As we wrap up Reformation 500, be present, be engaged, and be together!


Reformation 500  Sermon Series  Begins September 17!

Grace in Action: Making Sense of Martin Luther’s Life-Changing Theology

During the final weeks leading up to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, our pastors will treat us to a sermon series that draws us more fully into Luther’s Reformation insights.

For those interested in diving a little deeper, you can read Making Sense of Martin Luther, a conversation-style book written by Pastor Lose and soon-to-be published by Augsburg Fortress. Running from September 17 to Reformation Sunday, October 29, the sermon series follows the outline of Pastor Lose’s book and pairs a theological theme with biblical passages which inspired Luther.

Pastor Lose's book Making Sense of Martin Luther will be available at church for $10.

Summaries of, and questions for further reflection about, each chapter will be in the This Week email and handouts at Mpls & West.


Watch or listen to previous worship services and sermons from the sermon series


The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Freedom! Justification By Grace Through Faith
Romans 1:16-17; Luke 15:1-7




Martin Luther spent much of his early life agonizing over the question of whether he could ever measure up to God’s expectations. Practicing his faith relentlessly, confessing his sins for hours at a time, making pilgrimages beyond what most of us can imagine, Luther still could not find assurance that he had ever done enough and was downright terrified by the notion of God’s righteousness because he feared it set a standard he could never meet. Eventually, Luther discovered that while we often think of “righteousness” as a synonym with virtuous, it actually means to be in “right standing” with someone. So rather than being a moral term, “righteousness” is a relational one. And just as we get to decide whether someone who has wronged us can still be in relationship with us, so also God is free to decide to restore us to “right relationship” with God. In fact, one of God’s favorite activities is doing just that – forgiving us by grace and thereby restoring us to right relationship. All that is left is for us to trust God’s grace and mercy and accept, or actualize, that forgiveness. The term summarizing Luther’s insight is that we are “justified by grace through faith.”  


While Luther’s primary concern revolved around the question of whether God was merciful or judgmental – and therefore perhaps not something we worry too much about today – his sense of being justified by grace can still be powerful. In many ways, we still struggle to justify ourselves, perhaps wondering if we are smart enough, good enough, attractive enough, rich enough and so forth. Many, many people struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, that they just don’t measure up and are not worthy to be loved. In our situation, the promise of God in Jesus isn’t only that we are forgiven for mistakes we make – which continues to be a powerful promise – but also that God believes we are totally enough and that we deserve to be loved and accepted for who we are. Justification – the promise of God’s unconditional acceptance and love – continues to set us free from the fear of not measuring up and not being deserving and to set us free for sharing God’s love and acceptance with our neighbor. Imagine what the world would be like if rather than worrying about whether we were enough, we simply believed it and helped others to do the same!  



Do you every wonder if you are “good enough”? What situations make you worry most that you aren’t or give you confidence that you are?


What difference would it make if you heard and believed God tell you that you are totally enough - totally loved, totally accepted, totally worthy? What might you feel able to risk, dare, or attempt?



The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Present-Tense God: Law and Gospel
Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:23-31



Luther's discovery that we are justified by grace through faith changes everything he once thought he knew, including his picture of God. In short, rather than seeing God as incessantly demanding, Luther now sees God as primarily gracious, eager to give God's children all manner of gifts. One of the gifts that God gives people is the law. Summarized in the Ten Commandments, the law shows us what kinds of behaviors will help us get the most out of our life in this world. When talking about the law, Luther often stressed its function - that is, the effect it had on people. In particular, he spoke of two functions, or uses, of the law. The first and primary use of the law is to restrain us from looking out only for ourselves and in this way encourages us be more civil to each other. The second way the law functions in our lives is to make us aware of our need for grace and forgiveness. When we make mistakes and fall short of God's hopes for us, the law points out our shortcomings and makes us aware of our need for forgiveness. Luther called this second use of the law the "theological use" because it drives us to Christ so that we can be assured once again that we are forgiven, accepted, and loved. This brings us to the gospel. The word "gospel" literally means, "good news." The gospel, therefore, summarizes the good news that God loves us, forgives us, and accepts us as we are.


Law, in its second use, and the gospel work together to create a "present-tense" experience for us of God. If the law shows you that you are sinful, the gospel announces forgiveness. If the law raises the question of whether life is meaningless, the gospel offers meaning and purpose through service to others. If the law reminds us of how frightening the world can be, the gospel promise of God's providence and presence creates courage. Law and gospel, in this sense, tell us two important truths, the first when God says, "I know you," and the second when God says, "And I love you just as you are." In this way, the phrase "law and gospel" describes an active and ongoing experience of the living God who comes to us to tell us both the truth about ourselves and the truth about God's love for us.



