The Evangelical Lutheran Church — A No Guilt Zone.
This past week the University of Nebraska announced that a new men’s basketball coach had been hired. Tim Miles, formerly at Colorado State University, would replace the recently fired lovable looser, Doc Sadler. With the NCAA basketball world deeply focused on the Sweet 16, Elite 8, and Final 4, the news barely caught the eye of anyone outside the two schools. On Saturday, March 24 the new coach was introduced and the questions soon became pointed. How can an unproven coach from a mid-major school who posted a losing record over the last five seasons lead Nebraska to the Big Dance? Miles responded, “I’m Catholic, I live in fear, worry, and doubt.” (Lincoln Journal Star, Page C1, 3/25/12) He went on to explain, “Come join me, it’s a blast, never sleep, bags under your eyes; it’s awesome!” [note 1]
Fear, worry, and doubt; now there is a trifecta for you! No doubt that Miles was trying to be funny, and for some Roman Catholics the church is the butt of many jokes, but his words are telling on a number of levels. People who live in fear, worry, and doubt will listen to any potential solution to their woes and undoubtably fall for some. People who live in fear, worry, and doubt are often easy to manipulate; just ask any political campaign consultant. Worst of all, people who live in fear, worry, and guilt are joyless, lacking peace and hope and confidence; and that is no joke!
Luther lived the early part of his life in fear, worry, and doubt. He was afraid of God and worried about his sin. He lived in constant doubt wondering if he had done enough to appease God’s righteous anger over his many sins. Scholars debate the precise moment of Luther’s great discovery of the Gospel but many of these debates miss the main point. Luther did not discover the Gospel; the Gospel found him! Perfect love drives away all fear and Jesus Christ is perfect love. Our sins are many and our Righteous God demands appeasement, but in the mystery of the Gospel our Gracious Father sent His Only-Begotten Son to take the hit we deserve. By His wounds we are healed. It is finished! No fear; no worry; no doubt; no guilt!
For years I have joked that a true Lutheran church is a “no-guilt zone.” How easy it is to allow the guilt over past sins to rule our hearts and minds, even to the point where we live our lives mired in fear, worry, and doubt. The Good News of the Gospel isn’t some “cheap grace” where you dirty yourself all you want with sin and then go to the car wash church to clean up your act. This is real forgiveness, real life, and real salvation earned by the perfect life, bloody death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus. The Triune God is for us, not against us, and delivers the deliverance in the font, pulpit, chalice; wherever the Word is proclaimed in truth and purity. Jesus’ blood and righteousness sets us free, and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Free from guilt, fear, worry, and doubt.
There is always a great temptation in the church to revert back to our old ways and our old sins. When the collection plates are a little lite we might hear, “The Gospel is good pastor, but you need to hammer them a little more with the Law to loosen up their checkbooks.” When church attendance is down we may doubt whether the Word is a powerful enough draw, so we are tempted to add gimmicks and fads to help fill the seats. When our mission efforts seem less than spectacular compared to the other “successful programs,” we are tempted to play upon people’s worries, doubts, and fears rather than trust that God’s powerful Word will work its promised work. The Gospel is life giving, life changing, and all sufficient.
Many years ago I was finishing up an Adult Confirmation class and I asked a blanket question, “Does anyone have any questions about any topic we have covered in the last many weeks?” A young man, who had attended every class but had never said a word, raised his hand. “Pastor, I’ve been a Catholic my whole life. I know what drives the Catholic church; money and power. Tell me straight, what is it that drives the Lutheran church.” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for you!” He responded, “You’ve been saying that for three months now in class, do you really mean it?”
Many people live their lives in fear, worry, and doubt. Christ has entrusted to us the precious Gospel which brings life and life to the full. Lives free from fear, worry, and doubt. This is the message of the Holy Scriptures. This is the message of the Lutheran church. A true Lutheran church is a guilt-free zone. Do we really mean it?