It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
As educators in a Lutheran school we know how important it is to encourage students to learn through making mistakes, to move through those times of feeling stuck, to step out of the learning pit, and be challenged, to question, to reflect, and grow in resilience and mindset. Luther knew how important these aspects were in learning, not just in the classroom but also in the Christian faith. Luther emphasized that as Christians we learn through our trials, tribulations and even through suffering in life. It is in this vein that Luther begins his introduction to the Freedom of a Christian.
As a Doctor of Theology who lectured at university in Biblical studies Luther suggests that he has little faith. He encourages us on our spiritual journey that no matter how great or small we think our faith is, we all can access and experience the strength that is offered through faith in Christ. For Luther this faith lies outside of ourselves. It is not mere knowledge. Yet it does include knowledge, reason and logic. Faith in Christ is reasonable, verifiable, historical. That is really important when we encourage and nurture faith in students. For Luther and Lutheran theology faith is primarily trust. Trust in who Christ says he is and what Christ has done for us. Trust in the promises of God. Promise which is found in the Biblical story together with the demands of God. This is where we find paradox and two seemingly contradictory themes; because of God’s grace and forgiveness we have freedom yet as flesh and blood humans we are still bound up by sin. Let’s read now the opening paragraphs to “The Freedom of a Christian.”
A Reading from the “Freedom of a Christian”
Many people view Christian faith as something easy, and quite a few people even count it as if it were related to the virtues. They do this because they have not judged faith in light of any experience, nor have they ever tasted its great power.
This is because a person who has not tasted its spirit in the midst of trials and misfortune cannot possibly write well about faith or understand what has been written about it. But one who has had even a small taste of faith can never write, speak, reflect, or hear enough about it. As Christ says in John 4(:14), it is a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Although I cannot boast of my own abundance of faith and I also know quite well how short my own supply is, nevertheless—given that I have been troubled by great and various trials—I hope I can attain to at least a drop of faith. And I hope that I can talk about faith in a way that, if not more elegant, is certainly clearer than has been done in the past by the fancy writers and the subtle disputants alike, who have not even understood their own writings.
In order to point out an easier way for common folk (for I serve only them), I am proposing two themes concerning the freedom and servitude of the spirit:
A Christian is lord of all, completely free of everything.
A Christian is a servant, completely attentive to the needs of all.
Although these topics appear to contradict one another, nevertheless, if they can be found to be in agreement, they will serve our purposes beautifully. For both are from the Apostle Paul, when he says in 1 Cor. 9 (:19), “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all” and in Rom. 13 (:8), “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.” But “love” by its very nature is dutiful and serves the one who is loved. The same was true of Christ who, although Lord of all, was nevertheless “born of a woman, born under the law” and who was at the same time free and slave, that is, at the same time “in the form of God” and “in the form of a slave.”
Let us approach these two themes from a rather distant and unsophisticated starting point. Every human being consists of two natures: a spiritual and a bodily one. According to the spiritual nature, which people label the soul, the human being is called a spiritual, inner, and new creature. According to the bodily nature, which people label the flesh, a human being is called the fleshly, outer, and old creature. Paul writes about this in 2 Cor. 4(:16), “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” This distinction results in the fact that in the Scripture these contrary things are said about the same person, because these two “human beings” fight against each other in the very same human being, as in Gal. 5(:17), “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the spirit, and what the spirit desires is opposed to the flesh.” 
 Timothy Wengert Translation, Fortress Press: 2016, pp.10-11.
 Carmelo Santos, The Freedom of a Christian: A Study Guide for Martin Luther’s Treatise, Marking the 500th Anniversary of its Publication, ELCA, Chicago: 2020.
So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-36.
On the first day of this term I was able to lead a study for our whole staff. I decided the content for this study would be Martin Luther's treatise on The Freedom of a Christian. This year happens to be the 500th anniversary of the writing and publishing of this document. Below you can read an abridged introduction to this study as well as download the PowerPoint quiz and discussion questions I used. In subsequent weeks I will be posting followup reflections on The Freedom of a Christian as I select readings from it to use in our staff devotions. Toward the end of the term I will include the complete study of readings and questions in the Devotions part of this site. Blessings as you enjoy your freedom that serves!
The Freedom of a Christian, written by Martin Luther, is a great introduction to Lutheran theology and spirituality. In this treatise Luther makes the classic Pauline and Reformation distinction between faith and good works, that is freedom comes from the righteousness of faith apart from the law. According to God’s grace we are justified by faith alone through Christ, this is the biblical teaching that Luther rediscovered and is at the heart of the Reformation. In the Lutheran school this has many implications including the fact that the mission of a Lutheran school is to provide not only a quality education but also to be Christ centred and grace focused. This means a Lutheran school is a place of grace in all aspects of learning so that students, staff and families are exposed to and nurtured in a faith that frees us from the accusations of the law and the addiction of works righteousness.