While we often experience the law negatively - no one, for instance, likes getting pulled over for speeding - what would the world be like absent a law that forces us to be more civil toward each other?


If the "confession and forgiveness" of Sunday worship is actually a time to tell the truth about what has been hard or broken or difficult in your life and then to hear God's complete acceptance and forgiveness of you, what would you confess? What, that is, do you need to tell the truth about in order to hear God's greater truth of love and acceptance?


The Ambidextrous God: The Two Kingdom’s and God’s Ongoing Work in the World

Ephesians 4:11-13; Luke 3:7-14, 18


Luther believed God was caring for two dimensions of our lives through institutions. One dimension is what we might call the "sacred," dealing with all those things involving our relationship with God. The other dimension is what we might call "secular," those elements of our life "in the world." This distinction is sometimes named the "two kingdoms," but might be better described as God's "two hands" because of Luther's interest in portraying God's active and ongoing involvement in our lives. God's "right hand" - concerned with our eternal relationship with God - was governed primarily by the institution of the church, the place where we can count on hearing God's word of love, grace, and forgiveness most clearly. Luther conceived of God's "left hand" - overseeing our everyday relationships and lives - as involving primarily the family (the private sphere of our lives) and the government (the public sphere). Today, we might extend government to include all kinds of organization and corporations and agencies that structure our public lives, most of which are regulated in some measure by the government.


According to Luther, while God's two hands were distinct, they were also related. The left hand of government and family created order and a more civil society where people can worship freely. And the right hand of the church prayed for civic leaders and taught people the importance and honor of public work. At the same time, the two hands not only support each other but can also keep each other in balance. If the church overextends itself and wants, for instance, to interfere in policy, the left hand of government keeps it in check. Similarly, if church officials break civil law or abuse their freedoms, they are not exempt from the laws that create order and safety. At the same time, if government neglects its role to care for the weak, needy, and vulnerable, the church calls government to account, reminding it that God has ordained government not so that some can profit but so that all of God's children receive better care and protection. Because God's "two hands" - the right hand of the church that oversees our external relationship with God and the left hand of family and government that structures our temporal life in the world - support and critique each other, we might describe God as "ambidextrous," working through all the institutions of the world to care for both our eternal and immediate needs.



What are some of the "worldly" or "secular" institutions through which God works to keep us safe and provide full and abundant lives?


What difference does it make for you to imagine that God isn't just sitting up in heaven hoping things go well for us, but rather is at work through institutions and people to help us get the most out of life? How does that affect your view of institutions, government, and your role in the world?



Called for Good: Vocation, Sinning Boldly, and the Respiratory System of the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-18; Matthew 5:13-16


Luther was keenly aware that institutions are more or less useless if they are not occupied by people, individuals who take their place and do their job in various institutions, and Luther believed that each of us is called by God to play these roles for the good of our neighbor and the world. The word that best describes this element of Luther's theology is "vocation," from the Latin vocare, to call. In Holy Baptism, God not only forgives us and names us God's own beloved children, but God also calls us to lives of meaning, purpose, and sacrifice. Our vocations can include the roles we play in our jobs (employer, employee), in our family (parent, sibling, child), in our civic life (voter and taxpayer), as students, volunteers, and more. Pretty much anywhere you are, you can exercise your vocation - your calling from God - to help make this world more trustworthy and help your neighbor.


As important as our callings are, sometimes they compete. How much time should we spend at work, for instance, versus with our family? Should we devote more energy to earning a living or volunteering? And so on. Not only that, but sometimes you make mistakes in your calling that may harm others. Or you may not know quite what to do. Luther felt strongly that even in these ambiguous situations God was calling you to act. We should be as careful as we can, learn from as many sources as we can, pray and seek the guidance of our tradition, but ultimately there are times where we need to do something, even if we make mistakes - what Luther called "sinning boldly" - and then hurry back to church to hear God forgiveness. This pattern might call the "respiratory system" of the Body of Christ - breathed in to the church to hear God's word of acceptance and calling, breathed out into the world to serve our neighbor and to be agents of God's love and good purposes. Breathed in, breathed out.



Where has God used you in the last week to make a difference in the world?


How does knowing you are forgiven free you to "sin boldly" - that is, to take a risk for the sake of your neighbor or the world, knowing that you may fall short but still be forgiven?


God Hidden and Revealed: Luther’s Theology of the Cross

I Corinthians 1:18-25; John 1:1-5, 14-18


Luther had a high admiration of human reason when it comes to figuring out all those things related to our natural life in this world. And so whether we're talking about science or medicine or law, Luther believed human reason had an important role to play. When it comes to understanding God, however, Luther was less optimistic, as he believed that we tend to picture God in terms similar to what we experience in the natural and social worlds and therefore think God is primarily about power and strength and justice. Because of that, we tend to misunderstand God's desire to love and save us, assuming that we need to please or satisfy God's demands rather than simply receive God's love and promises.


