1John 2:1

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;”

 
                              

T. F. Gullixson was president of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, during the middle years of the 20th century when my father was a student there. Some time ago my dad recalled a sermon he heard T.F. Gullison preach  titled, “Beware the Downward Pull’. The title speaks volumes.

 In this age of technology and impersonalization, the conduct of the individual becomes less and less of an issue. All kinds of morally and ethically destructive behavior is tolerated – if not sanctioned.  One person has described life in these times with a heady phrase – ‘chaotic syncretism’. That’s a very erudite way of saying, ‘Anything goes.’  T. F. Gullixson was onto something. The gravitational effect of sin on human moral and ethical conduct is obvious. Someone once said, ‘Character is measured by what you do when no one is watching.’  How many of us could stand the scrutiny of ‘deeds done in the dark’?

 The new life in Christ is meant to redeem us from eternal death and free us for love of God and the neighbor. As Lutherans, we know that the Christian life is not a call to moral and ethical ladder climbing in order to make ourselves acceptable to God. We are, in the end, saved by grace. At the same time we are called to struggle with sin, to ‘Beware the downward pull’ of sin. For what is at stake is freedom, the costly freedom Christ has won for us on the cross.  When we allow our basest impulses, lusts, and desires to drag us down we cheapen the life of freedom for love that God has given us. Such a self-centered life is of little good to itself or the neighbor. The writer of 1 John wanted more for those whom he cared about, “I am writing these things to you so that you might not sin.” This little letter toward the end of the New Testament could easily be titled, ‘Beware the Downward Pull.”  Read it for yourself.

 Of course we do sin. We do give in to the “downward pull”. Or as John writes,”…the love of this world…the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life.”   No one knew better the power of the “downward pull” than Martin Luther. His many years in the monastary brought him face to face with the full weight of sin and it’s effects. Even after the power of the Gospel had set him free, to the end of his life he struggled to live in love and service to the neighbor, a struggle which he often lost. 

 So John also proclaims our Advocate to us, “Jesus Christ the Righteous”.  In our strugglle to live out the freedom God has given us we do and will give ample evidence of our sinfulness. But Christ Jesus has laid claim on sinners. He is our righteousness and will be so all the way to life’s end. For the “downward pull” is not greater than the “upward call in Jesus Chist our Lord”!

 

“May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

___________________________________________________________________________

1 John 1:8

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

 

  Who am I?  This most basic of questions demands a response and every human being makes one. Humans answer this question largely by determining their own identity: I am who I choose to be. Yet our insistence on taking life into our own hands is easily distorted and becomes defining of what the Scriptures call ‘sin’ – that willful insistence on stealing my existence from God and resolving every issue down to what I want.

The culture says that we are bundles of largely unrealized wonderfulness only inhibited by the myriad injustices foisted on us by others (who are, apparently, not so wonderful).

The Bible reveals God’s assessment of the human to us. The defining word regarding what it means to be human does not rightly derive from us but the One who created us…from God. And God says we are willful sinners, deserving of His wrath, in need of repentance and forgiveness. Small wonder humans flee from this God of wrath for all they are worth, preferring to “re-imagine” God in kinder, gentler forms.

If, however, there is no need to talk about the wrath of God, then there is not much need to talk about the sin that incurs the wrath. But this avoidance is no answer to the real problem of sin and all it’s consequences.

Christianity is incoherent without the idea of sin. There can be no good news of the Gospel without first understanding the bad news of sin. The mission of Jesus makes no sense if we remove such concepts from our thinking.

Jesus made it clear that the reason he came to earth was to save sinners: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. Take away the doctrine of sin and we take away the doctrine of the Incarnation. Indeed, we take away the entire message of the New Testament.

Because we are born in the darkness of sin, we assume our blindness to be life in the light. But Christ Jesus died for sinners that we might walk in the “true light”, Christ Himself. When we persist in our self-defining intransigence, we remain in our sins. When Christ opens our eyes through the Gospel by His amazing grace, we see our need for a savior and the Savior we need.

 

________________________________________________

Romans 1:16

“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God unto salvation…”

 _____________________________________

  I don’t remember his first name anymore but his last name was Carlson or Larson or Hansen or Johnson or something like that. OK, I don’t remember his last name either! Anyway, this wiry old Norwegian came up to me after the Reformation Sunday service at First Lutheran Church, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, October 1977. During the offering the organist and I had performed a rousing rendition of ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, she on the pipe organ (somewhat nervously as I recall) and yours truly adding a withering obligato on the electric guitar ( a bright red 1966 Gibson 335) complete with distortion pedal and major rock n’ roll attitude. Mr. Han-Carl-John-Lars-son was neither inspired or edified. “I want to congratulate you, Pastor Anderson, he said dryly. “You have managed to overshadow the Word of God this morning and drag Luther’s hymn into the gutter at the same time.” Ouch! At the time of course, I dismissed him out of hand. Now I can only marvel at the miles of passivity that old Scandinavian had to cross in order to confront one of his pastors. I also wish I could sit down with him – which I should have done then – and listen to him. He was onto me. He came from a Lutheranism where laity understood they had a responsibility to the Word of God just as much as the pastor. He was exercising his stewardship of that Word but I was too full of myself to hear him. I was too busy being ‘relevant’ instead of being his pastor.

What I finally did hear while sipping coffee with those old Norwegians – and a few misplaced Swedes – was that faith in Jesus Christ and His promises was the marrow in their lives. And they had not come to this faith because some clergy person stuck his\her finger in the wind and then blathered on from the pulpit about the indelible wonderfulness of now. The message that gripped them was the Gospel; the old, old story of Jesus and His love often expressed in their favorite hymns; Beautiful Savior, The Old Rugged Cross, Abide with Me, and yes, In the Garden. During the years I was their pastor I had to bury some of these folks. Often, in those last days before the end sitting by their bedsides I would sing these old hymns accompanied by a guitar and read passages from the Bible. And that is when I learned something that had taken me too long to learn; if you can’t sing it or say it at someone’s deathbed it probably isn’t worth singing or saying  at all.

“May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 ___________________________________________