Tumbling in the Sand
The confirmation project for our last year confirmation student(s) is to work with a mentor to answer and present their own personal answer to one of several proposed questions as they and the mentor talk about life and faith and being church together. In a series of newsletter articles, I’m inviting the congregation to also consider the questions posed to our confirmands and I am “answering” the questions one at a time in an attempt to invite further conversation. The question for this month is: Why Christianity? And why Lutheran, particularly?
Oh boy, is this going to be a simplified answer …
For me, the reason I’m Christian is because of Jesus and more to the point, because of the incarnation. I say that because I don’t need an historically accurate rending of the life and death of Jesus. I do not need relics that have somehow mysteriously stood the test of time while all other material things have risen and fallen back to dust. I do not need the exact location of the grave where Jesus was laid or the house where he grew up to be preserved. Instead, it is the story of the incarnation of God that matters to me.
Christianity has the most sacred understanding of materiality—and the human body—of any religion. It is the only religion in which God—the divine creator of all things—gets so involved in God’s creation that God becomes etched, marked, permanently scarred with creation. God becomes flesh. Like us. Our human, boring, everyday, messy, us. And even when we turn on God (as always), God doesn’t abandon the creation—but the promise is that even our dusty, messy, every-day-ness will rise and be apart of a new creation where death, sorrow, pain, and tears of sadness will be no more.
And this is really important to our every-day lives, not just because who we are will be a part of the new creation, but because the ordinary of our lives is of value and interest to God. Think about it: God became human in Jesus. He got hungry. He slept. He had to manage money. He had to run a business. He dealt with lawyers. He ate with friends. He got sad, angry, happy, etc. He had to use the bathroom. This is the first reason “why Christianity?” for me: nothing is out of the realm of spirituality. God is in it all. At the heart of Christianity it is anathema* to believe that “spiritual things” are separate activities from other things. And we are reminded every week of this in sacraments, where God shows up in the most simple stuff: water, bread, and wine.
The second reason “why Christianity” for me and also “why Lutheranism in particular?” is explained by Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism to the third article of the Creed. He writes (well, in translation):
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
I believe that I cannot believe … that’s essentially what Luther says at the beginning of this explanation and that is why I’m a Christian and a Lutheran: I believe that I am not strong enough, wise enough, good enough, brilliant enough to find my way to God. Christianity, and Lutheranism in particular, understand this to be true and so understand that the only answer is that God comes to us. And that is my only hope.
*anathema: a term derived from Greek, which meant “something dedicated” and, in the Septuagint and New Testament, “something dedicated to evil and thus accursed.”