When it comes to God, therefore, revelation, rather than reason, becomes most important. And the revelation that matters most to Luther is the picture of God we discover by paying close attention to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus' death, we discover God identifying with our lives so completely that God suffers all that we may suffer, including disappointment, betrayal and death. And in Jesus' resurrection, we discover that God's love is more powerful than hate and that God's life is more powerful even than death. At each point, Luther discovered, God is not at all what we'd expect but just what we need. Because of his focus on the crucifixion, Luther's theology is often described as a "theology of the cross," a theology that tells us two truths: 1) the truth about our penchant to look for God in all the wrong places (power and strength) and 2) the truth that God keeps showing up where we least expect God to be in order to disrupt our expectations and surprise us with God's love and mercy. God, that is, meets us most clearly in our places of brokenness and need, a promise that still surprises and comforts us today.



Responding to a student's question about what God looks like, Luther once replied, "I think God looks like a man hanging on a tree?" What does Luther's emphasis on the cross affect and shape your picture and understanding of God? What is challenging? What is comforting?


What part of your life is so difficult that you aren't sure you want to share it with anyone? How does it make you feel to know that God wants to meet you right there, at that point of difficulty, in order to make sure you know God loves you as you are?


Physical Words: The Sacraments

Romans 6:3-5, 8:14-17a; Matthew 26:26-30


At times, Luther described the sacraments as visible, physical words. In baptism, God comes to us in the ordinary, common, and life-giving element of water in order to name us as God's own beloved child and to promise to hold onto us through all of life, always loving and forgiving us no matter what. Luther advocated baptizing children in part because that had been the common practice of the church from biblical times on and in part because when you baptize a child you remember that God is always the primary agent in salvation. Just as a baby can't really do anything to earn or even accept God's love and forgiveness, so all of our lives God is the one who takes ultimate responsibility for our salvation. While Baptism may happen once - and is something most of us cannot remember - the power of being named and accepted by God continues to affect and shape our lives each time we remember our baptism, each time we experience forgiveness, each time we are reminded of God's great love for us.

Luther's understanding that Communion offers us the "real presence" of Jesus "in, with, and under" the bread and wine is probably one of the least well understood elements of his theology. It is perhaps best understood as an "incarnational" understanding of communion. Just as in the incarnation Jesus was, as we confess in the Nicene Creed, both "fully God" and "fully human," so also in communion do we receive both actual bread and wine and the real presence of Christ for us. It is God's promise to meet us where we are. For Luther, the "for us" of Communion is what is most important, as it reminds us that amid the ambiguity of everything else in our lives, God comes reliably and consistently to remind us of God's love in the physical, visible word of Communion.



Luther believed that anytime we use water we can remind ourselves of the promise of God's love shared in Baptism. Where have you used water this week - cleaning, cooking, bathing, etc. - and what difference might it make if you said, "I am baptized" while using water?

Luther felt that the ordinariness of bread, wine, and water were important because they remind us that God comes to us as we are. How might you remind someone you know that God loves not the person they are trying to be or have promised to be, but the person they are right now?


REFORMATION SUNDAY! Becoming Christian: The Ongoing

Reformation; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36


Luther was one of the most pivotal figures in Western history. But he wasn't perfect. He had a very difficult temper that sometimes led him to say awful things about opponents and those who did not agree with him. Luther's failures are a painful but important reminder that the Christian life is not one steady movement of progress from a life of sin to one of perfection. Unlike many other Christian theologians, Luther believed that rather than overcome our sin, we are introduced in Jesus to another reality - one of grace, love and forgiveness - that we are always living into even as we still live in the reality of our sin and brokenness and shortcomings. The phrase Luther used to describe this "dual" reality is that Christians are simul iustus et peccator; that is, "simultaneously sinful and justified."


For this reason, the Christian life is not static. It is not something to be achieved, but always lived into. As Luther would say, the Christian life is one of becoming rather than being. And part of the reason church is so important is that it reminds us of the new reality of grace and forgiveness and possibility that we are born into through Baptism. This reality can be hard to remember in a fallen and difficult world, and so we come together once a week to hear God's word and promises and receive God's love to help us continue to become the persons God has called us to be.




Luther felt that the struggle to believe was not a mark of failure but actually a mark of faith.


When in life have you struggled to believe? How does it help to know that you are not alone in your doubts and that these can be a mark of trying to hold on to and believe God's promises in a challenging world?


How does it shape your view of Sunday worship to know this isn't something you have to do, but rather something God offers you to help you believe that you are loved and that your life matters to God?