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We are not immune to doubting our salvation. . .


Earlier this month I spent four days at a Trappist monastery in upstate New York.  It was a wonderful, soul-refreshing experience.  (I know, you can’t imagine me being quiet that long but ha! I was!)

I happened to be in the Abbey Church for All Saints where an older monk delivered an All Saints sermon.  Each day I would see him shuffle his way to the pulpit to read a lesson, so diligently did he flip that light switch on that illuminated the missal.  As he spoke, incredibly slowly, his loud voice pierced the silence.  It is an occupational hazard of pastors to listen, perhaps too intently, to other people’s preaching.  I think we, in general, try to listen with grace rather than criticism, but our ears are trained to hone in on the good news– the freeing gospel message that we so diligently and deliberately proclaim for our own flocks.

So anyway,  this sweet elderly monk began a story about when he was a serviceman in Vietnam and how the subject of the Catholic faith would often arise in the barracks as well as in foxholes.  Being that it was All Saints he continued with a story about a holy woman who had the particular gift of discerning who would spend how much time in purgatory.  The tale he told relegated one woman to a mere 1000 years in the place of temporary punishment, while another person, unfortunately, would never find their way out.  Neither subject’s particular sins were recounted so I had no way of deciding where I might fall on the scale of “need for refinement.”  The thought that crossed my mind in that sparsely populated Abbey Church that morning was “Thank God for the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.”  

As Lutherans we are taught to rely solely on God’s mercy and grace for our salvation.  Christ alone!  Faith alone!  Grace alone!  Hallelujah!  But, even Lutherans are not immune to doubting our salvation.  We still have original sin biting at our heels. . . we still have a deep desire to do this thing on our own. . . we have still have a tough time (let’s be honest) accepting the free gift of GRACE.  The idea of purgatory casts a serious seed of doubt in the heart of the believer.  What if, we wonder?  Have I done enough to warrant God’s grace?  Am I good enough?  Am I lovable enough?  Will I end up paying for all my stupidity and sin in an in-between place for all eternity?  Doubt floods in.  Denial of the promises of God take hold in our hearts.  Self-loathing, insecurity and a waning hope ensue.

Grace is not for the dead, my friends.  Grace is for the living— the breathing– the moving– the being– the ones who cling to the promises of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The dead are fine!  Don’t worry about the dead, they are A-OK!  Rather, trust in God’s grace that you are forgiven and free, just because God says so!  But more particularly because  of what your Lord and Savior did for you on the cross!  Do not let your doubts take over. . . you are loved and freed from sin, death and the devil!  (If you’re still not sure. . . take a quick look at how Martin Luther rails against the notion of purgatory in the Smalcald Articles , The Second Article- he pulls no punches about it being a ploy of the devil to make people doubt their salvation.)

Rejoice in Jesus Christ!  You are free and forgiven.  Thanks be to God!


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