I just spent two days in St. Louis attending the annual board meeting of Crossings, which I have served on for more than a decade now. What is Crossings, you ask? It is an organization of Lutheran lay people and pastors devoted to the central affirmations of the Lutheran Reformation that we are commemorating this year. Our specific focus is on the unique task of the church, which is to communicate the Gospel so that it is heard as the really good news that it is meant to be. Following Martin Luther’s insights, we proceed from the conviction that that good news cannot truly be heard and appreciated until we are honest about the really bad news that the Gospel addresses, namely both our captivity to and our complicity with the powers of sin, death, and evil. We take seriously Paul’s claim in Romans 5:10 that it was while we were God’s enemies that we were reconciled to God through Jesus’ death. As our brief order of confession and forgiveness says, we really are “in captivity to sin and cannot free ourselves.” And it’s even worse than that. On our good days we might actually want to be free from the powers of sin, death, and evil, but on many other days we are quite happy to be in their grip, to aid and abet them for our own personal or tribal benefit.
That’s not a comfortable thing to hear. It’s not a popular message. Most people (like me… and maybe you?) want to believe that they are the good guys, and that they can take some of the credit for that because they have made the right choices, obeyed the rules, and behaved civilly – and when it comes right down to it, because they are on God’s side. And they back up that narrative by pointing out how at least they’re not as bad as other people, the ones who have made bad choices, flaunted the rules and the norms of behavior, and even rejected God. So it’s no surprise, then, that churches shy away from talking about how wrapped up in sin our lives really are. And that is true not just in talking about our behaviors – the things that we do or don’t do, but also when considering our attitudes and allegiances, where we place our hope and trust. Facing up to the unpleasant truth about ourselves is not fun, but it is necessary. You could compare our situation to being diagnosed with a serious illness. It is not pleasant to receive that kind of news from your doctor, but it is the first necessary step to treating the illness and getting healthy again. Refusing to hear such a diagnosis at all could be disastrous.
This is why Martin Luther sought to reform the church. His 95 theses, which got the Reformation started 500 years ago, together with his other writings, were not so much about exposing corruption in the church as they were about the church’s failure to both properly diagnose our human condition and to offer God’s saving remedy, namely message of the astounding love and mercy of God for us and for all people through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is given to us purely as a gift, without our deserving or earning it. A fitting commemoration of the Reformation, then, would include rededicating ourselves to this central and defining task of the church: communicating, celebrating, and treasuring God’s love for us and for all people, so that by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit we would come to place our ultimate trust in Christ alone and live out the calling of our baptism to be agents of God’s reconciling love in the world around us.
We have a number of events planned for this fall to help us have such a fitting commemoration. I invite you to take advantage of as many of them as you can. May God bless us as we mark this significant milestone, and continue to reform the church for the sake of the world.
☩ Pastor Repp