Martin Luther changed the world with an idea. The question that every religion asks and seeks to answer is how to we get to God. Many of us have a relationship with God, but how do we truly know if we have a place in heaven?
In almost every case the answer is like a ladder. Every good work that we do, every time we go to church, every time we say a prayer we are one rung closer to heaven. If we are faithful enough, if we pray enough and read our bible then we will secure our place it heaven.
Martin Luther became a monk and he prayed, fasted, studied, and learned that he needed to do to be a faithful Christian. The problem was that no matter how high Luther climbed on that ladder he could never discover God.
We still have ladders today. You may hear some preachers say that you have to go to church, you have to give your life over to God, or you have to give so much money into the offering plate in order for God to love you. But that’s not true.
If you think about it we too often put people higher up to ladder than we find ourselves. Where do you think Mother Teresa is on the ladder? What about Dali Lama, Desmond Tutu or Pope Francis?
We may look at our neighbor who is faithful in going to church and praying and then we look at our own life and we wish we could have it all together we think that if we did these things more faithfully maybe our life would be better.
Luther was trying to climb the ladder until he discovered the truth in scripture that we don’t need to climb a ladder because God comes to us! God comes to where we are. This is grace.
The first time I preached this in a sermon I had one older gentleman in the congregation come up to me after the service and said “Pastor I had a problem with your sermon today.” I invited him to say more and he said “Are you trying to tell me that God loves murders and crooks? What about Hitler? What about Isis? Does God love them as well?” I told him, “It is beyond my comprehension as to how God loves everyone including murders, Isis and Hitler but the God I know and the God I read about in the Bible loves everyone without question.” He said “Okay, I don’t get it either but I will trust you.”
When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to be his disciples, they dropped everything to follow him. I thought the disciples that followed Jesus were the best of the best. But what I learned is that to follow someone who was considered a prophet you had to be the smartest person in your village, and you would have to start studying the Torah when you were nine years old.
If you were the best of the best at reading the Torah you then would study the prophets until you were fourteen years old. If you were the best at studying the prophets you would find a Rabbi to teach you. Then only the best students would be allowed to become a Rabbi.
Jesus changed that when he went looking for disciples, and he did not pick the best of the best. Simon and Andrew had given up on their dreams at becoming a Rabbi, instead of studying they were fishing with their father. Jesus searches out Simon and Andrew to become disciples.
This happens for each of us as well. Jesus searches us out, and calls us. If we were really honest we can admit that we are unqualified. Jesus doesn’t pick the best of the best. He picks us, imperfect people that we are. We are the people that Jesus wants. We can’t be Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, or The Pope. We can only be us. And God has come to us.
This means that we do not need to climb a ladder. So the next time you hear someone say “A good Christian does ……..” you have permission to be suspicious of that person because there is no such thing as “good Christians”. There is only us imperfect as we are receiving the grace of God. We don’t deserve it because we are not the best of the best.
This is what Luther came to understand. He found in the pages of scripture not an angry God who is mad because we can’t get up the ladder, but a loving God full of grace.
A God willing to come down and walk here on this earth with us.
A God with sand in his feet.
A God with the hair that smells like the sea.
A God who eats with sinners.
A God who calls fishermen to be his disciples.
A God who is for you and me.
I was in my first year of seminary when I was taught this and it changed my life. I was scared to go to seminary because it was hard.
I was never the best student.
I was never the best athlete.
I was never the best looking.
I was never the most holy person.
I was just me.
And learning about God’s grace freed me from having to be anything other than the mess I am.
I didn’t have to climb the ladder any more.
I know that God comes to me.
God comes to you as well. You don’t have to be perfect for God to love you, you do not have to be the best to follow God, you don’t have to climb a ladder to get into heaven, all you have to do is to be you and God is going to love you for that. That is an idea that can change the world.