When I walk into a library I head straight to the new book section and look for the latest history books. One of the ways that I can tell if book is worth my time, is checking to see if there are notes in the back or at the end of the chapters. Any non-fiction book without recorded sources is worthless. If you don’t know the sources, how can you be sure that the author isn’t just making stuff up? By examining the sources one can also find clues about the presuppositions and possible agenda of the author. All of this together can help the reader discern whether or not the history portrayed in the work is a plausible explanation of what happened.
A concern for good sources was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. Luther did not come to advocate for change in the church just because he felt like it. He examined what was going on in the church in his day and then compared it to his study of Scripture and the writings of the church fathers and arrived at an informed conclusion that the church had strayed from God’s intention for it Much of what Luther argued for was simply that people ground their faith life in the good sources that God provides for us to live a full life of faith. So rather than merely celebrating the past why don’t we learn from it? The Reformation taught us that they only way the church can truly meet the needs of the people today is if it stays grounded in the sources revealed by God throughout the history of God’s people.
We come to know God’s Word through the gift of the Scriptures contained in the Bible. It is the primary source document of the faith. Luther translated the Bible into German so more people could read it for themselves. The reformers argued that the Bible should be read so that people can search for Christ. In the scripture we find both Law and Gospel. We learn about where we need God in our life and how we might amend our ways. We then come to know the love and grace of God to help bring us to a place of healing and reconciliation. Scripture helps us discern between what is God’s Word and what is our witness (or opinion). While our witness is vital and many Christians should give witness to God more than they do, it is of secondary importance to the Word of God which brings life. Scripture is an objective source to gauge our life of faith. So the lesson of the Reformation is to take Scripture seriously, read it daily, pay attention to the context of section you are reading, and don’t use little snippets of it to merely prove your argument. The Word is not Bible trivia; it is life and death. Read it and live.
Our well being will not be determined by what we do, but by whom we trust. Disciples of Jesus Christ really don’t believe in self-help, they believe in the God of grace who provides help. Our customs, practices, responsibilities, and actions find their true value only when they open our eyes to faith. Our trust that God’s promises are truly for us, is the only outcome that Grace requires. While we may want this thing or that thing to happen in our lives, or we might want to change the world, in the end what will matter will be who we are walking with in trust. We do not find our center in an identity, organization, religion, country, political party, clique, club, or the achievements we place on our resume, but in the loving arms of God. Salvation is more than mere self-esteem; it is a trusting relationship with God and neighbor. Therefore the Reformation teaches us to tend to our faith life, to move forward in trust, and to look for God’s work in the world.
We have not been given life, hope and salvation because we have earned it in any conceivable way. Jesus did not die for me because I am such a great guy. We are all good and bad mixed up, simultaneously saint and sinner, virtuous one day and deplorable the next. God chose to send the Son because God loves the world. If we deserved it, it would not be Grace. There is no double entry accounting Excel sheet in the sky with my sins in one column and and brownie points in the other. God knows us way better than that and God has chosen to love us through Jesus Christ. Our preferences tastes are often confused with the means of Grace; we feel that people need to worship the way we like it, read the things we think are important, act the way we want in church, and increasingly these days hold the political views that make us comfortable. Grace has little to do with a world’s concept of happiness, prosperity, or acceptance. It is a validation and verification of our God given identity as beloved children of God created in God’s image, often in spite of the culture’s rejection of us.
The Gospel of the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is our story. It is not merely a series of facts; it is the life giving hope that informs every aspect of our life. We called by the Holy Spirit to live a life “in Christ”. It is in Jesus that we move and have our being. How are our actions, beliefs and emotions seen in the shadow of the cross? Can we look at others the way Christ looks at us? When we look to Christ we see the fullness of God and the truth about our world both good and bad. Christ will at times challenge us (Law) and other times uphold us (Gospel) but as the Resurrection reminds us, Christ will never abandon us. The actions of our church, Word and Sacrament are given so that we can come and meet (commune with) Christ and our sisters and brothers. Christ is the mediator and bridge between the divine and human, and often the bridge between divided human beings.
These four, Scripture, Faith, Grace and Christ are the sources of our common Christian life. The history of the faithful is a story of a dance between wandering away from the sources and through the work of the Spirit, finding our way back to them. My prayer for you is that your ideas find their true source in the Word of God, that your life is lived while drinking from the source of Faith, that your dignity and worth is watered from the source of Grace, and that you find God through Jesus Christ.
Keep the Faith.
Pastor J. David Knecht DMin