He died an outlaw in the same little town he was born in. They found a scrap of paper with scribbled writing in his pocket. “We are beggars. This is true.”
Still, he changed the world. Not in a ‘you mean everything to me’ pop ballad way. In a ‘you’re allowed to believe differently than your government’ kind of way. A ‘you can read the bible in your own language’ kind of way. A ‘there is a church that preaches the gospel purely and administers the sacraments rightly’ kind of way. Martin Luther. 500 years ago he nailed 95 thesis to the door of a cathedral and sparked the reformation. Emperors gave him their ear. Magistrates followed his advice. There’s a middling denomination that loves to argue on the internet in his name. That last part isn’t so impressive, but Luther was. He died thinking this. “We are beggars.”
We have hundreds of writings from him. Thousands of pages. This might not be his most exhaustive treatment on a topic, but it’s profound enough. It isn’t just a statement on the our sinful, broken nature. It’s a call to look up. After all, beggars can’t be choosers.
It’s too easy to limit God to the being that’s stronger than you. It’s too common to say we Get what we deserve. It’s too simple to look around at the misery and death in the world and assume beggars can never hope for more than scraps. But begging isn’t about you.
Luther meant more than ‘you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit’. He meant it’s not about you at all. Begging is not about what you can earn or buy. It’s not even about what you deserve. It’s about the One you’re begging. Begging relies totally on the one you ask. What kind of God do you have?
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
– 1 Timothy 1:15
God doesn’t reveal Himself in power, but in mercy. We are beggars, but God is merciful. This is the Lutheranism. We are beggars. We dare to look to mercy instead of works. We dare to trust in something bigger than ourselves. We see our pride ground to dust and find identity in Christ. We dare to find hope in audacious places like water and word. Lutheranism isn’t about Luther. It isn’t a wholesale endorsement of everything he ever did or said. It’s about Jesus. It’s about mercy.
Christianity isn’t behaving until you earn something nice from Him. It’s begging, and when you know who your God is, it’s comfort. Even to dying men. God is merciful enough to do more than drop care packages from heaven to the people who deserve them. He takes flesh and climbs down and bears sin for you upon a cross. He pays for everything we beg Him for with holy blood. He dies and rises for you, not because of who you are, but because of who He is. We are beggars, but Jesus is merciful. We beg based on a gift already given. We pray based on an identity He insists we have. He commands us to be baptized. He demands we be brought to Him and given life. He doesn’t hide in heaven and wait for us to earn our place with Him. He descends to place Himself right into the midst of everything going wrong in our lives, the things done to us and the things we did to ourselves and each other, and carries us out of this valley of death unto life.
So we beg a God who will not be far off. He answers in the same blood that purchased us release. We eat and drink the Eucharist and know where our God is and more, who He is. Mercy.