Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Bold Lutheran" Need Not Be an Oxymoron!

[This is from my devotions for the Saint Matthew Church Council this evening.]

Tonight, I'd like to look at three passages of Scripture. The first is John 14:1. It comes from the same section of John as our gospel lessons for the past few Sundays have come. It's what scholars call the Farewell Discourse, words spoken by Jesus in the presence of the twelve apostles on the night of His arrest. In John 14:1, Jesus says:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me."
Martin Luther had some especially important things for Lutherans to hear about these words of Jesus.

First, Luther said:
...if we Christians stay close to [Christ], we know that He speaks to us.
Those who trust that Jesus is God and Savior and is risen and is living, seated at the right hand of God the Father, know that, to this day, Jesus speaks to us.
  • Jesus, first of all and most assuredly speaks to us in the only book in the world the contents of which were breathed into its writers by the Holy Spirit: the Bible. 
  • And, Jesus speaks to us in what one pastor calls "whispers," bits of guidance, messages to the heart, that the Holy Spirit speaks to the minds of those who follow Jesus. (Those "whispers" will always be consistent with what we know of Jesus from the Bible, by the way. Whispers that urge us to sin aren't from God!)
  • Jesus also speaks to us through the Sacraments: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, the "visible words" that have been instituted by Christ, involve physical elements (bread and wine or water), and bring the forgiveness of sins. 
Luther then says this of Jesus' words in John 14:1:
We can be sure of this: a sorrowful, timid, and frightened heart doesn't come from Christ.
Wow! We Lutherans need to especially latch onto the truth in those words. That's because when it comes to living our faith out loud or sharing the Good News of new life that can belong to anyone who turns from sin and believes in Jesus, we Lutherans tend to be timid.

Words on a T-shirt I saw not long ago give a good characterization of we Lutherans:
I'm proud to be a Lutheran...but not too proud.
I want to tell you that our hesitation about letting the light of Jesus shine from us and about telling others the Good News about Jesus does not come from Jesus or from the Holy Spirit.

Our hesitation is learned and cultural, not spiritual. It's not of God!

A second passage of Scripture I want to look at underscores this fact. It's 2 Timothy 1:6-7. These verses come from the second letter we have in the New Testament that was written by the apostle Paul to a young pastor named Timothy. Paul writes:
For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 
All Christians have the Holy Spirit living within them. The Spirit is sometimes portrayed in Scripture as a burning flame. Paul says that we need to rekindle this flame, stoke the fire of passion and belief in Christ within us.

We do this by daily contact with God, especially by praying throughout our days about anything and everything, seeking God's help and guidance and praising Him, along with regularly reading and studying God's Word.

The Holy Spirit is not "a spirit of cowardice." The more we Christians rely on God, the more the Holy Spirit ignites and sustains our passion and makes us bold in sharing our faith with others.

We need to seek the help of God's Holy Spirit so that we can live with the same boldness and conviction shown by Paul in the book of Romans:
...I am not ashamed of the gospel [Paul writes]; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [or Gentile, the non-Jew]. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."
May God's Holy Spirit fill us with boldness as we spread the good news of new life that belongs to those (and only to those) with faith in Jesus Christ!

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