Tag Archives: law and gospel

Death of Osama

Seeking Justice

There has been considerable reflection on the death of Osama Bin Laden and the impromptu celebrations that broke out in parts of America.  NPR asked the question, Is it wrong to celebrate Bin Laden’s death.  I have my own two-part response.

My first response revolves around the issue of justice.  When evil has done harm to people, as a culture we seek justice.   We punish those who have caused the harm with the hope of redeeming the loss.  When a hit-and-run driver leaves the scene of an accident, we feel it is just to find the driver and have that driver pay for any/all damages.  If there is a loss of life, the driver receives a punishment of prison and/or probation based on his or her responsibility for the crime.  Cain was punished for the murder of his brother, Able, in Genesis 4. Punishment is a means for restricting further violence and sin.  Lutherans call this the first use of God’s law, to curb our violent and selfish ways.

Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the tragedy of 9/11.  We had a moral right to seek justice with him regarding this crime.  I trust the statements that the SEAL strike team was seeking first to capture Bin Laden, but had to execute him as a combatant.  I see partial justice in his death and I hope his death will stop further acts of violence.  But we have no guarantee of that.   

Now comes the second response regarding the celebration of his death.   God created all human being with purpose and meaning.  God loves all human beings, even when they turn away from God’s purposes and ways.  God’s law shows us our sinful nature and our need for a savior.   Lutherans describe this as the second use of the law: our profound need for Jesus’ mercy and grace.  So what I celebrate today is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Roman Catholic Church responded to the news of bin Laden’s death with this statement: “Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

That is my prayer today.  That peace and justice might reign, not more death and destruction.

Lord, have mercy.

Is Baptism Required?

Yesterday, after preaching on Jesus’ baptism, a confirmation student asked, “Do you need to be baptized to go to heaven?”   My quick response is that baptism is a gift from God for us.  God’s grace is not limited or restricted to baptism. It is not required. Rather baptism is a way for God to show us his love for us so why not be baptized?  

In college I was active in a multi-denominational Christian fellowship with Roman Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians and others.  We all shared a love of Jesus and God’s Word.  We studied, prayed and shared life together without rancour until my senior year when a new student arrived with a different message.   She believed that the only true Christians were those who followed a set pattern of conversion and baptism.   A person needed to confess Jesus as Lord, be taught certain doctrines and then baptised in a special way to be a true Christian.   Her teaching pulled people out of our collaborative fellowship group and caused painful conflict within our Christian community.   I believe she took what was the gift of baptism and turned it into legalistic ritual.  She took the gospel and turned it into law. 

Still, even as a gift, baptism has a harsh quality to it.  The reluctance of cats to be baptized is a metaphor for our reluctance to die to our old self and live for Christ (Romans 6:6).   My old self does not want to die, but rather control life, religion, family, even God.  Yet that rebellious part of me, the old Adam, needs to die and be reborn: today, tomorrow and into eternity.  As Martin Luther says in the catechism,  our baptism is a daily reminder to repent of our sins and rise up to live before God.   I rejoice in that promise of God’s grace at work in us.

Does your baptism still hold meaning for you today?