noun: Lutheran; plural noun: Lutherans
- a follower of Martin Luther.
- a member of the Lutheran Church.
- of or characterized by the theology of Martin Luther.
- of or relating to the Lutheran Church.
I think that the website giving out definitions made some kind of mistake, the kind of mistake that people will often make who do not go to church, or maybe ones that do not go to a Lutheran church.
Because I have heard some people, people on the sidelines of soccer matches and in conversations at the grocery store talking about their churches, or more specifically about the worship leaders in their churches, who used to be the worship leaders in other churches, who moved on or who started their own churches and how they just love so and so and his partner what’s her name. I’m not making those up, I just never bothered to remember the names of the people.
Not the pastors, mind you, these are the people who sing the songs and direct the movements of the worshipers. They are the ones whose faces are on the big screens, who plot out what will make their worship service the most memorable, the most enjoyable.
Some of the people I have overheard have actually left one church and gone to another because the worship leaders have gone to another church. Like groupies.
I listened one day in a downtown coffee shop for almost an hour once and in that hour not once were the following words used: pastor, Jesus, Christ, holy, sermon, cross.
What struck me about these conversations that I hear from time to time is that these are also the people who will tell you, when you ask what kind of church they go to, that they go to a Christian church as if that separated them from the rest of us. They will sometimes even say that Christian churches are different from Catholic or Lutheran or Presbyterian churches.
I by no means mean to imply that they never hear good sermons, or do not receive an immodestly large dose of the gospel of Christ, simply that they never seem to talk about it, at least not when I am listening in.
If they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, then might we not also get a glimpse into folks’ lives of faith by their, and just as importantly, our words?
I am reminded of the passage in First Corinthians three where Paul encounters the group of believers, each of whom lays claim to the one who baptized them before they lay claim to Christ. Paul teaches them that it is the human inclination to cling to the things of this earth, to the people and not to the message, to the form and not the message.
It is the Holy inclination to cling only to Christ, not just in name but in everything else that we do on every day of the week. In Romans 14:8 Paul also says that “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s,” and so everything in between those two things, in all that we do, we are the Lord’s.
Not the we are followers of Martin Luther; I am not a follower of Martin Luther because the church I attend has his name on the door, on the sign out by the street. I follow Christ and I use the path laid out for me by Martin Luther and his inheritors to work out God’s will, to find the calling of the Spirit, to locate the word of God made flesh in my own life, usually in another, typically a stranger.
Lutherans do not follow Martin Luther in the same sense that Buddhists follow Gautama Buddha. The theology that Marty lay down was not a religion in itself but instead a way of viewing faith, of seeing God at work, of thinking and speaking about Christ that overlays the faith of the believer and helps them see the world, like bifocals for your Christianity.
For folks who do not have such a lens through which to look, or who do not realize that everything else in the world, every other doctrine or group brings its own lens, it may seem that Lutherans follow Luther, Methodists follow John Wesley, Presbyterians follow John Knox and Catholics follow Cathol.
But we don’t, do we? I read Martin Luther, but then again I also read Robert Ludlum and nobody accuses me of being a Ludlumite.
I wish that the dictionary people had a little more theological nuance, a little more insight into the life of faith instead of trying to reduce everything to as few words as possible, something cut and dried.
I mean, I understand, I understand that in actual fact Lutheran is both a noun as well as an adjective in common usage, Lutherans are a people and something can be describes as Lutheran but that does not proscribe what it is that makes us different from other fellowships, from other denominations, even those who steadfastly deny that they belong to no denomination.
I think that this morning’s gospel says it better than any other piece of scripture I can recall. I did one of my preaching class sermons on this one and I recall thinking at the time of how perfectly it fit into the world of human sin, and our inability to admit that we suffer from it.
The Jews in this passage, standing in for everyone else in the world as they do so often in John; they say that they are the descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone, casually overlooking the time in bondage to Egypt the way most of us casually overlook “little” sins, lies of kindness or convenience, so called “little white lies” in an attempt to diminish their impact.
