Section 1: Opening Prayer
Let us pray. O loving God, to turn away from you is to fall, to turn toward you is to rise, and to stand before you is to abide forever. Grant us, dear God, in all our duties your help; in all our uncertainties your guidance; in all our dangers your protection; and in all our sorrows your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Section 2: So, what makes a Lutheran?
First question: What’s a Lutheran? Seriously. Before you go any further in this lesson, write down the things that you think identify a Lutheran.
National Origin or Ethnicity – When some people think of Lutherans, they might think of German, Swedish, Norwegian, or other European heritage. Today, though, nearly 50% of Lutherans today were born in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Despite all the jokes about lutefisk, Lutheran expressions of faith appear across cultures.
Worship Style – When asked about Lutheran worship, for some people the first things that comes to mind is robes, an organ, and a hymnal. Yet, these signs connect more with some Lutherans’ cultural preferences than elements necessary to Lutheran identity. Many Lutheran churches, even in the U.S. and Europe, now use bands to lead worship, embrace much more casual dress, and project the liturgy on screens. There’s no single worship style that’s definitively Lutheran.
Politics – Sometimes we’re tempted to identify Lutheranism with a political party or agenda. Yet, the largest Lutheran denominations in the U.S. often approach political discourse very differently, with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod leaning right and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America leaning left. Individual Lutherans within those denominations will vary, with liberals in LC-MS churches and conservatives in ELCA churches. Political preference doesn’t make somebody Lutheran.
Often in life, we assume that tendencies equate to identities. In other words, since most of the Lutherans we know share a certain tendency, whether cultural or musical or political, that the tendency must apply to all Lutherans. When we look closer, though, that’s just not the case.
All of these people are Lutherans, and look at how different that are! So, what makes someone a Lutheran?
Section 3: Being Lutheran
The entire Confirmation process is about being Lutheran. It’s about a reinforcement of the faith we receive in baptism, and about your decision whether you want to confirm that faith as your own, to embrace it as a marker of your own identity.
The Dichotomies in Lutheranism reminds us that, as Lutherans, we believe we meet God in the tension of the world. This means that God doesn’t need organs or bands in worship, but instead embraces all faithful worship styles across that spectrum.
The Ten CommandmentsandLord’s Prayer show us that we, as a people, live by the guidance of God found within the Bible.
The Apostles’ Creed tells us that we’re a people of a shared faith that has a core set of beliefs that we share with other Christians.
The Sacraments reveal to us the importance of God’s presence in our midst, which we have all the time through the Holy Spirit, but find especially in Baptism and Communion.
The Life of Faith, the section we’re now in, introduces the details of the Christian life throughout the rest of the week. How do we be Lutheran the rest of the week? What makes us Lutheran?
Essentials vs. Adiaphora – One of the things that helps to define Lutheran theology, and Lutheran identity, is a distinction between the essential stuff of faith and the things that we can disagree on as people of the same denomination. A longstanding commitment of Lutheran theology is that we have a few essentials, most of which we can find in the Small Catechism. The 10 Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed offer us essential pieces of belief as Lutherans. Some might think that those beliefs are restrictive, but think of how much that leaves to our own discernment as people of faith! God gives us a mind, Scripture, the community of the church, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to figure out the best ways to do things like solve conflicts and build governments and shape marriages and form education and what to eat and how to serve and a myriad of other stuff.
Respecting (but not worshipping) Martin Luther – What defines us as Lutherans is that we critically follow the teaching of Martin Luther. In other words, we don’t take everything that he said at face value, but instead follow the things that align with Jesus’ person and witness and don’t use the things that contradict God in Christ.
Though silly, this introduces the very complex person who is Martin Luther. Yes, he confronted dysfunction of the medieval Catholic church. Yes, he also wrote about his, er… bowel issues. And yes, sometimes he went too far, including attacking Jewish people for not converting and condemning poor people for fighting for a better place in society. Even so, he wrote the Small Catechism and contributed to most of the documents in the Book of Concord, which holds all of the earliest formative Lutheran writings that we still use to shape theology because of how helpful and faithful they are. So, Martin was just like us. A flawed person, loved by God, and gifted in a certain area. His area just happened to be understanding the most important part of Lutheran, and Christian, theology: grace.
Saved by Grace through Faith – Now, this is the next lesson, so we won’t go into much detail, except this. Grace, particularly grace as we experience it through Jesus Christ, is something that forms all Lutherans. We’re created as an act of God’s grace. In Baptism, we’re forgiven of sin only by God’s grace and filled with God’s Holy Spirit to lead us into a new life of grace. In Communion, we’re filled the Body and Blood of Christ to become the Body of Christ in the world, to become agents of God’s grace. The grace of God shapes our entire existence. That’s what Luther reminded us over and again, and that’s what we cling to as Lutherans.
Section 4: Reinforcing Lutheran Identity
This might seem easy enough to remember in the middle of worship on a Sunday morning. It may seem simple at a youth group meeting or Bible study. But we don’t leave our faith at church meetings, or at least we shouldn’t! So how do we be Lutheran throughout the week? Before you move on, write down at least two suggestions.
Here’s a few other suggestions to put into practice.
Disagree with Integrity – Sometimes in life, we get into discussions about faith that become contentious. That’s just a nice way of saying we fight about faith too much. With the Lutheran commitment to adiaphora in mind, remember that our faith requires very few essentials, and they’re found in places like the Apostles’ Creed and Ten Commandments. You’ll notice that many of our fights about faith have little to do with things explicitly addressed in those areas, and are often much more complex considerations that require prayer, study, and a huge dose of humility. So, if you find yourself in a discussion about faith, state your belief, listen to what the other person has to say, and then ask God what you might learn from this engagement.
And here’s the kicker. Even if this person contradicts one of the essentials of faith, we’re still called to view them with integrity! Why? Because, as Luther says over and again, not to mention Jesus, the fullness of God’s commands are found in the Greatest Commandment: to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Study + Pray – If we’re a people shaped by the teachings of Martin Luther, it helps to know who this guy really was, where we agree, and where we disagree. So take opportunities to learn more about who Luther was and what he has to say. You can really dive in and read some more of his works here. But, it might be more fun to look at some videos that explain some core aspects of Lutheran theology, like those found on the wearesparkhouse YouTube channel. Ask your pastor and youth leaders for for more resources if you’re interested.
Alongside study, though, prayer helps us to connect with God. That’s who Luther was most concerned with, not himself, but God. As he grew older, Luther even suggested that people burn all of his books except his Bible translations so they’d focus not on what he said, but on what God says. Prayer helps you to find the goal that Luther pointed us to, a relationship with God and the church.
Grace at the First, Grace at the Last – If grace shapes our theology so significantly, it should shape everything that we do. What if every interaction we had was shaped by grace instead of anger, grace instead of envy, grace instead of hate, grace upon grace?
Of course, that’s a difficult thing to live. Fortunately, God gives us grace even when we can’t give grace! But we’re called not only to receive God’s grace, but to allow that grace to shape us, to form us into people filled with grace. So, here’s a challenge. Every conversation you have this week, try to offer more grace than you might usually offer. If you find yourself angry with someone, react with grace. If you find yourself disappointed, react with grace. If you win a game or set the curve on a test, react with grace. If you’re first in line, react with grace. Let grace shape your week, and see how that makes you feel. It’s going to be difficult, but it’s also going to be worth it.
Section 5: Closing Prayer
Let us pray. Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; you are upright. With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give. Amen.
Opening and Closing Prayers from Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2015 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #25165.