In my previous post I was thinking about the charisms, the gifts, that Lutheranism offers to the church and world, in light of recent conversations about postmodern ministry (read that post before you read this one). What follows is a slightly reworked version of an old post from September:
Lutherans know that God comes down the ladder. We are not able to climb up any ladder of righteousness or spirituality or piety or goodness to reach God and attain some status of holiness or purity. We are not able to climb up some ladder to achieve happiness, fulfillment, contentment. Though we constantly struggle to get up the ladder, to get above others, the ladders we climb just lead us further and further from God and true community. Rather, God comes down the ladder to us, blesses us, graces us, loves us. What did I do to deserve this? Nothing. That’s just the nature of God.
Lutherans know that God dwells where we least expect God to dwell. We know that God is most clearly seen in odd, out-of-the-way places such as the suffering on the cross, or the shame of the animal stable, or among the outcasts. Or with people who can’t climb a ladder to save themselves. When we humans draw lines dividing us from them, good from bad, righteous from unrighteous, God is on the other side of the line. And the Cross forces us to the other side of the line, the other side of the train tracks, the other side of life, to look at and experience God’s presence amidst suffering and brokenness.
Lutherans take sin seriously. In our liturgy many of our churches proclaim, "We confess that we are in bondage to sin, and we cannot free ourselves." Lutherans admit that on our own we cannot escape the power of sin. We do not have a free will – our will and our whole being is bound to sin. Lutherans are, frankly, quite pessimistic about human nature.
Lutherans embrace paradox. We live in a complex world that is many things at the same time. Our world and our worldview is not a black and white, either/or kind of world. But rather, the world is a mucky, messy simul (Latin, meaning at the same time). We Lutherans embrace many paradoxes, many tensions in our theology and practice:
- Simul justus et pecador – we are at the same time sinner and saint.
- God’s Word is law and gospel at the same time.
- We live in two kingdoms – a kingdom of God and a kingdom of man – at the same time.
- By the grace of God we are free to live yet are bound to serve – at the same time.
Because we are people of paradox, Lutherans can’t draw clear lines of either/or, us/them, etc.
Lutherans preach about God (not about us!). Preachers in our churches are called to proclaim the acts and comfort of God. Sermons, while addressing our human condition, do not proclaim (for example) 3 Steps to a Better Life or How to Have a Closer Relationship with God. Lutheran preaching is emphatically not about us. Lutheran preachers proclaim God’s grace, love, compassion, presence . . .
Lutheranism embraces the common stuff of everyday life. Martin Luther valued daily life and the vocation of common people (once saying that it is more blessed to change a baby’s diaper than to be a priest). In the tangible things of daily life, Lutherans find God. Our spiritual life and encounter with God is daily – daily we die to sin and daily we rise with Christ. Church is not a Sunday recharging of the batteries that gets us through the week, because in the week itself we Lutherans acknowledge the blessedness of "ordinary" work that might not otherwise seem spiritual or important in the eyes of our world.
Lutheranism has such potential. For me, Lutheranism is less about traditional forms of worship or polity (though I greatly appreciate those things) and more about a pastoral theology and appreciation of the grace of God that speaks to humanity in many different ways. As such, I think Lutheranism has the potential to be the church in many different ways, proclaiming the Gospel/Good News and administering the Means of Grace – Baptism, Holy Communion, God’s Word – in creative and comforting ways at the dawn of the 21st century.