Gospel: John 8:31-36
1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
2nd Reading: Romans 3:19-28
Welcome to Lutheran Pride week, where we celebrate how when others got it wrong, Martin Luther rose to the occasion and spoke out and reformed the church. It is the day when we celebrate the focus on God’s grace. It is the day when we celebrate our favorite Lutheran Bible verse “We are justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
There is a lot to celebrate about being Lutheran. We don’t believe in simple answers. We are simultaneously saints and sinners. At the same time that we are in God’s family, we are also broken and part of a messed up world. We are, at the same time, freed by God’s love and grace, and slaves to sin and bound up in brokenness.
As Lutherans we believe in the “Priesthood of all believers.” The pastor is only one calling among many. Everyone can glorify God in their work and daily life. The janitor is as important a person to God as a doctor. Everyone has their own area of expertise and gives glory to God in a job well-done. Because of this we encourage regular people to read their Bibles and do devotions at home and pray and communicate with God. We believe that any of us can show others the goodness of God through our words and actions.
We emphasize law and gospel. Each time we read scripture, we can be looking for these two things. We look for the law, the rules we couldn’t keep, the bad news that we are broken and hurting ourselves and others, that we are sinners. And we look for the Gospel, the good news that God loves us and God’s grace is a free gift and we are still part of God’s family. God makes us part of God’s family and we continue in forgiveness.
I’ve saved the best for last. My favorite Lutheran saying is, “sin boldly.” Most of us can do that. Martin Luther believed that in everything we do there are mixed motives. Even when we do good to our neighbor, it is for attention or to make ourselves feel better. There is sin and brokenness in everything we do. However, God loves us and forgives us and maintains a loving relationship with us. So we are free to go forward and “sin boldly.” Martin Luther used to spend days in the confessional trying to think of everything he ever did wrong, every thought that entered his head, every time he passed gas. He agonized over his every move. He felt that if he didn’t confess it, it would never be forgiven. Then he realized that he was being really self-centered and sinful by confessing for that long. He could have been out helping the poor. So he said to go forward in your life. Don’t let the fear of doing something wrong keep you from doing something right. It doesn’t mean to hurt people intentionally, but it says to live our life we can’t be crippled with fear. Jesus died and took away our sins. We don’t have to fear an angry God. We have a forgiving God who will understand and give us another chance when we get it all wrong. God will turn us back again to him and continue loving us.
So there is a lot to appreciate about being Lutheran. But “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” None of us as individuals or a denomination have arrived at or near perfection. We are still falling short. And that’s why we know the church has to keep reforming. The Reformation was an event and the reformation is still going on. The church needs to be relevant to people today. It needs to speak to new generations of people who need to hear the good news.
The things we believe in as Lutherans give us a lens to evaluate our faith practices at this moment in time.
We don’t believe in simple answers. God loves this church and has claimed us as God’s own. And there are a great many ways we are broken and hurtful to ourselves and others. Because we know we are forgiven, we can take an honest look at what we’ve done and try to do better. There isn’t going to be a program or silver bullet to make the church relevant and better. It will mean different things in different places. It will mean a lot of experimentation and deep thinking about what is most meaningful. There are no easy answers.
Because we believe in the priesthood of all believers, we all have a role in our church’s reformation. When we see something that isn’t right or isn’t working, it is up to us to speak up. When we see something that is working, we should encourage it and support it. And it isn’t only those who are going to church who get to have a say. Many who are believers don’t go to church. Maybe they’ve been hurt by someone who was a Christian. Maybe they want to sleep in on Sunday morning. Maybe they don’t see it as relevant to their lives. We get to listen to their critiques and include them in the continuing reformation of the church.
As Lutherans we believe in law and gospel. The law makes us aware that we are broken and sinful. We get to confess our wrongs. We get to take a good long look at those we’ve hurt and make amends. We get to see what is keeping us from being relevant to most people. Is it lack of imagination? Is it fear of change? Is it the sin of pride—the feeling that we got it right in the Reformation so we still must be right? But we don’t just stay with the law and how it convicts us of so many wrongs. We have a gracious and loving God. We get to continue in relationship with God and God’s people and try again to do the loving thing, the welcoming thing, the godly thing.
Finally, we get to sin boldly. As this reformation continues, we get to try new things. Some of them might be ridiculous. Some of them are bound not to work for people. But we move forward with boldness, trying new things, picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off after failure. Some things do touch people’s lives though and do bring in the Kingdom of God, bit by bit. Some things do change lives for the better, increase faith, increase justice and right relationship between people. These are the things of the continuing reformation until God finally fully brings God’s vision to this world, God’s Kingdom fully realized on earth.
Although we don’t want to be prideful about our Lutheran faith and believe we’ve arrived, we should be ready to give account of what about it works for us. Once in a while someone will ask why you go to the church you go to or what makes a Lutheran. They may be searching for something deeper. We need to be ready to give an account, to share part of our faith story in a way that connects with them. The trouble is, everyone comes from a different place. It may be good to say something like, “There are lots of things I could say about it. Is there something in particular you want to know about it (my faith, my church, my denomination).” Sometimes people want to know how it is different from the faith they grew up knowing the most about: Roman Catholicism, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish. To answer that question you have to know something about the faith or denomination they come from so then it is just best to ask about their experience in those places and types of worship. Then it becomes a dialogue where they get to express the blessings and shortcomings they experienced and you have a jumping off point for your honest assessment. When people ask me what Lutheranism is all about, I often simply say, “grace.” It is about a loving God freeing us to live our lives the best way we can. If people ask about your church, think of a story that illustrates a point that you want to make. Share a story about someone generous in the congregation, or something humorous that happened. Rather than saying that people are generous or funny or kind, a story helps people connect and know your experience.
And don’t be afraid to be honest about what doesn’t work for you. Believe me, we know that everything isn’t going to work for everyone. A hymn might touch one heart and not another. The children’s message might be your favorite part of the service and there is another person here who wishes we didn’t have children’s sermons. There are those kinds of things based on taste that you can express distaste with but they will probably still happen now and then at least.
Then there are other things that are more about the core of the Gospel. As Reformers it is important to speak up when you see someone not being welcomed, when you notice someone excluded. We need to be honest and keep each other accountable when we get off track from God’s path of grace and love. The congregation is not without sin and brokenness, but we can work on that when we see clearly who we’ve hurt and what we’ve done, and how we’ve strayed from the Gospel.
May we continue to be reformed by God’s love until the Kingdom fully comes into our world and God’s vision is fully realized.