Monday, September 18, 2017

500 Years Later Jesus Still Needs to Be the Center

Most theologies are linear.
They work on the philosophical premise that one thing leads to another.
Something like because of this, this other thing is true, and that leads one to conclude that this is the case.
Something like if A, then B, equals C.
This is not the case with Lutheran theology.
It is more random, because there is a center to it.
In the middle is Jesus.
Everything revolves around this one thing.
We forgive because Jesus forgave.
We love because Jesus loved.
We are kind because Jesus is kind.
At the center of everything is Jesus.
And at the center of Jesus is grace.
Grace is more important than anything.
And let us be honest grace is not always linear.
It doesn’t always make sense.

I once gave a sermon about grace in a congregation that I was not the pastor of.
After the sermon a well meaning person came up to me and said, “God has to punish sin, because God is righteous and hates sin.”
It is a good argument; there is solid reasoning behind it.
If only I believe in solid reasoning to talk about God.
What I believe in is a center.
We believe that when we talk about God Jesus is at the center of that discussion.

Because often times what happens is that if we don’t put Jesus at the center we put ourselves.
We trust our reasoning.
We trust our understanding.
We trust our goodness.
Without God at the center it becomes about what we can do.
This was the problem at the time of the Reformation.
People’s lives were not good.
And the only thing they had to hold onto was the promise that heaven would be better.
So the Church was really important to people.
Because of this the Church had become so powerful.
And the Church exploited people for money and power.
The Church became the center instead of Jesus.
And that is an important distinction.
It became about what the Church taught or said.
It became about buildings, land, and who was in charge.
And then it became about what you did to earn your way into heaven.
You get to heaven by serving the Church, by going to worship, by giving money, by following the rules.
You earned heaven.

Luther brought the Church back to the center.
It wasn’t about what you did.
It wasn’t about the Church.
It wasn’t about buildings and land.
It wasn’t about accumulating power and wealth.
It was about Jesus Christ.
What Jesus did for us.
It was about the grace that Jesus showed us through his death and resurrection.

Our Bible reading for this morning is a good example.
When God is the center of our lives what we see is grace and forgiveness.
When we are at the center what we do is demand from other’s more than what we have received.
We are always more willing to judge others based on our standards.
And that is why we need God at the center.
God teaches us that what grace can and does look like.
God’s grace flows through us.

I wish I could say that after the reformation the Church saw the error of its ways and fix its theology.
That is not what happens.
500 years later we still need a reformation that brings us back to the center of things.
It is no longer about the Church, but what we have put in the center is us.
Too much of the popular theology of our day is about what we do.
It is about us having more faith.

Joel Olsteen got a lot of negative press about not opening his church to victims of the hurricane in Houston.
I will give him a pass on that.
It is not for me to judge what he does with his congregation.
I will not give him a pass on the horrible theology he peddles.
It has very little to do with God.
It has to do with you fixing your life.
It is about you having more faith.
For example Joel Olsteeen once wrote, “When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed with abundance”
Seems harmless, maybe even some good advice.
But think about that sentence again.
Who comes first?
You do.
When you focus on being a blessing then God acts.
Instead of God as the center and beginning of our lives, we become the center and beginning.
God blesses us not because we are a blessing.
But because God is God, merciful, loving, and filled with grace.
Consider Olsteen’s quote against one of Martin Luther’s, “Moreover, we are also certain and sure that we please God, not by the merit of our own working, but by the favor of his mercy promised to us, and the if we do less than we should or do it badly, he does not hold this against us, but in a fatherly way pardons and corrects us. Hence the glorying of all the saints in their God.”

I think that putting ourselves in as the center causes us lots of problems.
We have become a people of know it alls.
We think we know everything there is to know.
We also think that we can’t do anything wrong.
This usually works for a while in our lives, until it doesn’t.
Until something happens in our life that doesn’t fit with how we think things should go.
Until we come across something that we can’t solve or do anything about.
Then what?

I have noticed that what I say a lot to people about their lives is this, “Put that in God’s hands.”
“We are going to lay that at God’s feet and let God take care of it.”
This is hard to do.
Because we have come to believe that we are the center.
Everything revolves around us.
This might be why we are all so exhausted and stressed out.
Because we have come to believe that everything is about what we do.
Everything is on our shoulders.

How much better is life when we lay our burdens down?
Our lives are better when we give them to God.
When we admit that we can’t do it all, we can’t have it all, that we don’t know it all.
That we are limited people, with limited capacity.
Our lives become so much better.
We can lift the worry and stress from our lives, by giving it to the Lord, by keeping in focus God’s love for us, God’s mercy for us, and God’s grace.

May you keep Jesus at the center of your lives.
May you place the burdens of the day upon the Lord.
500 years later much has changed but our need to keep God at the center of our lives has not.

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