Who are the Lutherans?
Lutheran Protestants trace their origins to the Reformation in Europe. They 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 hoping to see the catholic church turn back to its true origin: the life-giving grace of God conveyed as good news, which Luther 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 get involved with 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? What will make things right? 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 excel, make a contribution and stay out of trouble. Go to church and too often you hear the same message: “it’s on you to measure up, to get right God.” There’s plenty of judgment when we don’t.
God gives commands. 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 promises – to faith – we fall short. God awakens faith 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 helping people 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, gifts from every direction: “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 working in the soil, 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!