God, Me, You and Them

Martin Luther

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood to be received by faith.” ~ (Romans 3:22-25)

We commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation this week.

A monk named Martin Luther had been struggling with a question that many of us have asked ourselves at some point: “How can I know that things are right between God and me; so that I can know that, when I die, I’m going to Heaven?”

Luther tried his best to make sense of how God responds to the sin. Luther struggled to understand how we can live with hope and peace in our lives knowing that, even when we’re trying to do our best to please God, we still fall short. And Luther also struggled to make sense of how Jesus fits into the picture. If Heaven is something that I earn by being a good, kind and loving person, why do I need Jesus? And on the other hand, if Heaven’s something that I earn by being a good person, how can I know that I’ve been good, kind and loving enough?

But something else was happening….

Faith was intensely personal. People were obsessed with Heaven and Hell, and their fate in the afterlife. And the Church was willing to help. In fact, the Church was telling people that they could take a big step in the right direction by purchasing indulgences – pieces of paper that indicated that a withdrawal had been made from the “Treasury of Merits” (an overflowing bank account that contained all the good deeds that had been done by the Saints in every Age). And that was the solution! But, Luther didn’t buy it (literally).

“God, Me, You and Them” is a message to encourage you to think about God’s relationship with you and with everyone else in the world. The Bible tells us that God sent Jesus into the world because sin is incredibly destructive. The Bible tells us that God sent Jesus into the world because He wants us to know that He loves us, and that His love is a love that’s always ready to welcome and embrace us. And that’s true for other people, too.

The Lutheran Reformation was about more than indulgences. And the Reformation of the Church is still about more than indulgences. It’s about the fundamental relationship between God and the world. Jesus came into the world because God loves you, and Jesus came into the world because God loves me, too. Jesus came into the world because God cares about people that you love and cherish, but He also came because God loves people that you find hard to love. Luther reminded us that God’s love is all about “God, Me, You and Them”. Luther reminded us that God’s love in Christ is extended to everyone. God’s come into the world through the life, death and resurrection of Christ because He has a better plan for us than what we’re seeing right now. God’s come into the world, in Jesus, because God loves us even when we’ve fallen short; and He’s willing to lift us up and dust us off and send us in a new direction with another chance.

“God, Me, You and Them” is about recapturing the heart of God’s message to the world in Jesus Christ. It’s about moving beyond the “God and Me” type of thinking that causes me to focus all of my attention upon my own personal salvation – while forgetting about the fact that Christ came into the world because God loves everyone.

 

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 24

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

This week, we will begin what (at least for me) is one of the most difficult books in the Bible. The book of Leviticus is packed with rules and regulations. We’ll begin by reading rules about burnt offerings, grain offerings, and peace offerings. We’ll read rules about sin and guilt offerings, about clean and unclean types of animals, about purification rites that women should perform after childbirth and about boundaries that God’s set in place to define healthy sexual relationships.

But rules are sometimes hard to follow, aren’t they?

Last week, when I was on vacation, I almost always set the cruise control on my car to 5 (or even 10) miles-an-hour over the speed limit. I’ve been known to run into a store and hurry things along, so that I can return to my car before someone notices that I didn’t put any money into the parking meter. I, sometimes, break God’s rules by refusing to forgive people who have hurt me, and the words that come out of my mouth aren’t always kind and up-lifting. I, perhaps like you, used to worry about the fact that there might be a big balance in the sky where God weighs all of the bad things that I’ve done and all of the good things that I’ve done – all in an effort to determine my eternal destiny.

Rules are important and the book of Leviticus is an important part of the Bible for us to read; but, as you’re working your way through Leviticus, I’d like you to continue to ask yourself an important question: “What makes me ‘right’ in the eyes of God?” The God of the Bible says, “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you may not vomit you out.” (Leviticus 20:22) But, in the very same Bible, St. Paul writes: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21)

How do you make sense of that? How do you live in “community” with other followers of Christ in a world where some Christians want to argue that the Law means nothing – and where other Christians still argue that “good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell?” How do you balance the Law of God with the Love of God? And, perhaps just as importantly, how will you “use” the words that you read as we work our way through the book of Leviticus? Will you highlight certain verses and use them to point-out the sin in the lives of other people, or will you struggle to make sense of what it means to live in a world where the God who writes rules continues to love us and forgive us?

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: Ephesians 1-3 – Monday: Leviticus 1-3 – Tuesday: 1 Kings 10-13 – Wednesday: Psalms 69-71 – Thursday: Proverbs 4 – Friday: Ezekiel 1-6 – Saturday: Luke 11-12