Saturday, September 18, 2010


So, what’s it all about? Who is this person, Martin Luther? Why did he create a denomination named “Lutheran?”

Of course, it all began with Martin Luther, because of fear, arising from a thunderstorm in which a tree nearby was struck by lightning. He vowed to enter the monastery rather than continue his legal studies.

After several years of study and travel, he still considered himself a sinner unworthy of repentance. He attempted to do all that the church at that time suggested and required. However, it never assuaged his guilt of being a sinner. Eventually, the studies of scripture eventually warmed his heart, especially when he absorbed, both intellectually and spiritually, that we are justified in God’s eyes by faith through grace.

The doctrine of “justified by faith through grace” became the foundation for Luther’s, and for Lutherans,, understanding of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. All of our understanding of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is seen through that perspective.

Because of his new understanding, he found himself in conflict with the church authority of his time. At that time there were indulgences. These were actions or purchases that the church authorities said took away your sinfulness and your life in purgatory after death. Because of this conflict, he principally addressed this issue when he nailed his 95 belief positions on the front door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. He did this on October 31, 1517, the evening before All Saints Day. He knew the cathedral would be filled with people the next day because of this festival commemoration, so it would get wide attention.

It got wider attention than that. The Gutenberg Press was just invented. Of course, documents could be prepared much faster once the press was set. Within several months, all of Europe became aware of this document and Luther’s challenge of church authority.

Out of the basic doctrine of “justification by faith through grace” came a different understanding of how we relate to God, through Jesus Christ. It affected the sacraments, which Luther reduced from seven to two. It changed the way people worshipped. Luther translated a Bible into a common German language so that all people could read scripture. (Before this, it was only translated into Latin.) Hymns with secular music became part of the worship service. A new understanding of personal confession was presented. A different understanding of the presence of Christ in The Lord’s Supper was offered. Baptism was not just an event, but a way of life. Marriage was believed to be a rite of the secular world. In the church, the holy relationship was to be blessed. Ordained priests were permitted to marry. Convents and monasteries, while not shunned, were not identified as a means to a better way of life.

In Luther’s understanding of this divine relationship, there was no separation between our worldly/secular life and our Christian/spiritual life. Yet, we are in the world, not of the world. There were two reasons for the law. First was so that we might lead an orderly secular life. The second was to help us recognize our sinfulness which would drive us to the cross. Luther stated that we cannot recognize God’s grace unless we recognize our true sinfulness. Furthermore, we cannot recognize our true sinfulness unless we can recognize God’s grace. They go hand-in-hand.

Luther’s theology helped to form a basic understanding of what is called, “Being a theologian of the cross.” Simply stated, God’s love for humanity, while evidenced in all of creation, becomes a reality at the cross. God’s love and grace are seen in our experience of human suffering. What is known to be good in the world is evil in the eyes of God. What is evil in the eyes of the world is known to be good with God. Luther was saying that “what is, is what it is.” In other words, we accept life on life’s terms.

What is interesting about Luther is that he never wanted to break from the institutional church of his time. What he wanted was reform. That is why we call what happened as “The Reformation.” Luther was defrocked by the institutional church of his time and labeled a heretic.

Luther would like nothing better than to see us all become “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” We celebrate and reflect upon that possibility each year on the Sunday before October 31. This year Reformation Sunday and the Day of Reformation are the same.

Friday, September 3, 2010


There are many ways we can approach scripture. If you are of the Jewish heritage, you would approach scripture reading only the Hebrew Testament. Then, you might fall into one of several categories, Orthodox, Conservative, or Liberal. Each of those would approach scripture a different way.

It is no different with Christianity. There are numerous denominations. Each one has its own “spin” on how we live out our lives as believers and/or disciples of Jesus Christ. The article on this blog would be extensive if I attempted to categorize them all. That is not my purpose.

What I want for us to consider is a Lutheran approach. The approach I’m talking about takes scripture as a whole and looks upon the writings as the story of God interacting with humanity from its beginning, represented by Adam and Eve and moving forward in history – namely, space and time – to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. When we look through that lens, we might find ourselves discovering the intense love of God toward humanity throughout all of scripture, with the intensity reaching a crescendo at Golgatha where Jesus hung from a cross. It is there where we meet God and God’s love. It is there we come to witness the power of God as God uses death to overcome death. It is there where we see humanity, represented by Jesus, humble itself and open itself totally to the power of God and God’s power of love that gives new life.

All of Biblical history comes to an apex at that cross and then carries us through to the empty tomb.

If we believe that approach, then it is at the cross we must go. It is there we realize that we are powerless over the world. It is there where we meet the face of sin. It is there where we get a of glimpse of Jesus’ love for us and what it means to be his disciple.

No one wants suffering. No one looks for suffering. Yet, it seems that through suffering, we find God. Through suffering, we find Jesus. Through suffering, we begin to understand Jesus’ call to us and the way of the cross.

When we approach scripture as described above, we hear several significant comments of Jesus that all connect to one another: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. 2) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 3) Lose your life for my sake and you will find it. 4) Pick up your cross and follow me. 5) Die to self so that you might live. 6) Love one another as I have loved you.

It is only in suffering that we are able to follow Jesus’ instructions. The initial basis for suffering has to do with “picking up our own cross and following Jesus.” It seems to me a basic component of experiencing this is to be open to the Spirit and to be willing to lose one’s ego for Christ’s sake. To do so is not painless. To begin to do so begins a process of experiencing one’s own sin as character defects and personal shortcomings. To do so is to begin to see the world through the eyes of Jesus and see the world’s approach to life that is counter to Jesus’ call to discipleship. To do so is to identify and acknowledge “the other.” We recognize the marginalized, the outcast, the scapegoat, and sinners like us, those who have no one to speak for them.

“Losing one’s self” and/or “dying to self” is not meant for us to be door mat, used, or manipulated. Losing and dying help us to reach a higher level of self-differentiation that brings to us an understanding of who we are and Whose we are. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we develop, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, a more personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

It is in this dying and losing, and it is in the cross-carrying, that we are able to begin to experience loving others as Christ has loved us.