Messages, Meditations, and Musings on the Life of Faith by Rev. Dr. Scott E. Olson, Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church, Mankato, MN

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Sola Fide" - Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sola Fide – Faith Alone
Pentecost 10 – Summer Series
August 13, 2017
Redeemer, Good Thunder, MN
Galatians 2.15-3.5

 “Henry” was actively dying when I visited him in the hospital. He was still very lucid and after some general conversation, I asked him if there was anything on his mind or that he’d like to discuss. “Yes, pastor, there is,” Henry said. What is it? “I wonder if I’m good enough for God.” What do you mean, Henry, ‘good enough?’ “Will God take me? Am I good enough to be accepted by God?” Now, I wanted to smack him because Henry was a life-long Lutheran, whom I was sure had heard the “saved by grace through faith” line countless times, including from me.   But instead, my heart ached for him. I said, “Oh, my, Henry…” and we talked some more.

Today we explore sola fide, or “faith alone,” the second in our series on the five Solae. The Solae are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity. They are the “bottom line” of our beliefs. In our text from Galatians today we hear that we are made right with God, not by works of the law, but by the faith of Christ and our faith in Christ.

Now, it’s helpful to know a bit of the back-story to Galatians: it seems there were Jewish folk who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and who, thankfully, approved this message for Gentiles as well. (Remember, the first Christians were Jewish.) However, they were so tied to their Jewish roots and sense of belonging that they believed that the Gentiles needed to adopt these “belonging markers and practices” as gifts from God. These practices included the observance of dietary laws and circumcision for men. Paul, who helped establish the Galatian church, was furious and responds accordingly.

Mary Hinkle Shore notes how difficult Galatians can be to understand because Paul uses heavy-weight theological words like “justify,” “justification” and “righteousness,” which can be confusing and hard to unpack. So, she suggests replacing “justify” with “belong” and “justification” with “belonging.” I think that’s very helpful because the issue at the heart of Galatians is how we belong, to God and to one another. Yet, in a grammatical puzzle that has commentators abuzz, it’s Jesus’ faith, not ours, that’s at issue.

Paul says that how we belong to this community of faith, to God and each other, is through the faithfulness and faith of Jesus. And Paul’s message is one we need to hear just as much today as the Galatians did 2,000 years ago. In our culture, we hear constant messages that we aren’t good enough or don’t have enough. In order to belong, we need to drink the right beer, wear the right clothes, drive the right truck or car, or use the right technology. However, in our congregations, we strive to teach and live a different message: “You belong no matter what you do or who you are.”

As I continued my conversation with Henry, I simply and gently reminded him of what he already knew but, in essence, wanted to hear again one last time: God’s faithful promises. Whatever faith and trust we have in God springs from Jesus’ faithfulness as God’s gift to us. Though Henry may not have realized or perhaps forgotten, it was because of this gift from God that he was able to live the life of faith that he did, not perfectly of course, but secure in the love of Christ. May you hear and trust this good news as well. Amen.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Sola Scriptura" - Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Sola Scriptura
Pentecost 9 – Summer Series
Grace, Mankato, MN
August 6, 2017
2 Timothy 3.10 – 4.5

While amassing material for today’s first sermon in the series on the five Solae, I found myself organizing my thoughts in such a way that I was sure I was putting together and nice little talk. After all, these five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Reformation to sum up the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity are interesting, right? I was positive that you would be enthralled (as I am) about the authority of scripture—today’s topic—over and against the body of tradition and the fights that have ensued since then, such as inerrancy.

Luckily, the Holy Spirit did a verbal head-slap which brought me to my rhetorical senses (I think), and so I changed direction. I realized that this wasn’t the place for a “nice little talk.” This was time for proclamation, good news about God’s love through Jesus Christ. And as I thought about what that might entail, the Holy Spirit also hounded me with the great Lutheran question, “So what does this mean?” Or simply, “So what?” What does it matter that the Bible holds this special place in our lives. What does it meant that on the one hand 20 million Bibles are sold in the US each year but that some countries fear it so much it is either banned or its use severely restricted? (I might add that some churches control the Bible in a similar fashion.

What does it mean that some people have lost their lives translating the Bible into the vernacular? Our own Martin Luther risked his life at the Diet of Worms when he was asked to recant his writings, saying, "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

What makes the Bible so powerful and vital in our lives is that it gives us not only a peek into God’s heart, but a way into it. Luther once said that the Bible is the cradle in which the Christ Child is laid, a wonderful image that we could spend hours unpacking. As we see in our reading from 2 Timothy today, the Bible gives birth to a different way of looking at the world and our place in it. It’s a way of life that makes a difference in us and in our lives. And when God, through the Bible, makes a difference in us, we are able to make a difference in the world.

For me, the power of the Bible is that it tells real stories about real people, in an unvarnished and sometimes brutally honest way. These are stories about people who are fallible, broken creatures like me who fall short time and again but are nonetheless not only loved deeply by God but are inexplicably used by God for God’s purposes.

I think of the man in Mark’s gospel who asks Jesus to heal his son because Jesus’ followers could not. Jesus asks the man if he believes he can heal his son and the man says, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.” That man’s story is my story. “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” I think of the disciples on the road to Emmaus following Jesus’ death and resurrection, blind to Jesus’ presence. Yet, they are met by him on their journey, have their minds opened to him, and finally see Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They return rejoicing and sharing the good news. Their story is my story.

For me, the power of the Bible is evident when I read familiar stories and yet I’m met by God who shows me deep truths in ways that I have never seen before. And, I might add, more often than not this happens when I am reading the Bible with others, for the Bible is meant to be read in community.

We need documents like the Book of Concord and the writings of people like Luther to help us sort through and think theologically about what the Bible is telling us, in every age. But they are no substitute for power of the Bible in our lives, a Bible that shows us God’s heart and helps us understand how God is calling us to live.

What about you? What difference does the Bible make in your life? How does it help you? Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone, is just as important for us today as it was for the Reformers. Amen.