Who are the Lutherans?
Lutheran Protestants trace their origins to the Reformation in Europe, but are now prominent in the US, Tanzania, Indonesia and many other places. The name Lutheran was first used as an accusation against Martin Luther (16th century). His teachings – it was said – weren’t Christian, but a new heresy, “Lutheranism.” But Luther wasn’t trying to start a new sect. He was trying to call the whole church back to its truest origin: the life-giving grace of God conveyed in the gospel, which he felt was being stifled. The name Lutheran was adopted by those who were discovering this gospel and wanted to continue what Luther began.
Walk into a Lutheran church and ask people “do you consider yourself Lutheran?” Some might say “yes,” others: “really I’m Presbyterian,” or “I grew up Catholic – this is just where I worship.”
Or, “I don’t know if I’m even Christian. When Christians come up in the news, I hear about hypocrisy, moralism and opposition to science. I cringe. If I’m going to be a Christian, it will be something entirely different.”
Some of us might not be sure what we believe or whether we have faith at all. We go to church knowing God isn’t done with us.
By Grace, Liberated
Martin Luther rediscovered Paul’s words: “we are justified by grace through faith apart from works of the law.”
Justification: what justifies me being me? Why should I have a future? What makes me worthy?
Isn’t it my work? So we hear in our society. Respect goes to those who have accomplished something, who get good grades, make a contribution and stay out of jail. Go to church and you hear pretty much the same message: “it’s on you to measure up, to get right God.” And there’s plenty of judgment when we don’t.
God makes demands and we fall short. But the story of Jesus shows us that God’s love for us isn’t limited by how well we perform. God created us and already rejoices in us; God promises us a future and we can’t do anything to earn it. It’s grace.
Even when it comes to trusting God’s promise – to faith – we fall short. God awakens this trust in us. We might not expect it.
We don’t often think of religious types as liberated people. But if I don’t have to be anxious about measuring up or proving myself to God and everyone else, I’m free to focus on what’s going on around me. I notice the needs of my neighbor. Liberty lives as love. Lutheran efforts in fighting poverty and disaster relief are important on a global scale.
At Home in Creation
God’s grace isn’t just about my eternal destiny, but each waking moment. It’s all around me: “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm” we learn – in the Catechism Luther wrote for children – by “divine goodness and mercy, without any merit of mine at all.” The water, bread and wine present in our sanctuary remind us of God’s generosity in all of life.
So often, religious people seem to be in retreat from the world – it is scary out there, and changing fast. But God calls us forward: this is God’s creation! A farmer digging in dirt, a parent changing diapers: these callings are just as high and holy as being a priest or academic, said Luther. As a young monk Luther practiced celibacy, but later broke with tradition, got married, and enjoyed it. Life is to be embraced with gratitude. Music is to be made!
Some will associate the word “creation” with “creationism.” But faith isn’t opposed to science: faith moves us to curiosity, careful observation of this beautiful and strange world around us. In the same children’s catechism mentioned before, Luther names “reason” as one of the precious gift God gives to us. We are to put it freely to use!