The Great Lutheran Irony

One of the core beliefs of Martin Luther and the other reformers when they split from the Catholic Church in the 1500’s was that people should be able to read the Bible for themselves, without it only being for clergy. So one of the things Luther did was translate the Bible into the German that regular people used. He visited a butcher shop to find out the words he should use when translating passages about the sacrifice of animals, for example. And then aided by the recent invention of the printing press by Guttenberg, Bibles were printed, people read them, and the protestant reformation was in full swing.
So when I realize how central being able to read the Bible was for the early Lutherans, it saddens me how many of us don’t really read it now. It is ironic.
One thing I commonly hear people say is they don’t understand it. That they love hearing it interpreted in church by the pastor, but when they try to read it on their own, it usually doesn’t make sense.
From the beginning, we have valued having an educated clergy as Lutherans. Our pastors have to go to college, and then seminary, which is four more years. This is good because we are trained to teach people why we believe what we believe about God, that is, theology. But it is ironic, that clergy then tend to be seen as the experts, and people doubt their own acumen as interpreters of the Bible, and therefore just stop reading it.
Martin Luther would be so disappointed in us….
And so would Jesus.
I have some good friends who are what we call evangelicals. I don’t find that they have the same hang ups about the Bible. They read it regularly. They memorize scripture. They go to the Bible to answer questions they have about life.
Lutherans have not tended to view the Bible in this way. Luther said the Bible is the cradle that holds Christ. So we read the Bible first and foremost to find out what Jesus is like. We are also not fundamentalists. A fundamentalist believes that everything in the Bible is equally important. We believe the story of Jesus is more important that the laws in Leviticus about not eating pork.
I believe this. I don’t believe the Bible is a self-help book. But I also know that those people who do see the Bible as a handbook for how to live sure read it a lot more than most Lutherans do.
So what are we to do? I know that I need to just read it more–more often than when I am working on a sermon. And I need to read it with the expectation that God has something to say to me. We believe the Bible is God’s word. Yes, it was written by humans, but it is God’s word.
And it also tells us how to live with our neighbors. Jesus may have said it is ok to pluck grain on the Sabbath, but he still said you need to keep the Sabbath because God gave us the Sabbath as a gift. It is good for us to stop one day out of 7.
The 10 Commandments teach us how to live with our neighbors. We are forgiven when we break them, but then we get another chance to love our neighbor again. And we keep trying. We sinners keep working on loving God and loving our neighbors. And the Bible is full of stories of people to help us on our journey.
When Luther started the Reformation, he wanted to give the greatest book ever written to you. So you could wrestle with it, be challenged by it, study it, be inspired by it, and then grown in your faith. It isn’t a book for pastors. It is God’s word for all of us. So how about we give it a read?

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