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Psalm 126


When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.  (ESV)

The Suspect and the Certain

Monday of Pentecost 18

13 October 2014

The Lutheran Reformation was never about the reform of morals. Morals are the proper business of the civil realm insofar as we have any boast before men. Luther was not like a myriad of reformers before him from Bernard of Clairvaux to Francis of Assisi to Erasmus of Rotterdam, who all sought in their own way to amend the sinful lives of the priests and prelates of their day whose wickedness and hypocrisy was an open sewer stinking to high heaven in the nostrils of all Christian folk. Luther, although scandalized by reprehensible behavior, never sought to attack the papacy on the basis of it.


Luther knew the papacy had much deeper and more troubling problems than matters of outward discipline and works. He even argued that if the papacy could revive the piety and discipline of "the good old days," when the fathers of the church produced what were thought to be such glitteringly pious and disciplined lives, that would still not get to the root of the problem. He maintained that all adherence to works as a cause of holiness in God's sight would need to be condemned. While we might consider rather Pollyanna Luther's view that external discipline was far better in the distant past than in the foreground of the present, it does highlight the terms of the debate that led to a clarification of the holy gospel of the righteousness of Christ. No matter if there is external discipline or not, the church's message must be Christ, not about our morality.


How easy it is to get off message, thinking that if we could just get people to behave better the church would be so much more holy and even more "functional" or "better organized" as we moderns would have it. This is a pipe dream. People often come away from our church's national conventions dismayed because they are treated to a display of human willfulness. Why should this human willfulness surprise us? It is a theological "Dog Bites Man" story. At this level, the point is not who wins and loses at a convention, but that a convention highlights the need for divine mercy and forgiveness. The theme at our most recent convention was right on point: "Baptized for this Moment." We are baptized into the mercy of God. Aggregations of humans always give birth to sin and hurt. When he was first elected in 2010, President Matthew Harrison congratulated the LCMS convention for keeping its perfect record by electing another president who is a sinner. How right he was. There are no other options.

We treasure the church not for the humans in it (that is God's unenviable task), but for the message of divine and perfect forgiveness for sinful humans merited by God's precious Son, who died for that absolution. Christ is the church's chief treasure. The piety of the people is always suspect. The mercy of God is always certain.


Martin Luther

"Even if the old religion and discipline of the papacy stood now as it did once, we would still have to follow the example of Paul, who railed against the false apostles despite their appearance as the holiest and most virtuous men, and battle against the self-righteousness of the papal kingdom, saying: 'Regardless of how celibate a life you lead or how you wear out your bodies with frequent discipline or how you conduct yourselves in humility and the religion of angels, you are slaves of the law, sin, and the devil. You will be cast out of the house, because through your own works you seek righteousness and salvation, not through Christ.'"


"Therefore we should pay attention not so much to the polluted lives of the papists as to their wicked doctrine and hypocrisy. This is what we chiefly battle against. Let us imagine that the religion and the discipline of the ancient papacy were flourishing now and were being observed with the same rigor with which the hermits, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, Bernard, Francis, Dominic, and many others observed it. We would still have to say: 'If you have nothing to set against the wrath and judgment of God except your sanctity and chastity of life, you are clearly sons of the slave woman, who must be cast out of the kingdom of heaven and condemned' (Gal 4:30). Satan does not defend the wicked lives of the papists either-which the more wholesome among them also detest-but for the sake of the doctrine of demons (1Ti 4:1) he fights to defend and preserve their hypocrisy and work righteousness. Here the papists cite the authority of the councils and the examples of the holy fathers, whom they declare to be the founders of the holy orders and statutes. Therefore we are fighting today, not against the obvious wickedness and vice of the papacy but against its fictitious saints, who think that they lead an angelic life when they dream that they serve not only the commandments of God but also the counsels of Christ and works that are not required, or works of supererogation. We say that this is a waste of time and effort, unless they have apprehended the 'one thing' which Christ says is the only thing 'needful' and, like Mary, have chosen the good portion, which cannot be taken away from them (Lk 10:42)."


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.30

Lord of the Church, help me to see beyond the sinners in the church to see Your mind at work in their suffering and confidence in Your mercy. Amen.


For Ann Mathis, that she would recover fully from a fall


For Kim Cheng, that she would be strengthened by her gracious God as she undergoes cancer therapy


For the convention of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, that the Lord's mercy would be highlighted by their proceedings
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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