Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 8:31-36 Sermon
October 31, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
149 "The Church's One Foundation"
157 "Lord Of Our Life And God Of Our Salvation"
151 "Built On A Rock The Church Doth Stand"
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM A LUTHERAN?
TEXT (vs. 31-32): "31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'"
What do you expect from a Lutheran? That's a question that I've been pondering all week long, especially while I was attending a pastors' retreat in St. Louis. I was in a room with something like 50 Lutheran pastors of different ages from a variety of different backgrounds. There were divergent differences in personalities and specific ministries, but they were all Lutherans. There was a distinct common thread and bond amongst all of us.
As I was trying to sort all of this out, I decided that the best place for me to begin was by consulting the definitive expert in this field. The expert of whom I am speaking is Garrison Keillor, the host of NPR's Prairie Home Companion. Each week, Keillor talks about this fictitious Minnesota town called Lake Wobegon, and incorporates many different comments about the Lutheran church.
As I was going through his various writings, I found this paragraph where Keillor describes Lutherans. He writes: "I have made fun of Lutherans for years--who wouldn't, if you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn."
"We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them. If you ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Lutheran-less place, to sing along on the chorus of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Lutherans they'll smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road! Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It's a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage. It's natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We're too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment. I once sang the bass line of "Children of the Heavenly Father" in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other. I do believe this: People, these Lutherans, who love to sing in four-part harmony, are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you're dying, they'll comfort you. If you're lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you're hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!"
Keillor's comments are intended to be light-hearted and humorous. But when we hear him talk about Lutherans, or at least when I do, I find myself nodding my head and smiling. Most of the time, I will think to myself, "Yeah, that sounds just like so-and-so." There's this air of truth that winds its way through his stories; and with this comes the sense of assurance that God certainly opens up his hand and pours out his blessings upon his faithful children.
As we look at our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus is giving instruction to the Jews who were his disciples. A disciple is a person who knows without a doubt that Jesus Christ is indeed true God, who took on human flesh and blood and came to this earth to be our Saviour from sin. If they were to be a disciple of his, then they had to continue in his teaching. This directed them right into the pages of the Bible itself.
As Lutheran Christians, this is where we are directed. If we are to be Christ's disciples, then the Bible is where we need to be. That's why the first, and main principle of the Reformation is simply "Scripture Alone."
So, what then should you expect from a Lutheran? A Lutheran will look at the Bible as the verbally inspired and inerrant Word of God. God didn't make any mistakes when he gave the authors the divine inspiration to record his Word.
It isn't enough to say that the Bible merely "contains" the Word of God. Then it would have to be up to us to try to sort out what is and isn't from God. A subjective form of Biblical interpretation just won't work; unfortunately this is what many have tried to do down through the generations. And the result of this is a lot of conflicting ideas and personal notions about God and his will. It's confusing to say the least, and people just don't have much use at all for a God of confusion.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells us that by keeping in his Word, we will know the truth. In our Lutheran Confessions, which is our formal statement of faith, Dr. Martin Luther has this to say: "We know that God does not lie. My neighbor and I--in short, all men--may err and deceive, but God's Word cannot err" (LC IV, 57). And he continues, "If you cannot feel the need, therefore, at least believe the Scriptures. They will not lie to you, and they know your flesh better than you yourself do" (LC V, 76).
In addition to this, Luther also makes this statement: "Stick to Scripture and God's Word. There is the truth; there you will be safe; there are reliability and faithfulness, completely, purely, sufficiently and constantly."
This is what Lutherans are taught from the beginning. In Sunday School, the children learn such songs as: "The B-I-B-L-E, yes that's the book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E;" and "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
And as we grow up in the faith, so many of our hymns carry this message too. "O Word of God incarnate, O wisdom from on high; O truth unchanged, unchanging, O light of our dark sky;" and "God's Word is our great heritage, and shall be ours forever."
So you can expect a Lutheran to be a Bible-believing Christian. In the Reformation, Dr. Luther worked to restore the Church's focus to Scripture alone, and to eliminate all of the man-made notions and ideas that the Church had been perpetuating. Scripture alone had to be the one and only source of the Christian faith.
Okay, so now that we know a true Lutheran regards the Bible as being verbally inspired by God and without error, it is just as important to understand the motive behind the message it delivers. Everything God does is out of grace; that is, his undeserved love for humanity.
God's grace is focused upon Jesus Christ, and what he did for sinful humanity, sinners the likes of you and me. It has been frequently said that reading the Bible is like looking at two arrows: it either points ahead to, or back to Jesus Christ. Dr. Luther says, "The Bible is the cradle, wherein Christ is laid."
