Today, we Lutherans celebrate 500 years of nailing this memo to church doors, and library doors, and municipal doors…pretty much any door we can find, because it just never stops being relevant. If you’re not sure why it’s still relevant, I invite you to scan your Twitterfeed or favorite news app. Greasy demagogues and be-robed religious nuts are forever getting up on their pedestals and setting themselves up as the new Christs, telling you that you need to join their institution, jump through their hoops, or vote for their ticket for your salvation.
And we Lutherans keep knocking them down. That’s our role in this world, I guess. We knock down false messiahs.
You’d have to know your history to know just how ironic it is whenever I introduce myself as a Lutheran pastor and someone responds, “Lutheran, would that be kind of like Catholic-light?” Yeah, it sure would be just like that—if original Coke had ever threatened to have Diet Coke excommunicated and then strung up as a heretic—not that we’re still bitter about it or anything. Just saying, don’t get it twisted: all the other Protestant denominations left the Catholic church. We were kicked out.
Do we ever screw up and start doing the very thing we hate? Do we ever set ourselves or our denomination up as the one that got it right? The one you have to join in order to be in the right? I.e. the savior? You bet we do, for a time. But eventually we come around and knock those idols down again, even if—maybe especially if—they claim to be Lutheran. Even our namesake, Martin Luther got it wrong, super wrong, on a few occasions, in which cases, we opt for his message and not for his person.
And it's not just people. We also rip up and tear down books, monuments, legal documents, altars or anything else in this world that would claim the spot of savior. We denounce anything or anyone who would presume to tell you that you are less than an unconditionally loved child of God, whether because of your race, because of your ethnicity, because of the person you love, or because you chew loudly.
We get that wrong sometimes too. For a while there, we got sort of confused about one book in particular. We started treating it as if it were something divine, as if it were the Christ himself. A lot of folks are still super confused on that point, probably because of us. Sorry everyone.
But if it was the Lutherans who led the so-called Protestant world into that particular kind of idolatry, it’s largely the Lutherans, our scholars, our leaders, and our common sense pew-sitters, who are at the forefront of leading us all back out of it (granted, not all people who claim the name “Lutheran" are leading the charge here; there are others who are still kind of into that "paper Pope"…it’s a whole thing…lets talk later if you’re confused…k, basically Lutherans have sometimes made a whole mess of what a “Lutheran” is, because they’re human, and humans always make a whole mess of what a human is…Got it now?...Cool…Coolcoolcool).
Anyhoo, we get it right a lot too. I guess you could say that even a broken clock is right two times a day. But we Lutherans get it right in a particularly crucial way, all things being as they are. Every Sunday morning, every election year, before every national anthem, before every declaration of war, it’s Lutherans all across the world who are humbly and quietly—in between a bunch of “oh gwarsh”-es and “gee whiz”-es, I'm sure—reminding humanity that there is no Christ but Christ, and there is no hope but Christ’s way.
You don’t believe me? Did you know that if you combine all major Lutheran charitable organizations, they comprise the single biggest benevolence institution of the richest nation in the world? For real. Look it up in Forbes. Bet you had no idea what a world-changing badass your midwestern grandma was the last time she dragged you to church on Sunday, shoved a green hymnal in your hands, and then made you miss the early games while she chatted her way through coffee hour with the ladies.
And by the way, Catholics, our issue isn't really with you. Our issue is with anyone who starts feeling self-righteous enough that they start making decretals with a level of authority that seems nervously close to what only a messiah should have. We already have our messiah, thank you.
He won us over with his strange methodology for building a kingdom: touching the skin of lepers, saying kind words to prostitutes, and such, and we’re not fooled by any of these charlatans who claim they’ll win it back from him with more traditional means—bombs, boots on the ground, incarceration, deportations and such.
We would tell you how proud we are of this heritage, but pride isn’t so Christlike. So instead we’ll just keep feeding you bars and Jello mold and quietly knocking down would be messiahs until Jesus comes back. We've been at it this long. Why not?
Cheers and Peace,