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Do we care enough to ask?

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Devotional thought fo the Day:
19  My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20  remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.    James 5:19-20 (TEV)

Anyway, I would gladly know how things are with your soul. Have you finally become sick and tired of your own righteousness and taken a deep breath of the righteousness of Christ and learned to trust in it.

What a question for Martin Luther to ask his friend George!

Can you imagine me, or any pastor, or any friend asking that question of you?  What would be your response?  How would you respond?

Maybe I should ask you!

Or perhaps it is isn’t as questionable as “maybe”.  We need to ask this question of each other.  We need to care enough about people to ask them this, to genuinely care for their souls, for their spiritual needs.

And while I am not exclusively talking about pastors, elders and other church leaders, it starts with us.  We are the ones tasked with shepherding souls, with reconciling the broken.  This job belongs to the entire church, the caring for souls, whether they are members of our church, or atheists, whether they are our family and friends or our nemesis.

The words of James’ epistle strike this home. if someone wanders away, we bring them back, we cover a multitude of sins, and we save them from death. 

As hard as it sounds, we have an obligation to our brothers and sisters, to lovingly help them bring their sins to Christ, to let Him remove and annul them.  Not just to look the other way, not to just say, “well, really, except for this or that, Joe was a good guy, good enough to get to heaven.”  That is easy, but really, it isn’t loving, it doesn’t call him back to God, it lets him wander through this life. It leaves him bound to self-righteousness, or to the guilt and shame he dwells in. 

The church, you and I, have the ability to be there, to assist the prodigal on the way home, to help them know what we should know so well, the words of God declaring we are forgiven.  We need to help them do as Martin Luther encouraged his fried George to do, to take a  “deep breath of the righteousness of Christ and learned to trust in it.”

Lord, help us not to hide our sin, help us encourage others to be drawn closer to You, to receive your promise of absolution, and to live lives free and forgiven.  Help us to be one people, united together in Your presence, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN!

Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 3). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

How and Why do we confront sin?

Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day: 

It is widely reported that there is sexual immorality among you, immorality of a kind that is not found even among gentiles: that one of you is living with his stepmother.  2  And you so filled with your own self-importance! It would have been better if you had been grieving bitterly, so that the man who has done this thing were turned out of the community. 3  For my part, however distant I am physically, I am present in spirit and have already condemned the man 4  who behaved in this way, just as though I were present in person.  When you have gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus, with the presence of my spirit, and in the power of our Lord Jesus, 5  hand such a man over to Satan, to be destroyed as far as natural life is concerned, so that on the Day of the Lord his spirit may be saved. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (NJB) 

 5  If anyone did cause distress, he caused it not to me, but—not to exaggerate—in some degree to all of you. 6  The punishment already imposed by the majority was quite enough for such a person; 7  and now by contrast you should forgive and encourage him all the more, or he may be overwhelmed by the extent of his distress. 8  That is why I urge you to give your love towards him definite expression. 9  This was in fact my reason for writing, to test your quality and whether you are completely obedient. 10  But if you forgive anybody, then I too forgive that person; and whatever I have forgiven, if there is anything I have forgiven, I have done it for your sake in Christ’s presence, 11  to avoid being outwitted by Satan, whose scheming we know only too well.  2 Corinthians 2:5-11 (NJB)

This morning as I looked at facebook, I was a bit in shock at the response of some people to the election of the new leader of another denomination that shares the name Lutheran with my own.  We are, in many ways radically different, but the mocking and deriding of their decision was sickening and to be blunt, sinful.   Confronting sin, whether just perceived or actual, never justifies sinning in the confrontation of it.   What is worse, Luther’s rants were used to justify their own mocking and ranting.  Luther’s large catechism was also quoted, talking about the confrontation of sin.   Here is the passage used to justify mocking and berating others:

All this has been said regarding secret sins. But where the sin is quite public so that the judge and everybody know it you can without any sin avoid him and let him go, because he has brought himself into disgrace, and you may also publicly testify concerning him. For when a matter is public in the light of day, there can be no slandering or false judging or testifying; as, when we now reprove the Pope with his doctrine, which is publicly set forth in books and proclaimed in all the world. For where the sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it.-  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

But this brings to mind – what is the reason we confront and challenge sin, or in this case – practices or others who are in Christ that we know/feel/believe are not in line with scripture?  We may truly believe they are in sin, and we may be right.  If so, the reading from 1st Corinthians above tells us actions we can and should take- but it also informs us of the reason – to save their soul.  If we understand Luther’s Large Catechism, that is the sense there as well, and warning others of the danger they face in following that direction.  But the purpose is never to mock sinners, the purpose is never to taunt or increase the division that may exist.   It should never be done with joy, but rather with sorrow and with great pain.   Love will never rejoice over sin – either in approving it, or in calling for repentance.  Instead it desires to see the damage of sin broken, the bonds that it has shattered.  It always looks for ways to embrace the cross – for the joy that is awaited when reconciliation occurs.  That has to be our goal.  Anything else… well it is our own sin which should drive us to that very same altar of grace.

The reason to confront sin determines how it is to be done, whether in accord for Matthew 18 privately, or in the case of “Public sin”  The law must be applied with the intent that when repentance is granted – the love and comfort of grace is poured out without hesitation, without thought.  Every sinner, including those who have the task of confronting sin themselves, need to be at the altar, at the foot of the cross.  That is where it is supposed to occur. (Paul isn’t kidding about that in First Corinthians, its not just a expression)  The same goes when we challenge each others practices, as we discuss.  DIvision caused by sin is a grievous thing – not something that should gain us kudos and “likes” as we mock them publicly, as if we were perfect in our thoughts words and practices.

The goal is unity in Christ, unity found in His mercy, in His grace, in His forgiveness and love.  It is to call all sinners to receive repentance and faith and to find joy in our relationship with God.

We cry, Lord have mercy… but we

Dr. Martin Luther's Church Door - Wittenburg, ...

Dr. Martin Luther’s Church Door – Wittenburg, Germany ’93 (Photo credit: Mikey G Ottawa)

need to remember we all need it!

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