a summary of Cain's apparently numerous descendants (Gen. 4:14-24). One gets the impression that some of these are very impressive people. They are inventors of music, they learn how to raise livestock, they develop the means by which to forge iron and bronze, and they build cities. They seem to be the movers and the shakers the important people of the day. There's just one problem, their hearts are full of evil. One of Cain's descendants, Lamech, writes this poem, "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold” (Gen 4:23-24).
Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, (along with other sons and daughters). We learn of Seth's descendants in Genesis 5, but at the end of Chapter 4 we read this, "To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD" (Gen. 4:26). That is the great accomplishment of Seth's line, "they began to call upon the name of the Lord." What a contrast with the descendants of Cain! In the eyes of Scripture, Seth's descendants are most notable because they called on the name of the Lord.
Of course, the patriarch Noah is a descendant of Seth. Humanity would be saved from the destruction of the flood through Noah and his family on the ark. "Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." Of all the people of the earth, only Noah and his family were found to hold fast to the mercy and promises of God. The great men of Genesis 4 were destroyed in the flood, while the family who called upon the name of the Lord was spared. It is not for greatness in this life that we strive. Fame and riches pass away. Rather we are to be those who call upon the name of the Lord. We are those who are to gladly hear the Lord's word, attend the Divine Service to receive His gifts, and lead lives of repentance and faith in God's mercy for Jesus' sake. The world may not be impressed with us, but God will keep us secure in the ark of His church unto eternal life.