Friday, October 28, 2011

From Slaves to Beggars

John 8 is the appointed Gospel reading for Reformation Sunday. And for good reason. Of course, Romans 3 gets plenty of air-time, as it should. As all God's Word should, Old and New Testament. After all, Luther's tower experience was as much about Romans 3 as it was Habakkuk 2 and the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures for that matter. What Paul declares in Romans Jesus had already declared in John 8:

"Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 

And what Jesus teaches in John 8, Paul picks up in Romans 3...

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

In other words, Jesus' Word is freedom. Jesus' life isfreedom. Jesus death is freedom. From what? Sin. Death. The threats and punishments of the Law. That was our Pharaoh, our captivity. For what? Life in Him. Life for the neighbor. Paul covers both sides of this crucified liberation throughout Romans (not to mention the other epistles.

 Over the course of his life – and especially at the end – this is what Luther came to know: the Gospel, the Good News. Free forgiveness. Captivity in the Egypt of sin, death and hell was over. Christ has led his people forth in a new - and better exodus - by means of his own flesh and blood. He has brought his people out of captivity. To die in the wilderness? No, to die in him. Die in Baptism. And therefore to rise in him and in Baptism. To be raised as beggars. That's the pattern of the Christian life: from slaves to beggars.

This was among Luther's last written words: "We are all beggars this is true." Like the Syro-Phoenician woman, "Yes, Lord; I know I am dog, but even the dogs receive the crumbs from the master's table."

Luther's words still ring true today.
In Luther’s day God was seen as a judge, full of wrath and recompense. And Jesus was no better. A new Moses. A most holy and righteous Law giver. Supreme Judge. If that’s who Jesus is all the sweat and torture all the works and relics in the land make sense. There had to be some way to appease this divine dictator. What joy then, you see, Luther came to know as he read the words of the prophets: "The righteous will live by faith" and in St. Paul, "The righteousness of God made known to us in the Gospel!" What freedom! What life.
In our day, however, God – if he is known at all – is questioned.  "Does he/she/it exist? Does it matter? I'm not religious, but I am spiritual. There’s no hell. Love wins!" And the list could go on. Today God the judge has been replaced by self. We have taken the bench and donned the black robes. We even have our own indulgences – Purpose Driven this and that. My vision. My best life now. My program. Mine. Mine. Mine. The church today is still in dire need of the Lutheran Reformation. For we are constantly tempted to throw the chains back on and march ourselves back into Egypt, back into slavery, sin and death.
What Luther once wrote to his brother in Augustinian order, Georg Spenlein, could as easily have been written for Christians today. "Father, my dear brother, learn of Christ, even Christ the Crucified! Learn to sing his praise and despairing of yourself, say to him: 'You Lord Jesus are my righteousness, but I am your sin. You have taken away what was in me and have given to me what I was not. Be careful never to let endeavor to obtain such purity that you no longer find yourself a sinner, much less desire to be one. Christ dwells only among sinners. This is why he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, so also to make his dwelling among sinners. Take note of this his love time and again, and you will experience the sweetest consolation...And so only in him, through having despaired of yourself and your works, will you find peace. Here you will learn from Christ himself, that he, as he has received you unto himself, has made your sins his own, and his righteousness your righteousness'" (LW 48:12-13).
In other words, Christ has bound himself in our captivity and slavery in order to give us, and win for us, his freedom and life. Righteousness - like holiness, grace and everything else in Scripture - is not achieved, but received. As a slave does not free himself but is rescued. As a beggar does not feed himself but is fed and cared for. As a dead man does not resuscitate himself. So too our Lord Christ has won our freedom and our daily bread and our life by giving up his own in our stead. Fast bound in Satan's chains he lay, death brooded darkly over him so that we might be rescued. God cannot be caged. Christ cannot be enslaved. Christ's death is death's undoing. The Pharaoh of hell is defeated. Once again God drowns his enemies with a covering of water as Satan's chariots lay in ruins at the bottom of the font and you walk through the water to life in Christ. There's even a passover meal: Christ himself, the Lamb of God crucified, died, buried and risen for you. Give us this day our daily bread of Life. Christ still sets his table for sinners. And how he loves eating and drinking with sinners. What freedom! What life.
We are liberated from the vain endeavor of fluttering about, trying to go upward and get to God, for God has joined us here. He became a man and chose the things of our earthly world to bestow himself and his gifts to us: words, water, wine, bread. Do not look for God in the heavens – you will only chase after ghosts – but if you would have joy and have freedom and life – look for God where he has revealed himself for you. Bend down to find him in the manger as a boy who sucks, is washed and dies. Look to this boy as he hangs on the cross in bloody majesty. There’s the glory of God. This God is for you. You live by mercy, not merit. By grace through faith in Christ. And Christ is the most important part of that sentence. For Christ continues to pour out his inexhaustible riches - the Gospel, the Baptism, the Supper, the Absolution - gifts that are inexhaustible for all beggars.

Even if it is a few days early, a blessed Reformation Day to you all.

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