It’s the Gospel, Stupid

Today we celebrate Reformation Day.  On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther asked to have a discussion group on a few things that had been annoying him lately.  Ninety-five of them, precisely.  

That discussion group took a long time in coming and eventually showed up more in the form of an inquisition than in a theological coffee outing.  The fact that I’m married with three small children and still preparing to lead God’s people in worship this morning is a small and largely irrelevant testimony to the course of history from 1517 to this day.
I’ve had the opportunity to preach to a variety of folks this week, and Wednesday was sort of the banner day.  I had chapel with the young kids from the Christian School next door first thing in the morning, and I closed the day by preaching to and leading in worship about 25 homeless people at the Rescue Mission.  It’s a stark contrast of sorts on the surface.  Young lives full of promise and hope and excitement.  What did I talk with them about?  Well, about gentleness.  But also about the Gospel, and that gentleness never requires that we step back or away from the proclamation of the Good News that the Son of God became a human being to live, suffer, and die for us.  And that in doing so, he buried all of our sins and brokenness with him so that his resurrection became both the assurance that who He was and what He did was real, and the promise that one day, we will share in that new life.
What do you talk with people 30 or 40 or 60 years down the road from those bright, scrubbed children?  Oddly enough, you talk about the exact same thing.  You tell these people whose lives have been broken through drugs and alcohol, through sickness and disease, through mental illness and abuse, through poor choices or just poorly thought out choices that there is a God who created them and loves them and died for them.  You tell them that regardless of what well-meaning Christians might say to them, God is not waiting for them to get their act together, clean up their lives, get a haircut and a job and a shave and a house, and then He’ll come and love them.  He loves them here, and now.  And while someday there may be a time to talk about new directions and choices, anytime we preach new directions and choices as conditional for or the evidence of God’s love for us, we are not preaching the Gospel.  We are preaching law.  Law with the ugly end of a big 2 x 4 aimed directly at people’s head.
That’s what today and tomorrow are about.  It’s not about how great Lutherans are.  It’s not about how awful Catholics are.  It’s not about what a swell guy Martin Luther was – I tend to think he was probably an ass a lot of the time (but then my wife likes to assure me that this is true of most pastors in general, so not to be too hard on him).  It’s not about division or cultural heritage or theological pride.  
It’s about the Gospel.  About a message so simple that it turns the world on it’s head.  A message that drives people to extremes in order to reject or embrace it.  It’s a message that has altered history, saved lives, destroyed livelihoods, influenced economic policies, shattered empires, and that one day will bring everything in creation back to perfect order and harmony.  It’s a message that is centered not in ourselves, but in God.  It rests not on what we’ve done or what we must yet do, but on what Christ has done.  It asks nothing and demands everything.  Once we hear it clearly and truly it changes our lives forever.  It is nothing short of the power of God active in the world and in us.  
That’s what today is about.  We need to remember the Reformation because the Gospel is always being edged in on by the law, by our well- (or ill-) intentioned additions and accretions and epilogues.  Because we are damnably determined to design criteria to know just how truly someone has heard and accepted the Gospel.  Because we’re constantly confusing tradition with theology.  Because the Reformation needs to occur every single day in our hearts and in our congregations and ultimately, in the alleys and ghettos and Wall Streets, in the Rescue Missions and Christian schools and Walmarts of this world.  And it does, and it is – and that’s cause for celebration.  

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