Sunday, January 27, 2008

Things I Love About Being Lutheran

I love being a Lutheran. I absolutely love this particular expression of the Christian faith. As Tony Campolo said during a visit to Nebraska a few years ago, "you Lutherans really have a good thing going. Your theology is great--you have a message that the world needs to hear. It's too bad you keep it such a good secret."

If you're here looking for the latest Garrison Keillor-esque list that would inevitably involve lutefisk, tuna hotdish, jello, and coffee, that's not what this is about. This is about my relationship with God, how that impacts my relationships with others and with the world. This is about a worldview...a set of paradigms...a set of glasses through whose faith-lenses I filter the issues I face every day.

It just so happens that Chris over at Lutheran Zephyr wrote a blog post that perfectly captures the spirit of what I love about Lutheranism. Rather than try to re-invent the wheel (and not nearly as eloquently as Chris originally did), I've copied the text of his post. There's some really great stuff there. So with much thanks to Chris...and his blog, The Lutheran Zephyr, read, digest, and enjoy:

I was thinking about the charisms, the gifts, that Lutheranism offers to the church and world, in light of recent conversations about postmodern ministry. What follows is a slightly reworked version of an old post from September:

Lutherans know that God comes down the ladder. We are not able to climb up some ladder of righteousness or spirituality or piety or goodness to reach God and attain some status of holiness or purity. We are not able to climb up some ladder to achieve happiness, fulfillment, contentment. Though we constantly struggle to get up the ladder, to get above others, the ladders we climb just lead us further and further from God and true community. Rather, God comes down the ladder to us, blesses us, graces us, loves us. What did I do to deserve this? Nothing. That's just the nature of God.

Lutherans know that God dwells where we least expect God to dwell. We know that God is most clearly seen in odd, out-of-the-way places such as the suffering on the cross, or the shame of the animal stable, or among the outcasts. Or with people who can't climb a ladder to save themselves. When we humans draw lines dividing us from them, good from bad, righteous from unrighteous, God is on the other side of the line. And the Cross forces us to the other side of the line, the other side of the train tracks, the other side of life, to look at and experience God's presence amidst suffering and brokenness.

Lutherans take sin seriously. In our liturgy many of our churches proclaim, "We confess that we are in bondage to sin, and we cannot free ourselves." Lutherans admit that on our own we cannot escape the power of sin. We do not have a free will - our will and our whole being is bound to sin. Lutherans are, frankly, quite pessimistic about human nature.

Lutherans embrace paradox. We live in a complex world that is many things at the same time. Our world and our worldview is not black and white, either/or, but rather a mucky, messy simul (Latin, meaning at the same time). We Lutherans embrace many paradoxes, many tensions in our theology and practice:

  • Simul justus et pecador - we are at the same time sinner and saint.
  • God's Word is law and gospel at the same time.
  • We live in two kingdoms - a kingdom of God and a kingdom of man - at the same time.
  • By the grace of God we are free to live yet are bound to serve - at the same time.

Because we are people of paradox, Lutherans can't draw clear lines of either/or, us/them, etc.

Lutherans preach about God (not about us!). Preachers in our churches are called to proclaim the acts and comfort of God. Sermons, while addressing our human condition, do not proclaim (for example) 3 Steps to a Better Life or How to Have a Closer Relationship with God. Lutheran preachers proclaim God's grace, love, compassion, presence . . .

Lutheranism embraces the common stuff of everyday life. Martin Luther valued daily life and the vocation of common people (once saying that it is more blessed to change a baby's diaper than to be a priest). In the tangible things of daily life, Lutherans find God. Our spiritual life and encounter with God is daily - daily we die to sin and daily we rise with Christ. Church is not a Sunday recharging of the batteries that gets us through the week, because in the week itself we Lutherans acknowledge the blessedness of "ordinary" work that might not otherwise seem spiritual or important in the eyes of our world.

Lutheranism has such potential. For me, Lutheranism is less about traditional forms of worship or polity (though I greatly appreciate those things) and more about a theology and appreciation of the grace of God that speaks to humanity in many different ways. As such, I think Lutheranism has the potential to be the church in many different ways, proclaiming the Gospel/Good News and administering the Means of Grace - Baptism, Holy Communion, God's Word - in creative and comforting ways at the dawn of the 21st century.



Chris said...

It's rare that I'm quoted, and rarer yet with such a kind introduction. Thanks for the nice words, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Peace to you!

LutheranHusker said...

Chris--my pleasure...and thank you for writing such a well-put summary of some of the highlights of Lutheran thought! I edited my post because I finally found your "Lutheran Charisms" post (which was the one I had been searching for in the first place, but for some sily reason couldn't find).

Again, thanks, and blessings to you during the remainder of your internship year!

Rev Scott said...

Amen, to both of you - Chris for the good stuff, and Matt for acknowledging that there's far more to being Lutheran that GK lets us believe. He's a funny guy, but not nearly as much when you live with things they joke about on APHC.

Thanks for the link, Matt - I'm going to share this with our students the next time we meet!

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

gotta say even though i'm partial to lutherans... it matters not one iota. we're all striving for the same things, just different methods.