How would you identify yourself—your confession, your belief “system,” your religion—to someone who is not a Christian? If asked, of course you would identify yourself as a Christian. Christian—even with all the assumed baggage that Christianity carries in the United States—means that you belong to Christ. You do not belong to Buddha, or Mohammed, or Krishna, or to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, or to any of their books. You belong to Christ and so you live by the Words (the Scriptures) that testify to Him. You do not belong to Luther any more than you belong to any other Christian teacher. No matter who the person is, ancient or modern, the Scriptures are the ruler by which you measure any human being’s teaching.
It is good to recognize in a world that barely knows Christianity—let alone its various stripes and differences—that our identity is always and only in Christ and not in any man, certainly not in Luther. But this can sometimes mislead us. Perhaps we will say, “I am a Lutheran-Christian,” where “Lutheran” modifies “Christian” to tell us what kind of Christian we are. Or perhaps we will say it another way: “I am a Christian first and a Lutheran second.” On the one hand, this is a good impulse: we want to be identified by what belongs to Christ, and not what belongs to human beings. But, on the other hand, it can mislead us. Such statements can very easily assume that Lutheran or Baptist or Presbyterian or Roman Catholic are additions to Christianity. In other words, we assume that there is a core of what we call “Christianity,” and then various people added various, other, more secondary teachings to the central Christian faith. It very well might be the case that human beings have built wood, hay, or straw onto the precious foundation of Christ. But it is not necessarily so.
It’s no secret that the Scriptures view the resurrection of Jesus—and the eternal life that flows from Him—as of first importance and all-encompassing (1 Corinthians 15). But what does it mean for our lives in this world where death, and not life, seems to reign and rule?
First, it means that if we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection (which He says happens in Holy Baptism), then if Jesus is alive, not even death can separate us from Him. He’s already on the far side of death so that, when we die, He will bring us into life.
You Are What You Read (Part 1)
“‘But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 2:8-3:3).
“Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter” (Revelation 10:8-10).
“Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Lutheran Service Book, 308).
In the cycle of the year, August seems to be made for “last gasps.” The last gasp of summer, the last gasp of vacation, the last gasp of freedom for children before they return to school. Unfortunately, the cycle of the year, especially the school year, has intruded on the Church. People take the summer off from church (from Christ?), the church building seems emptier, Sunday School attendance wanes.
While the issues during the summer are obvious, there is a deeper issue behind the rhythms we set for ourselves: what we teach our children. You and I know how hard it is to get back into a routine after we have been out of it for a while. We know how difficult it is for our children (and us!) to get back into the routine of getting up and going to school. It is no different with the things of God. Habits can be good or they can be bad, but we all know that bad habits come naturally to us, while good habits have to be cultivated and meticulously maintained. If you have a garden, you know about this. You cannot just let the soil of a garden do what it does naturally, and expect it to be weed-free. Wouldn’t it be nice if the plants we want would grow as quickly and easily as the weeds! (I can’t wait for the new creation.)