At Once Justified and a Dumb@#$

Jason Micheli —  October 30, 2014 — 11 Comments

zipperSimul iustus et peccator fatue

Reformation Day is upon us that so-called ‘holiday’ when some Christians celebrate the fact that some other Christians split Christ’s Body in half. Martin Luther, founding padre of the Protestant Reformation, insisted that God’s grace is a declaration announced to us. From outside us.

     God’s grace is a promise to which we can only respond with trust.

     There is no discernible interior change in us.

     We essentially remain the same d*&^%$-bags we were before.

     Only now, we know in faith, when God regards us, he graciously chooses to see Jesus instead of the a#$-clowns most of us are most of the time.

Says Luther: Even after we’ve responded to the promise of grace, we never cease to be sinners. The new life faith makes possible always remains, in Luther’s view, nascent. Sin remains our determinative attribute even after justification.

     This is Luther’s doctrine ‘Simul iustus et peccator.’ 

     It translates to ‘at once justified and a sinner.’

Or as the contemporary paraphrase edition puts it: ‘Being loved by God doesn’t stop us from being a Frodo D*&^%$- Baggins.’

     Case in point: the other Sunday morning.

Contemporary worship service.

Unlike most Sunday mornings when I roll out of bed straight into my car with last night’s toothpaste slobber still crusted on the side of my mouth and then conceal most of the evidence from having pressed snooze 33 times behind my Luther-like alb, this Sunday I actually put on a tie.

And a blazer.

And combed my hair.

After first having showered.

Truth be told, this humble man of the cloth thought he looked pretty damn good.

Definitely more Palmer Joss this Sunday than rugged Rev Maclean.

Palmer

1276-3

That I thought I looked pretty damn good was reflected in my gosh-aren’t-I-hilarious banter during the announcements. An ecclesial Ryan Gosling, to be sure, I stood in front of several hundred worshippers and welcomed them in the name of Christ.

In between opening praise songs, I seamlessly slipped onstage to offer an opening prayer, gelling the words of the songs with the upcoming message. To chuckles, including my own, I gave the announcements for the day (if you see him, please tell Rev Perry the Gov’t Shutdown doesn’t apply to him and he should return to work…HAH!)

I then celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, pouring water over little Charlotte while a baker’s dozen of her cousins snapped pictures. Later in the service I stood front and center up by the altar to lead the pastoral and the Lord’s Prayer. And then we closed the service with ‘Forever Reign.’ A praise # from Hillsong United, the Walmart of contemporary Christian music.

Imagining my voice to sound as good as I looked, I sang:

You are good, You are good

When there’s nothing good in me

You are love, You are love

On display for all to see

     On display.

Damn.

Some synapse fired in me, triggering an almost primordial, survivalist self-awareness.

Holding the manilla worship bulletin in my left hand, I lowered my right hand down.

Slowly, as to be imperceptible to the band and singers standing 5 feet straight in front of me.

All the while still singing:

You are peace, You are peace

When my fear is crippling

My hand did a too-subtle-to-be-noticed reconnaissance.

Fly down.

Thinking myself cooler than 007, I’d instead been X,Y,Z during the entire service.

And while some worshippers in that moment had their eyes closed in enthused praise and worship, I closed mine, mentally weighing my options:

Do I suck it up and just zip it up right now?

What if the band sees me or the worshippers to my left or right?

What if it gets stuck and I look like I’m playing with myself while the band plays their last number?

What if Karli or one of the other singers sees me and snorts into the mic?

Should I just leave it, offer the benediction and hope no one sees?

Definitely the last, I decided, all the while singing:

The riches of Your love

Will always be enough

Nothing compares to Your embrace

Song ended, an ‘In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit’ served up, I sheepishly waited for everyone to ‘go forth in the name of the Lord.’

Coast clear.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

And then… a youth grinned at me knowingly (because of what I didn’t know).

“Hey man, did you know your fly was down through, like, the entire service?”

    Simul iustus et peccator fatue

     ‘At once justified and an idiot’ God’s grace always remains outside of us, apart from us, Luther says. It’s a promise announced to us not an attribute original in us.

We are always at once graced by God and the same a#$-clown we were before.

When you think about it, it must be so.

Lest we ever forget that God’s grace is exactly what it is: an undeserved gift.

You are good, You are good

When there’s nothing good in me

You are love, You are love

On display for all to see

Jason Micheli

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11 responses to At Once Justified and a Dumb@#$

  1. Tip of the day: Perhaps you should consider starting from the bottom up, i.e., zip up, then button or snap. It is unlikely that your pants would fall down before you got the zipper up. And make sure that the tab on the zipper is pressed down securely so as to reduce the risk of the zipper sliding down later. I speak from experience. Also, I have raised two boys (but have no idea whether they paid attention). God loves us anyway, zipped or unzipped.

  2. And I thought (was hoping) you were going to debunk Luther with a little Wesleyan theology. Sigh.

    • If that’s a challenge…accepted, Jean! The great (and aggravating) thing about Luther is that his theology just ‘preaches.’ Probably b/c we are sinners and screw-ups…

      • I know Jason, I know! Boy do I know. I have lots of Lutheran friends. But the thing I think Lutherans get wrong, begins from Luther’s misinterpretation of Romans 7. Christians are no longer slaves to sin. Salvation is more than life after death. The new creation began in us starts on this side. This is the Wesleyan distinctive. Jason, help us recapture it. 🙂

        • Well, don’t get me started on how Luther (and Augustine before him) mistranslate Romans. I don’t even know if the Reformation would’ve happened had they et al not misinterpreted it so. I think Wesley’s great strength is desire to skip over the Reformers and get back to the Church Fathers, all of whom had a healthy notion of holiness and theosis. I think Luther ‘preaches’ more than Wesley b/c Wesley was so damn self-serious. It’s one of the reasons I like Aquinas. He was just a normal, fat, happy dude who shared a lot of the same thinking as JW.

          • “don’t get me started” Oh, come on Jason; I love it when you get started (except on a certain topic). 🙂

            I’m okay with you liking Aquinas if you promise me one thing: If you can’t take your sermon to the opening of a coal mine somewhere in W. Virginia, then you probably need to dial it back a bit. Savvy?

          • Admittedly some of my sermons are just for ‘me’ to keep me sane, but I think most of my sermons themselves are pretty accessible! I’ve got prison preaching and a rural church (near WV) under my belt…

          • Outstanding. Maybe I’m the one that needs a tune up.

  3. On occasion, I would stand in for the part time pastor of a country church west of Nashville when I was in college. My text, from Micah, was from the NEB. I read with increasing speed and volume to the verse that says, “and the son of righteousness shall rise and shall set them ablaze.” I said, “shit” instead of “set”. That is hard to recover from. No one smiled or laughed. I thought that they were all rural farmers (some even had spit cups on the church floor) and didn’t even notice my error. In fact, they heard but accepted it as a mistake. It was those people who conveyed God’s grace.

    • Yeah Chip, I know what you mean. I have a friend from seminary in Baltimore where they take prayer requests from the floor during worship. Sure enough someone was offering a req for someone named Delores and my friend, not quite hearing, said: ‘I’m sorry did you say Clitoris?’ I told her no matter what she did or how long she stayed in that church she’d always be the pastor who said__________ in church.

  4. At least once a year, I hear a preacher stumble with the word “resurrection” and seemingly leave off the first syllable.

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