Owen Gaasedelen
Devotion for 12-8-15 Council Meeting

Tonight I want to talk about a recently published research study examining the relationship between altruistic behavior in children and religiosity and how this study relates to Luther’s third sacrament of confession. 

In short, this study was a large, international study examining how religious parents (consisting of largely Christians and Muslims) viewed the levels of empathy and altruism in their own children. Religious parents tended to view their own children as exhibiting more empathy for others, and being more sensitive to injustice violations, compared to non-religious parents. However, when engaged in an altruism simulation designed to be sensitive to injustice, the religious children actually shared less resources than non-religious children, displaying less altruistic behavior. Now, the researchers didn’t say how many ELCA Lutherans were involved in this study, and the point is not that this is happening in our congregation, but rather, the point is that we make claims about ourselves or others that are untrue all the time, knowingly or unknowingly. 

This is where confession comes in. And I’m not talking simply about the liturgical confession that we all participate in so that we can get our communion, but rather the confession that Jesus commands of us on his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew chapter 5, verse 23-24, Jesus says “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” In their book, Kingdom Ethics, Gushee & Stassen (2003) explain that this is Jesus’ attempt to un-ritualize confession and atonement practices, rather than passing your sins off to a sacrifice, he is calling followers to closely examine themselves and take responsibility for their sins. In fact, the gospel writer appears to be challenging us to be responsible for others’ sins, however, the more likely interpretation is that we are challenged to not make excuses for ourselves, and be open to the feedback of others, even if we do not agree with the feedback. Through this commandment, we can confess and be empowered, Christ and his teachings empowers us. 

So we ask ourselves, in what ways are we not honest with ourselves? In what ways have we, like the study participants denied the reality of situation? In a time where people like Donald Trump call for the exclusion and systematic discrimination of Muslims, we are especially called to examine our own xenophobic feelings, that we all possess in some form, and remember that Christ calls us to live beyond those fears. More often than not, I think we are more like the religious children in the study, where our parents and the larger society have given us the messages about who we are, but in reality we are not those messages. We do not measure up. And that is okay, because we have Christ. 

To provide another example, The theology contemporary to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran German theologian who protested Hitler’s rise to power interpreted the commands from the Sermon on the Mount as too difficult for man to follow, and therefore we need Grace, however, Bonhoeffer viewed this form of Grace as cheap, and that real Grace involves recognizing and accepting the transformative power of these freely given commands to change lives. Consistent with this view, Christ’s death on the cross is not necessarily an atonement for our sins, but a lived example for us to follow. In confessing our sins, we expect the punishment of death, however, we are constantly surprised to find new life in the resurrection, resurrection and salvation that is available for us today.  

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245