The Apostle Paul writes the following in his second letter to Timothy, chapter 3, verses 15-17: "15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
God's Word contains both Law and Gospel. When we look at the Law, we can clearly see what Paul describes in Romans chapter 3 verse 23: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That not only describes humanity in general, but specifically you and me. When we honestly look at the Ten Commandments and apply them to our own lives, we know that we have sinned much. Left to our own devices, we could not withstand the judgment of a righteous and holy God. The Law has convicted us of our sin, without a doubt.
It's by God's grace that we can understand this honest assessment of ourselves, because now we see the need for a Saviour. Jesus says in Matthew chapter 5 verse 48: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." We know that being perfect is not what describes the likes of you and me; and if you have any doubt here, just ask your parents how perfect you were as a child. My mother could write a book about it.
Romans chapter 3 verse 24 tells us what Jesus has done to remedy this situation. We read that we: "are justified freely by [God's] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Jesus came to this earth to live the perfect life we couldn't, and to die the death of a sinner that we all deserve.
Romans 3:24 describes what we call "justification." And what I've described are the two teachings of the Bible, namely Law and Gospel, and how that applies to us.
Now that we know the reliability of the Bible, and the message of God's grace in the Bible, there's still one very key part that's missing. How do we get the benefit of all this? How does this become more than a philosophical concept described in a book?
It all comes together through something called faith, and that is the third thing we have to consider today. Scripture not only describes God's grace, but it does something too. In Romans chapter 10 verse 17, the Apostle Paul writes: "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Hebrews chapter 4 verse 12 says: "For the word of God is living and active."
God the Holy Spirit works through Scripture to create faith in our hearts. That's something that no other book has the power to do. Faith in Jesus our Saviour is the way the forgiveness he has obtained for us actually becomes ours.
I could prove the Bible to be true in a variety of different ways. I could describe God's grace in detail. Even Satan himself knows what the Bible says, and what God's grace is. But the thing lacking is the faith that makes all of this ours. It's only through faith that we can move from simply knowing about Jesus to having a personal relationship with him. Sometimes this is called a "head" knowledge versus a "heart" knowledge. Faith is the key ingredient needed to accept this, and become a Christian.
The three things that describe Christian doctrine, and a Lutheran's confession are: Scripture alone, Grace alone, and Faith alone. Sometimes we see this written in Latin as: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide. This is the proverbial "three-legged stool" of Christianity. All three things absolutely have to be intact, or it's no good at all.
I mentioned that I was at a pastors' conference this week. There were roughly 50 different people there of different ages, backgrounds, personality, and experience. But the thing that was most apparent is the common denominator everybody had with each other. Scripture alone and grace alone were all bonded together through faith alone. This is what we all shared, and is what made us all one in Christ Jesus.
I began today by quoting a paragraph by the radio personality Garrison Keillor, and what he thought we should expect from Lutherans. He draws a simple and often humorous picture of people who know about Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. They not only know it, but they live it in their lives.
So when Garrison Keillor answers the question, "What can you expect from a Lutheran?" I'll repeat what he said in that paragraph I read at the beginning: "People, these Lutherans, who love to sing in four-part harmony, are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you're dying, they'll comfort you. If you're lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you're hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!"
And you know something? Garrison Keillor isn't even a Lutheran! I just found that out. He grew up Plymouth Brethren, which is something like a Mennonite. He now describes himself as an Episcopalian. But he also talks about Anoka, Minnesota where he grew up. He says, "There, everybody is a Lutheran, even the Catholics."
This morning, I'm going to close with some one-liners, done in "Foxworthy" style, entitled "You might be a Lutheran." So here goes:
*If you feel that applauding for a children's choir will make them too proud or conceited, you might be a Lutheran.
*If you believe your pastor knows when you are in the hospital without telling him and that he will know to come visit you, you might be a Lutheran.
*If you believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud, you might be a Lutheran.
*If you believe that a Missouri Synod bride and a Wisconsin Synod groom make for a mixed marriage, you might be a Lutheran.
*If you feel guilty for not staying to clean up the fellowship hall after your own wedding reception, you might be a Lutheran.
*If the Jell-O at a potluck dinner is in the proper liturgical color, you might be a Lutheran.
*If you keep the coffee in a locked cabinet and the Communion wine out in the open, you might be a Lutheran.
*If coffee and cookies are a line item in the church budget, you might be a Lutheran.
*If you have coffee after the service when it's 100 degrees outside, you might be a Lutheran.
*If you watch a Star Wars movie with the line "The force be with you," and you automatically respond "and also with you," you might be a Lutheran.
*If all your relatives graduated from a school named Concordia, you might be a Lutheran.
*If you take your faith seriously, but you can still be free to have a good time and laugh at yourself, you might be a Lutheran.
So what can you expect from a Lutheran? Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."