Dear Friends through Christ Jesus:
Happy Independence Day! I pray everyone has a safe and joyous summer!
The 4th of July is a day where this great nation declared her freedom from the reign of Great Britain and we began to govern through the “Will of the People.” This form of government, a grand experiment at the time, was to be run by what we call “democracy,” in which “We the People” have authority to choose our leaders. Then in our name, the elected officials are to decide upon legislation. Over the course of almost 250 years, this form of government has evolved into basically a two party system— republican and democrat. Granted many call themselves independent, but only four of the five-hundred-thirty-five elected federal officials represent that group. Each party has a base of core supporters who hopefully believe in the common principles of that group. The task of the party is to grow their base by sharing their convictions with others, in which they believe will work toward the common good. Sound to me like a pretty good way to run a country. Too bad human nature gets in the way.
Seeing that you will be getting this letter right before this special holiday, let’s spend a moment and make a few comparisons between church and society. First, did you know that you could be celebrating a holiday even greater than the 4th of July, each and every single day of the week, for the rest of your life? Granted we celebrate freedom from England one day out of the year, yet each and every day when you remember the waters of baptism you are celebrating a greater freedom—Freedom from Sin, Death and the Devil—true independence! That’s just one of the common principles we as Lutherans believe. Seems to me, this type of freedom is more exciting than hamburgers and hot dogs, even fireworks.
While democracy is the path chosen to govern society in the United States of America, and many other countries, God forms the church to rule the hearts and minds of all people in all nations, so that whatever form of government chosen throughout history, the church, hopefully will keep that nation working toward the common good.
Over the course of almost 2000 years, the church as evolved into more than just Jews and Gentiles, Republics and Democrats, it has evolved into over 300 different denominations or parties. Are we that different? And are the differences a good thing or bad thing? I say Bad, because it can cause division, just like in politics. I also say Good, because it can help define our belief, just like in politics. However, our task in growing our base, by sharing our common convictions, remains the same as it does in our democratic and republican parties—with one difference—the church is to be governed not by the will of the people, but by the will of God. Sounds to me like a pretty good way to run a world. Too bad human nature gets in the way.
So what makes the Lutheran church any different than the other 300 denominations in this God given free nation? Let me start out by saying, Lutherans did not claim independence from the Roman Catholic Church, we were excommunicated, kicked out. While we still hold much in common with our catholic brothers and sisters in faith, and all the other 298 denominations, there are a few common principles or convictions that hold us together.
First, and in no particular order. God comes to Us! We do not find God. God finds us. God promises to come to us through the two pillars of our faith—Word and Sacrament. This is our foundation. Allow me to ask, “How do you communicate with the ones you love?” Through word, right? You tell stories, write letters, and perhaps even share a dream or two. Well, God communicates in the same manner. Through Word found in Scripture. Those words can be read, preached, sung or acted out, but God promises to come through them. God also comes to us through the mysterious of life. God comes to us through the most simple of elements of the Sacraments, or visible words: The cleansing waters of Holy Baptism and bread and drink through Holy Communion. God comes to us through Word and Sacrament!
Second, and what got us in the most trouble with the Catholic Church, is that be teach and believed we are Saved by Grace through Faith. Saved from what? Anything! Everything! Sin, Death and the Devil! And not by our own works or efforts, but by God free grace—a gift. We receive this free gift by trusting Christ Jesus. Saved by grace through faith.
Within our party or denomination we Focus Upon the Cross. The Cross is Martin Luther’s “shorthand” for the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. The Cross keeps us from being drawn to a theology of glory, where we are tempted to look only at the resurrection, seeing only the rewards and blessings while passing over the sacrifice. The resurrection comes only through the Cross—the pain and suffering of Jesus for your sin. Focus upon the Cross.
The last conviction I want to mention that sets us apart from the other 298 denominations is each and every member of the Lutheran faith is part of The Priesthood of All Believers. There should be no hierarchy within the Lutheran tradition. (Pastor/Parishioner, Male/Female, Gay/Straight, Black/White/Brown). A pastor is no more important than the member in the choir or a parishioner that gives of their treasure. We all have an equal voice. Sure we all have different tasks, but we serve the same Lord in whatever call or profession we may find ourselves, whether a doctor, nurse, teacher, student, homemaker, retired, it doesn’t matter. You are part of The Priesthood of All Believers.
This priesthood of believers is what makes up our base, a base that hopefully believes in the principles of the Lutheran faith. Our task during the month of independence is to grow that base by sharing our core convictions with others, offering a more exciting type of freedom, and always working for the common good, because that is the Will of God. Sounds like a pretty good way to run a church. Let’s not let human nature get in the way!
Happy Independence Day!
Pastor David Trexler