Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

7th Sunday Pentecost

 

  1. Pentecost 7.17 “Weeding, And Why I’m Against It…” Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43

I did not reform the Church. God reformed His Church while Melanchthon and I drank beer.” That’s what Martin Luther, who will soon be the man of the hour for a while when the Reformation 500th anniversary rolls around in October, said when people were fulsomely praising him as a religious genius whose tireless labors had brought the Gospel again to light, routed a corrupt Roman bureaucracy, and restored the Church to something like its original and apostolic glory. It’s most certainly not what the great leaders of our age would say of their efforts…

But Luther rolls differently. And I like him, though I’ve learned I’m in a distinct minority in this joy. Another Luther gem, in a similar vein (and there are many like this in Luther) is: “Man is a mule caught between two riders, God and the Devil. And the mule does not decide whose it will be, but the riders (God and the Devil) fight to see who will have and hold it.” That’s in Bondage of the Will (one of the few good theology books in the world!).

Why are quotations like that not much quoted today? Well, I think it’s not only the Puritan disapproval of beer drinking and general slacker-hood that Luther gleefully puts on display for those who would praise him—though that is indeed something very annoying to modern Puritans—and make no mistake, America is a nation of Puritans, some of them gone bad for sure, but none really deviating far from that dreary script. Like the Jedi and the Sith, some go for the dark side and others the lighter side of the Puritan script, but they’re all singing from the same hymnbook. What really grates about the picture of Luther and Melanchthon sitting around drinking beer while God reforms His church, I think, is this: Luther’s adamant refusal to see anything good as coming from himself or his works, the denial that he built that or anything else (despite his intense labors in theology and liturgy and ministry) the stubborn insistence that anything Good done by Luther was really God’s gracious working in and through him despite all the badness He finds in Luther and us (anyone who believes in total depravity can’t be all bad!).

Yeah, I think it’s something like that. The opposite of Lutheran is not Roman, it’s Puritan, or if you’re a theology geek, it would be Pelagian. Pelagius was a British monk of the late 4th early 5th century who insisted that Christianity is not all a free ride, grace, and faith and peace, and sunshine and buttercups freely given by the cross of Christ, no, no! It takes some hard work, some staunch moral efforts on the part of would-be members of the Christian Club! God does His part, but you better do your part, buster! You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why: Jesus is coming; and man, is He ever ticked! He wants to see you do your part, buckaroo, and if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, well… you’ve got a long, hot slog of an eternity facing you (undoubtedly, highly humid too)…

St. Augustine quite correctly saw the anti-Christian legalism in this and got Pelagius condemned (with great reluctance by many of the high-ups in the Roman bureaucracy where Pelagius was something of a pet and a climber). And the doctrine of grace alone, Christ alone, without works of our own got a lot of lip service, but rather less actual belief, it would seem…

But Pelagian theology came roaring back with a vengeance starting with Thomas Aquinas and his love affair with Aristotle, which put God’s work and our works more or less on an equal footing, even though the church still paid lip-service to Paul and Augustine and Co. In a nutshell, the 16th century Reformation was about this: are we saved freely by grace, for Christ’s sake alone, by faith alone, which He alone gifts us, or do we have to do some good works of our own?

The Puritan/Pelagian thing has been our default setting, time out of mind. We want to take credit for the things we have. If we admit they are all gifts, hand-outs, we make ourselves out to be hobos, beggars, and beatniks after all, and who likes thinking of themselves like that?

A “missional mindset” results when we’re offended by this free-grace, Gospel thing—and it comes to Lutherans as much as others. “We have to go out and save the lost.” You hear this all the time. “The Church is not a place to sit around and revel in the Word and Sacraments of Christ, like a party. No! There’s hard work to be done! Plans to be made! Programs to implement! God forbid we sit around with Luther and Melanchthon and Sasse, drinking beer or eating donuts, French-like, in the cafes [with or without berets and beards] and leave Reforming the Church to God! What?! You think Jesus will just do everything, for you!!??”

Jesus’ disciples felt the same indignation in our Gospel. The Master is well aware of their disapproval of His parable of the Sower last week, as if the Kingdom were all a matter of God sowing the Seed and doing with IT as He pleases. So Jesus ramps it up. The Seed the Sower sowed grows up alright, but an enemy, the devil, sows weed-seed that grows up right alongside; yet, instead of commanding us to do something, the Master just chills…

Still, this distresses the servants of the Master. They look and see: the Church is a mess! Weeds, everywhere. Video screens. Praise bands. Liturgical dance and legalistic theology. Whew! What a disaster! And people staying away in droves. Because they are missional-minded, the 12, they go: “Master! Did You not sow good seed? How is it that there are all these weeds? Shall we go out and pull them for You?” And the Master goes [Christian Bale Batman Voice] No. Let it alone. You’ll just mess it up. I’ll fix it, Myself, end of the age…

Just like last week, the problem that keeps so many of us from getting this parable is that we think the good seed is only in the children of the Kingdom and the bad seed is only in the children of the devil. But the truth is the good seed and the bad seed is found everywhere, in everyone—including ourselves! We are both sinner and saint, new Adam and old Adam at the same time as Scriptures say and Luther reminds…

If you try to root the evil out of yourself, you’ll just rip out the heart of Christ that He’s planted in you by faith through His cross too. You can’t save yourself, much less your brother. Only Jesus can and has done this! Yes, He did it in your Baptism. The dying and rising with Christ has already been done. Faith sees and trusts this; and Faith is renewed every time you hear His Word and receive His Body and Blood in the Supper. The old dies and the new person in Christ rises up…

That the end of the age has really come on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, in Jesus and that He brings this Moveable Feast to us whenever we hear His Gospel and receive His Sacraments, this is what the Word proclaims and Faith receives with joy. Christianity is nothing but this—life and salvation freely given, freely enjoyed by faith in Christ Jesus alone, all His doing and all our delight. “Eschatological” is the fancy word for it. “Magical-realism” is the literary term. “The righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father” is what Jesus calls is. IT really happens, right here, right now, for you by faith alone; so, Peace surpassing understanding guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Services

11th Sunday after Pentecost

20 August 2017

8:30 a.m. Matins
11:00 a.m. Divine Service with Communion

9:45 a.m.  Sunday School for ages 3 – Adult

Location

Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.