Life Is Sacramental
A sacramental view of the world means that as Lutherans we understand God to be present within creation and the centerpiece of this understanding is the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus, God became flesh and dwelt among us which means that our God is not some far off in the distance God looking down upon us from his heavenly throne—rather God is, to quote Martin Luther, ‘in, with and under’ the very stuff of life.
We see this sacramental presence most clearly in our understanding of Holy Communion. When we receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we receive bread and wine; but we also receive something more—we receive the body and blood of Jesus because Christ is present ‘in, with and under’ the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
And because Christ is present, we receive the gifts promised in Holy Communion as well (forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation)—not because the bread and wine have somehow taken on magical properties, but because Christ is present in them.
Dave Daubert writes “Ultimately, a Lutheran understanding of sacraments is tied to our understanding of the Word from John 1. The same Word that became human in the person of Jesus is the Word that also called everything else into being. Luther could see God’s Word incarnate declaring God’s work in the world around him. This enabled him to say, ‘Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.’…as we share in the presence of Christ in the bread and cup we are reoriented to see that same God in the places we might not otherwise notice. As we encounter Christ ‘in, with, and under’ the bread and cup we, are also confronted by the Christ who is ‘in, with, and under’ the stuff of life.”
This week’s Lutheran Trump Card (The Ten) is the Lutheran understanding of the Priesthood of all believers. In many ways, the priesthood of all believers is an extension of our understanding that we each have a vocation—that we are each called to ‘serve as instruments of God in our daily lives’—whether at home or work or even in our leisure.
But when we speak of the priesthood of all believers, we are speaking about more than just serving God, rather we believe that we are also called to be the mediating presence of God in the world in which we live. As Dave Daubert writes in our study book ‘The Lutheran Trump Cards’, “all Christians have the authority, the command and the obligation to preach (that is, share the message of the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ with others), to come before God to prayer for one another, and to offer themselves as a sacrifice to God (to offer one’s self for the benefit of others).”
Martin Luther is often quoted as saying that we are to “be Christ” for each other— or as I like to say, to be God’s hands and feet in our world. It is not enough that we know and are assured of our own salvation; our faith is not a private faith—it is not something we are to keep to ourselves.
When a child is baptized, we light a candle from the Christ candle and then present it to the person being baptized (or a parent or sponsor if it’s a baby) and say these words from Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” This then is our calling as the baptized children of God—to live our lives in such a way that people will look at us, that they will say—NOT, what a great person—but what a good God they have—and then hopefully, they will want to know the God who we serve and follow.
Again quoting Daubert, “Baptism becomes something that unites us with Christ (Romans 6) and reminds us that we have the power to minister (with humility as Christ) to others. It is a constant reminder of God’s commitment to work through the abiding presence of Christ, which is promised to all who believe.”
Vocation of the Baptized
Vocation = “calling”. It’s a truly radical idea. Although we may not think of vocation as being all that radical because as Lutherans we have been raised on the idea that we each have been called by God—that we each have a vocation (even vocations) to which we have been called—but before the Reformation, the whole notion of vocation was something primarily reserved for those who worked in the church. The work that ordinary, non-religious people did was necessary work but not holy or sacred like the work of priests, monks, nuns, etc.
Martin Luther himself was raised with this world view of the priestly and monastic life being a “higher calling” which is partly why he became a monk. But eventually, Luther discovered that being a monk didn’t somehow make him more important or holier than anyone else and that God, in fact, can and does use all people.
Dave Daubert in chapter 4 of our ‘Lutheran Trump Cards’ study writes, “The new insight for the church was that God can use people in all occupations and roles to serve as instruments. There is nothing more holy than to work as a parent, a farmer, a teacher, or any of the many other roles that people live out in the world…the life of faith helps provide meaning and purpose in all places, in all people and in all occupations…the vocation of the baptized frees all of us from the burden of finding that one special thing we can do that is pleasing to God. We are set loose to live out our lives and do God’s work in all that we do, whether we leave our current setting and go half way around the world or stay home and raise our kids and go to our current jobs.”
Or as Paul writes in Colossians 3:17 ‘Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ And then again in Colossians 3:23 ‘Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord.’
Grace for Us Includes Hope for Others
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17
John 3:16 is perhaps the best known and best loved verse of the whole Bible. Why? Because it summarizes so well the heart of the gospel message; but equally important and not quite as well known is verse 17 which states quite clearly that the intent of God coming into the world in Jesus Christ, was not so God could condemn the world (meaning the people God created in the first place) but that God might save the world—might save, not only us, but the whole world—including those people that we may have a difficult time believing God could and would save, like mass shooters, rapists and child molesters, or that neighbor or co-worker that we just can’t stand.
Last week we looked at the importance of grace for us as Christians—grace being the love that God bestows freely upon us through Jesus’ work on the cross, even though we do not deserve it. This week, we must struggle with the fact that if God loves us even though we do not deserve, then God must also love those who we so often deem as un-loveable or unacceptable to God.
Or as Dave Daubert, the author of our ‘Lutheran Trump Cards’ study writes, “As a matter of discipleship, we are committed to hoping that hell, should it exist, is empty and not full. Our confidence in God’s grace for us calls us to hope that God will be gracious with others—even those who are different from or offensive to us. This is not confidence in humanity. It is a commitment to the grace of God being beyond that which we can define. The bottom line is that Lutherans are committed to the belief that trusting God’s work in Christ brings life. We live out of that faith and the hope and promise that comes with it. But we are not willing to say “to hell with everyone else.” We hope and pray for the best for all people, hoping (some would say “expecting”) to be surprised by a God of amazing grace.”