500thReformation

How to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation? Area celebrations are in the works.

Reformation-themed speakers have been engaged for year-long celebrations in some regions. Circuits and regions are planning events. "It's Still About Jesus" is the Synod's theme. These are all commendable. When it comes down to it, however, I believe an honorable way for preachers to celebrate the reformation and give their congregations a treat is simple – preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ah, but it isn't as simple as it sounds. It is disappointing, to say the least, when one hears sermons that are not the Gospel. It is frightfully easy to preach about the Gospel. These messages rehearse the story which is the Gospel for the appointed Sunday. But that is like telling someone who is lost that there is a way to get back on the highway without guiding him to it! Other messages exhort the hearer to be like Jesus in their daily conduct. Still others may castigate the hearer for being more a Pharisee than a Christian. They may speak of the Christian's failure to speak the Gospel to the neighbor. And then, as though the preacher intuitively feels he has left "something" out, he tacks onto the end of his sermon a nice, "But Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven," or some other platitude.
A second disappointment comes when one hears sermons that speak overworked Gospel phrases such as "forgiveness of sins." The author of a recent article in The Concordia Journal observes that the word "redemption" actually meant something to many in Paul's audience because they were slaves. The malady which they experienced determined the words that Paul chose to describe the cure. But notice it's a whole different concept when the apostle talks about how Christ has solved the Jew-Gentile animosity by breaking down the wall of hostility. Many of our preachers continue to use New Testament words that describe what Jesus did without selecting one that precisely fits the disease which the hearers have. (Of course, knowing exactly what trouble's today's hearers requires spending time listening to them.) Instead of castigating or ridiculing the wealth and prosperity preachers, one might consider why those topics are such a draw to those who give them a ready audience. Are wealth and prosperity "signs" that one has made it in this culture? Affirmations of one's worth? (Anyone smell an underlying desire for justification?) In Ohio we continue to suffer a plague of heroine addiction. If Isaiah prophecied about a servant who would preach release to the captives, what has captivated the addict for whom Christ brings a better release than heroine or other opiates? Political pundits offered a raft of explanations as to why Donald Trump won the presidential election – fear of losing the American culture, fear of Islamic terrorism, fear of becoming more socialist that capitalist, fears related to more job losses, to name a few. Certainly the Law has something to say about such fears, but doesn't the Gospel offer a better hope than the hope that America can be great again?
We once "owned" the word "evangelical" because Lutheran preachers centered their preaching and teaching on the Gospel. Is it too much to hope that we could regain that distinction in our preaching? What a spectacular 500th it would be!