February 12, 2012: Exactly What Does It Mean To Be A Lutheran?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know and confess that we are saved by Your grace alone, that it doesn’t originate or come from us, and that Your forgiveness for our sins is totally about You and comes totally from You. So, today we ask You to further enlighten us as to what all this really means and thereby uplift our souls. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM OUR GRACIOUS SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST!

Texts: 2 Kings 5: 13-14: “Naaman’s servants went to him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed!’ So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”

Romans 1: 16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

I got an email entitled: “Out of the Blue.” It was from a young fellow in CT, of Lutheran background, who had a question about baptism. I answered it, he thanked me, and for now that’s the end of that. But, it’s not. His question re-awakened some issues that I’ve been mulling around a long time. I suppose you could categorize my thoughts under the heading: Exactly What Does It Mean To Be A Lutheran? But, there are other ways of phrasing what I’m thinking. One is: how do I know my faith isn’t misplaced? A second is: how is God’s grace made my very own possession? Well, today I’m going to answer all those questions by letting Godly truth do the talking.

I

Our OT lesson from 2 Kings chronicles the healing of Naaman, the Syrian army commander who contracted leprosy. Elisha, God’s prophet, simply told him to go and wash himself 7 times in the Jordan river and he would be cleansed. Naaman, got very angry over this because it was just too simple, too humble, to “plain Jane” for his taste. And yet, it worked and he was cleansed. Folks, this is an action prophesy of exactly how the forgiveness of sins comes to us today. How are you and I made holy and clean before God Who searches the heart for the slightest hint of imperfection and misguided loyalty? The answer is: through very simple means—the means of grace!

Just like the prophet Elisha’s simple words to Naaman conveyed Godly power and truth, so too, the simple words of and about Christ convey and bestow forgiveness upon our souls. Remember that passage: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”? Couple that with St. Paul’s additional words from Romans 1: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel (of and about Christ), because it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.” I’ve told you many times that that Greek word for power (dynamis) spawned the English word: dynamite. God employed that word for a reason when He inspired Paul. The Gospel, or the good news about Jesus, in all of its forms has the power to transform and change human hearts. It has the power to implant and create faith. It imparts and gives to those receiving it–it gives to them the genuine forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the cross. In essence, the Gospel is Christ in all His wonderful fullness!

II

Because of these truths, Lutherans believe and teach that God’s Word isn’t just informational, but also transportational. Moreover, the saving essence of God’s Word, the Gospel, is found only where God has placed it. We don’t find forgiveness in working hard and becoming technological whizzes in computer science. We don’t discover saving grace by going skiing in the mountains or fishing on the ocean. We’re not given a clean conscience before God Almighty by thwarting a terrorist attack and saving innocent lives. We’re not given the gift of heaven by buffing up our idea of what a heavenly resume should look like, either. If any of that were the case, Naaman had a right to be angry with Elisha for telling him to just go and wash off in the Jordan river. The point it: God gives His grace and all that goes with it only in the humble means He has chosen to: the means of grace, or the gospel in Word and Sacraments.

Make no mistake, baptism doesn’t just “contain” the gospel, it is the gospel! Holy communion is the gospel! Absolution is the gospel. All three forms give us forgiveness for our sins. All three forms give us Christ. All three forms originate with God, come from God, are all about God’s love, and engender Godly trust while also strengthening faith. How do we know this to be true? In communion Christ says it is for: “the forgiveness of sins.” Isn’t that the Gospel? In baptism, during Peter’s Pentecost sermon he says: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”—Hence, isn’t baptism the Gospel? Likewise, Christ commanded baptism for all ages just before He ascended into heaven. The night before He died He gave the Church a “new testament” in communion and then sealed it with a command: “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Let me ask you a question? Do you believe that the Gospel is optional? Do you believe that your possessing God’s infinite, forgiving love is optional? Would you turn your back on His cross and say: “Not right now, I’m busy, catch me later?” Any Christian would be aghast at such an attitude. If we met someone like that we’d probably say: “Wow! Satan’s sure got a foothold in that heart!” Well, when someone says that baptism is optional, or that partaking the Lord’s Supper really isn’t that important, or that these vehicles of God’s grace are just symbolic, emotional props to a person’s faith; well, a sin against the Gospel is a sin against the Gospel, isn’t it?

III

Naaman had the attitude that God demands grandiose things from us in order for us to be cleansed and healed. Likewise, if it’s not grandiose in our minds, it’s not worthy of God or important for us. But, as God says about His Gospel in Isaiah 55: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.” We dare never, ever, elevate our subjective, limited opinions and ideas to a level on par with God’s truth or above His Word. To do so turns us into our own gods and violates the 1st commandment. Naaman’s servants gave him excellent advice in how and why not to do this: “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”

Our world is “me-centered.” Subjective truth (my feelings, I think) have displaced objective reality, or: you may be thinking of the Bahamas, but it’s cold and snow litters the ground outside, so buck up and get used to it! We don’t find God and we are not saved apart from His Gospel! We will not find eternal comfort and strength apart from His sacraments and His truth of forgiveness. After all, “faith is a gift from God not from works, so that no one can boast.” God’s Word, His Gospel, is the most powerful thing in this entire universe. That’s because the Gospel is, comes from, and centers itself in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior! Holding that truth above all others in life unfolds exactly what it means to be a Lutheran! To God alone be the glory! Amen