Putting Faith Into Practice – Discipleship

          Over the past two weeks, we have focused on putting our faith into action.  First we emphasized forgiving others.  Last week I spoke about living with a thankful spirit.  Today we continue the theme of putting faith into practice through the act of discipleship. 

I never know where the opening stories for sermons will come from.  This week it comes from Wednesday night’s catechism class.  We are working our way through the Ten Commandments.  Using Luther’s Small Catechism, there is always a Biblical reference to connect with the specific commandments.  And this week we addressed Commandment  #5, “You shall not murder”. 

First, I explained that in the original Greek, the word ‘murder’ was not simply describing the act of stopping the heartbeat.  It went deeper.  Murder meant to intentionally rob someone of their very ‘being’.  I asked the class for examples and I have to admit that they responded beyond my expectations.  Identity theft, bullying, and any act that makes someone feel worthless were just a few of their answers.  To murder is to take away someone’s human value, to rob them of self-worth, or their identity.  It is to say, “You are not worthy of human respect” or “I am more worthy than you”.

So we dug into the Scripture for this commandment which was the story of Cain and Abel.  Cain killed Abel out of jealousy when God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but found Cain’s unacceptable.  And with every action there is a consequence.  God punished Cain to be a wanderer and the earth would not reap the quality or quantity of harvests from the past. 

But one part of the Cain and Abel story that we sometimes forget is that God’s grace was apparent.  Cain lamented that his guilty actions might cause someone else to kill him.  God responded emphatically.   ‘NO! Anyone who kills Cain will be punished seven-fold.”  And God placed a mark on Cain so that others would know he was protected by God.  God’s grace is present, even when there are consequences for our actions.  While Cain was punished for his actions, he was freed from death through God’s grace.

As we gather to celebrate Reformation Sunday, we remember our roots as Lutheran Christians and our role as disciples.  During the time of Martin Luther in the mid-1500’s, he challenged the Church and its practices.   He argued that there was too much selfishness in the Church institution.  He fought against the practice of indulgences (paying the Church for the forgiveness of sins).  He pressed to teach people how to read (rather than simply hearing the Scriptures read to them) and got Bibles into the hands of the working class. 

Jesus taught that HE is our only source of freedom from sin.  And today our human sinfulness isn’t a whole lot different from what it was in the past.  Consider the three particular issues facing Martin Luther.  There was too much selfishness in the Church.  Is it really any different today?  Are we not more interested in our own organizational survival than we are about the larger mission of Christ?  And while we don’t offer a menu of forgiveness options at different prices, don’t we still expect that we will receive more of God’s favor according to the effort and time we give to the Church?  How is that any different from expecting Christ’s forgiveness by paying for it?  Lastly, the tradition of Catholic mass has been that the Priest reads Scripture to the people (at that time the majority of people were illiterate) and therefore the people had no access to the Bible other than what is said by the Priests.  According to statistics, most homes have a Bible on their shelves.  Are people reading it?

The Lutheran rose is designed with the following theme...Word Alone, Faith Alone, and Grace Alone.  It’s all of the other stuff outside of the Word, Faith, and Grace that prevents us from feeling freedom.  But similar to Cain, we have been marked by the cross of Christ in our baptism.  We too are guilty of sin and experience consequences for our actions (or inactions).  God’s grace is poured out through Christ and frees us from the judgment of sin!  Salvation through Christ isn’t just about a trip to heaven one day, but it also frees us in our life on earth when we seek to follow him.

In John’s text, Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  The truth is that Jesus loves each of us no matter what our past looks like.  The truth is that Jesus is the only option for salvation, leaving our good works to be an opportunity to share love to one another rather than an option for heavenly extra points.  The truth is that our lives that we try so hard to justify are already affirmed as children of the King.  No matter what we accomplish or don’t accomplish, we are still loved and saved by Christ alone.

In order to be Jesus’ disciples, we need to be in his word, seeking his will.  Reformation weekend is a great time to remember that Martin Luther was the driving force to teach people to read and to get God’s word into everyone’s hands.  Let’s give thanks for that freedom by spending time in the Bible getting to know God and his truth.  Amen.