LETTER TO EDITOR: Living under the grace of God
I wanted to respond to Mr. Hexum's letter that was published March 18, since certain parts seemed to be directed at me and also at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
First I must clarify that I am not "a local minister" but rather a lay person working within the church. I hold no special distinction or credentials over any other person on the street.
Second, I am proud to belong to the ELCA, and in particular to Calvary Lutheran Church, as I feel the ELCA has a long history of exemplifying God's grace. Lutherans in general are a people who have been transformed by God's grace and it was the primary reason for the Reformation, as Martin Luther believed the church of his day was withholding God's grace from the people and needed to be reformed.
Thirdly, in response to Mr. Hexum, I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that, "At the heart of Jesus' ministry is feeding the gospel to the poor."
Back in ancient times the thinking went that if you were poor or sick then that was because God was punishing you for not following his laws. So those that experienced hard times were obviously sinners and righteousness was only achieved by abiding by God's laws. This is the primary tenet of the Old Testament (or the old agreement between God and his people).
Luckily, as Christians, we are not bound by that agreement (which is why it is classified as "old"). We fall under a new agreement or what we call the New Testament. Remember that very early in his public ministry, Jesus made this claim from Matthew 5:17-18: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." So Jesus states from the get-go that the law is still in effect and will be in effect until "all is accomplished." But if we look to John 19:30 we read this: "When Jesus had received the wine, he said, 'It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
I believe this teaches us that at the moment Jesus died, the law was fulfilled. In fact, Jesus came to fulfill the law because you and I never can. If we could fulfill the law and achieve God's righteousness on our own, then Jesus wasn't really needed. The principal of this new agreement is spelled out in Luke 22:20 at the Last Supper when Jesus said, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." So Jesus not only fulfilled the law that we could never fulfill, he took on the penalty of death for our failure as well. His blood is the new agreement of grace. We have received something (eternal life) that we could never achieve on our own with no strings attached. That's the New Testament or new agreement you and I fall under.
The trouble is you seem to like the old agreement better. Even more, you seem to like playing the referee and blowing your whistle and crying, "Foul!" whenever you think someone is out of line with God's law. In Galatians 2:16 here is what the Apostle Paul writes: "Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law."
By trying to make yourself righteous through the law, you inadvertently turn your back on the sacrifice Jesus made for you. There is nothing we can do to earn his favor. This is best demonstrated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the sinful and selfish son is welcomed home with lavish gifts and a celebration.
You talk about "fear and judgment," Mr. Hexum. You talk about the "severity of God." I am saddened when people characterize God as nothing more than a school yard bully in the sky, ready to strike us down and take our milk money. What judgment or severity did the prodigal son endure? None. He was presented with open arms and a grace that is unimaginable from the father. But I often wonder, what was it like for the prodigal son to sit at the head of the table at that extravagant celebration? Oh I imagine it was unbearable! I bet the prodigal son sat at that table wishing his father had just slapped him across the face in anger and disgust rather than making him endure the torment of his grace. How terrifically unworthy and tiny he must have felt in the midst of such abundant grace!
Won't our own judgment and punishment be far worse than anything God could do to us? Could this not be the weeping and gnashing of teeth the Bible speaks of, when we have our turn at God's table of unending grace and love, knowing deep down how unworthy we are to receive such a reception? It will be hell.
As far as the ELCA and this decision about gay pastors, it could really only go the way it did. If we expect our pastors to live according to the law, then we have fallen away from grace and rejected the sacrifice Christ made for us! And if we only call pastors who live up to the law, then we aren't going to have any pastors for no one can live up to the law.
We all need to be reminded that we no longer live under God's law, we live under God's grace. But we are free from the law not to do whatever we want, but to do whatever we can. We are set free from the law so we can fully love our neighbor and tend God's sheep, rather than blowing our whistles and crying "Foul!"
Director of Youth and Family Ministry
Calvary Lutheran Church