Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pentecost 4C

Lutherans LOVE good theology. And by "good theology" I mean a way of talking about God and God's activity in the world that is deeply influenced by the political and social battles of the 16th century. Good theology is what defines Lutherans. It's unique to us.

Anglicans are defined by a certain, prescribed, worship. Lex orandi/lex credendi or "the law of prayer is the law of belief." Anglicans know what they believe when they pray it. It's what binds them together.

The Roman Catholic Church has the pope as a unifying figure, for better or for worse. No matter where you are in the world, no matter what your theological beliefs, no matter what style of worship draws you in, it's the pope - "the vicar of Christ on earth" - who stands at the centre of your faith.

Lutherans don't have it so easy. As Lutherans, we say that it's the doctrine of justification by grace through faith that brings us together. Justification by faith: the notion that we sinful human beings are brought into a right relationship with God not through any actions or inactions on our part, but because we are declared innocent and clean because of Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection to new and everlasting life. We are saved by grace through faith, and not by works of the law. That is Lutheranism's central, defining, idea.

The problem then lies when we try to figure out what that means. How does such a notion help us to understand the bible? No two Lutherans agree on that. How does such an idea help us with faithful daily living? Lutherans are still fighting over all that. How does the doctrine of justification by grace through faith help us to relate to an unbelieving world? Lutherans are still squabbling over that question.

Lutherans fight because Lutherans like to be right. We like to have theology all wrapped up tightly in a box so no air can get out. We don't like our theology to breathe. We don't like it to have life. In fact, when the Lutheran Confessions were written (the Lutheran Confessions being a body of writing that tries to sort out exactly what we believe, it's not a "confession" in the "confessing our sins" sort of what, but a "confession of faith" [we believe, teach, and confess...this to be true]). When the Lutheran Confessions were written, Martin Luther and the other writers when to great pains to demonstrate that they have said "nothing new." That the emerging Lutheran movement was steeped in old, traditional, thinking. That it was their way of telling their enemies that they had plugged all the theological holes so that nothing new could get in, and nothing old could escape.

And so, we equate proper believing with having good theology. For Lutherans, faithfulness seems to begin and end right here - in the brain, in how we think about God. For Lutherans, the tendency is to put more value on the content on one's personal belief, then in seeing God at work in peoples' lives.

And today's gospel reading is a direct challenge to those of us who equate correct theological thinking with faithful Christian practice.

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As Jesus stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”

You have to look for it, but once you see it, you can't take your eyes off it.

When the demon-possessed man saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”

"What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?"

This is the first time - and the only time - in Luke's gospel, that Jesus had been address by his proper, royal, title, "Son of the Most High God." And he was called this, not by the disciples who'd been learning at his feet. They didn't really have a clue who he was. The disciples argued with each other about who Jesus was. And it certainly wasn't the religious leaders, many of whom were more interested in protecting their power in the society than guiding people in the way of the Lord.

It was the demons possessing this man who knew who Jesus was. It was the forces of those who would thwart God's mission who called Jesus by his correct title and show'd him proper respect. It was the enemies of God's kingdom who had the best theology.

As a Lutheran, I find that a challenge to everything I've been taught. While, on the surface, I'd been taught the doctrine of justification by faith, the notion that we are declared innocent by God's grace and not by any work that I do, underneath, it had been suggested that I'm really saved by my belief in this doctrine. If the demons can believe and confess better theology than I can, where does that leave me? Where does that leave you?

It may not be "good theology" that you hope saves you. You may put your faith in your personal moral code. It may be your life of worship and prayer, or how many bible verses you know. It may be your work ethic. Or financial success. It may be all those hours volunteering.

But we know that there's nothing wrong with any of those things. But we also know there is always someone who is better than us in what we strive for. There is someone who prayers longer and better than we do. There is someone who is richer, works harder, has more integrity, who spends more time giving to others. There is always someone farther ahead in the Christian path. So what happens then? What happens when we know we've fallen short of human standards, much less than God's? What happens when are confronted with the fact that we'll never be as good as we want to be?

So I guess that leaves us where we usually are: as sinners in need of God's grace. As people who's hope is in the one who died and rose again for us. People who have been washed clean in the waters of baptism, who've been liberated of the legions within us that keep us far from God, who've been forgiven and set free. People who've been told by Jesus, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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6:15 PM  

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