It is hard to reflect upon the life of our Christian Church when the world is in such commotion. There is a culture war underway, and like in the days of the Civil War, where slavery divided a nation and one had to choose one side or the other, where intractable opinions, hatred and violence turned brother against brother, such is the condition of the world today. Yet I do not think that things were much different five hundred years ago. Five hundred years ago in the land of Germany a man named Martin Luther walked up to the door of his ruler’s church and plaquered 95 statements. He wanted to right a wrong in the Christian Church. The wrong was an abuse of God’s Word. Albrecht of Brandenburg, Cardinal and Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, acting in league with Pope Leo X of Rome, was wrangling to increase his family’s wealth and power. Like a bribe to a judge to reduce a criminal’s sentence, Albrecht wanted to sell time out of purgatory to living souls on behalf of deceased souls. Luther’s hammer drove a nail into his plans.
God’s grace and mercy cannot be purchased, Luther said. Yes, it came at a price. But the price was his own Son. Just as a criminal’s pardon cannot be purchased, God’s forgiveness cannot be purchased. None can pay the price of salvation. We are all lost and without hope. There is no purgatory, only heaven and hell, and the prison doors of hell are one-way doors. The great joy of the Christian is that out of his great mercy and kindness, God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, as John’s Gospel says – the world is condemned already – but to save the world. And this, the Apostle Pauls says, comes to us as a gift of God, not by works. It cannot be bought, purchased, earned, deserved. It is without a price because it is priceless. It can only be given as a gift.
What, then, is the reason for Christians wanting to do good? What is the great motivator of Christians to love and forgive and show patience and kindness, even, if necessary, to our enemies? Works are the fruit of faith, Luther said. We are moved to do them out of gratitude and love for a gracious God. The Holy Spirit; the gift of a knowledge of God through the Gospel; the gift of a heart that can love God and neighbor; the gift of the food of heaven, the body and blood of the Son of God under bread and wine; the gift of forgiveness; the gift of eternal life.
Everything is a gift. Free. Apart from anything we can do. All because of Christ, moved by His one-sided love for us and not our deeds or love-ability. This, dear Lutherans, is what defines us both as Christians and as Lutherans. Many today regard the name “Lutheran” to be an insignificant denominational label. Every farmer has his plow and his seed. The word “Christian” tells us who the farmer is. He or she is one who belongs to Christ by faith.
The word “Lutheran” tells us about the plow - the beliefs that turn the soil of men’s heart to repentance, preparing them for the seed of the free and unmerited gifts of God. Luther was a man of courage and conviction. Lutherans are but Christians who proudly and courageously follow the farmer’s plow with the pure seed of the Gospel.