Seriously, how many of us think of ourselves as “sinful?” How many of us can count the sins we have committed in the past week that we have recently confessed in this place? Our concept of ourselves doesn’t really allow for that kind of thinking. We see ourselves the way that the Jews crowded around Jesus saw themselves, pretty much good, chosen even, blessed and forgiven.
The thing about Lutherans is though, they don’t count sins. It isn’t about sins as individual things you could do or not do, things you could choose to do better or fail to do better. That, in Luther’s way of thinking is the problem with how a church deals with sin, and not the solution.
Confessing individual sins, individual acts of disobedience or weakness and allowing that no unconfessed sin could ever be forgiven was a big part of what Luther rebelled against. It gave too much weight to human effort and not enough to the will of God, it made it about us and our earning God’s love and not about God’s love itself.
Luther said the problem is not sins but instead sin, the state of being out of step with the will of God, our relationship with God broken by our utter inability to perfectly execute God’s will, our utter inability to perfect ourselves.
When you make sin and not sins the problem, then it all becomes about God and God’s love for mankind, shown most perfectly in the coming of Christ. If sin is the condition of Man and in mankind there is not the possibility of escape, then only the love and grace of God will ever be effective, will ever be capable of delivering on the promises of God.
Lutherans are not people who follow Luther, we just look at God through those specific bifocals, the ones that show us our neighbor up close, and the breadth of God’s love for us when we look higher and see the horizon and know that we are called to show the fruits of that grace as we pass the horizon and continue on out into the world.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
Those are the fruits of the Lutheran lens, the worldview we have inherited. Not some devotion to Luther, who was wrong about a couple of things in his day, truth be told, but instead seeing everything from the knowledge that we will not understand all that we see, that in the end of every unsolvable problem, at the end of every hopeless situation, at the very end of us, of human endeavor, there we will find God.
God urging us on, calling to us from beyond the veil of death, repeating again and again the promise that we will not die but live, that we need not fear, that Christ has delivered us from our own weaknesses and desires and given to us a faith that frees us.
It would be easy to get lost in the weeds here, to think of this freedom as license to do and to say whatever we please, after all Christ has us covered, we can do as we like, right?
But the scriptures remind us again and again, convict us again and again, pointing out the ways in which we have fallen short, the ways in which our salvation has not made us perfect, just shown us the truth and so we find ourselves living not as if nothing mattered but as if everything mattered.
We know now that we can take out the garbage in the light of Christ, and get our oil changed in the light of Christ and mow our lawn within the scope and acknowledgement of the love of God shown to us. Church is not a once a week activity, it colors how we live and how we fall in love and how we fight and how we forgive.
Grace doesn’t make you perfect, it just makes you look honestly at yourself, know your faults and then frees you from fear that these faults will be the end of you, that it is too late, that there is nothing you can do. It reminds you that, no, there is nothing you can do but that’s okay, you live within the love of God.
Grace lifts the mantle of fear from your shoulders and allows you to be truly free.
Bifocals. Bifocals show you the neighbor, the brother and sister not yet in Christ, the one not yet loved as family, the one still lost and wandering, looking for peace so fervently that they fall into sin over and over again trying to get themselves free. Grace shows you that you already love them in Christ, as Christ loves them, you have but to recognize it.
You need not fear. Christ has you covered. Bifocals also show you the majesty of God’s grace so that when you look at the neighbor, the brother and sister not yet in Christ, the one not yet loved as family, the one still lost and wandering, the unlovely you see the ways in which grace can free them too, can make them whole as you have been made whole, can free them also from fear.
Lutherans do not follow Luther, that’s just dumb from our perspective. We have borrowed his glasses though, his beautiful bifocals to show us who we truly are in relation to God, our faults and our shortcomings, but then they also show us how great is God’s love for us, greater than our failings, greater than our sins, greater than anything at all and it has freed us to be that love for the world, to carry it in our lives and in our words.
So speak, Lutherans! Speak of grace and of love and of freedom. Remind the world that these things are our heritage in faith, that they actually mean something in how they work in our lives. Remind the world that Church is about God, and God’s love for us shown in Christ Jesus, amply providing the strength we need to see our own sin and the sins of others, forgive them, and build a better world in Jesus name.