In the ears of people today freedom is usually thought of in terms of the economic or the political. To be free is to be an autonomous individual who has a wide array of consumer goods or the right to choose their government representatives. Since the enlightenment of the eighteenth century freedom tends to be defined in terms of deliverance from oppressive structures, especially those connected with church dogma. For Luther the individual self lacked the resources that would lead to true freedom. “Rather than knowing true freedom, people are much more prone to cling to some earthly good such as wealth, status, or sex. The result can be a bondage that is deep and profound. And it is…ironic because it can happen under the guise of a supposedly autonomous self that is simply doing as it pleases.”
“The freedom Luther has in mind is deeply relational…it is found in a relationship with Christ”. Tranvik in his introduction to Luther’s work makes this analogy. In long term relationships like a good friendship or a faithful marriage there is an abundance of faith and trust along with the joys and sorrows of life. Within such relationships there is little pretension or need to prove one’s worth or value. Hours can pass without a word and yet there is no need to explain the silence. This sense of freedom cannot be purchased in the marketplace or obtained. It cannot be generated through the earnest efforts of an individual will. Rather it is a gift of the relationship itself. This is the freedom of the Christian that Luther writes of in this document.
 Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian; Luther Study Edition, translated and introduced by Mark D. Tranvik, Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2008, Introduction, 28.
 Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian; Luther Study Edition, translated and introduced by Mark D. Tranvik, Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2008, Introduction, 29.
Andrew Root has written an excellent book called "Faith Formation in a Secular Age; Responding to the Church's Obsession with Youthfulness". It was published in 2017 by Baker Books and is the first part of a three book series on ministry in a secular age. The second work is on the role of the Pastor and the third which has just been released is centered on the ministry of the Congregation. In "Faith Formation", Root critiques and builds on the work of philosopher Charles Taylor, New Testament scholar Michael Gorman and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's little known emphasis on youth ministry. Below is a link to a review of the book I wrote for the current August edition of the Lutheran Theological Journal.
During the week I had the opportunity to spend some time on a Zoom call discussing the place of Mindfulness in Lutheran schools. Organised through Lutheran Education Australia it was a Learning Circle on Katherine Thompson's book "Christ Centred Mindfulness." Participants included a principal, christian studies teachers, ministry and church workers, pastors and chaplains. It was the start of a conversation on how Lutheran schools are using mindfulness practices and how we can use the contemplative elements that have always been there in our Christian tradition with integrity. Inserted here is the Powerpoint presentation I used for discussion.
Have you ever thought about your breathing? Probably not that often, but did you know that in an average day an active adult can take up to 50 000 breaths? And would you believe a one year old can take up to 86 000 breaths? We do it automatically but every breath we take is an absolute miracle, a gift from God. With the popularity of mindfulness, the importance of concentrating on our breathing to help us be in the moment has resurfaced. But religious people, including Jews and Christians have known this a long time.
In the beginning in the book of Genesis we read God; formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a human being (Genesis 2:7). We believe that humanity was created to breathe, to take in the breath that comes from God to truly live. And what’s more in John’s gospel we read that on Easter day when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, he spoke to them, reassured their fears then breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). God has made us as human beings with his living breath as the resurrected Jesus lives with and in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. In using our breathe in conjunction with prayer we are centring ourselves on the Triune God.
Focusing on our breathing in times of anxiety is a great skill to learn. Below is a 3 minute video from Mindful Schools called "Just Breathe". It is not from a specifically Christian worldview but it does have wisdom for faith based schools as we make the connection to the spiritual for our students.
Do you really, truly believe? If you repent? These are conditional, adverbial statements that do not have a place in Lutheran theology. They are examples of 'adverbial theology'. This is a term that one of my seminary lecturers used, Dr Joe Strelan. This last week he passed from this life to the next so I had cause to reread some notes I took in a short lecture he delivered some after I left the seminary in my first parish in Sydney. As well as learning from him in a number of New Testament and Systematic subjects at Luther Seminary I was fortunate to be in the New South Wales District in my first call. Something I really appreciated about Dr Strelan was that before he retired he spent time away from the academic life as a parish pastor. While he was in Port Macquarie he was instrumental in developing pastors in that district with alternative training before this became a more widespread practice across the LCA. It was during this period in his life that he delivered the following lecture on Adverbial Theology at a NSW Pastors Conference.
Over the weekend, I completed a project I had been planning for nearly a year, constructing a butterfly labyrinth at my college's kindergarten. With my daughter's help, I marked out with tape the shape of the butterfly, painted it green and then pulled off the tape to reveal the butterfly. The butterfly is a particular shade of green to match the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly which is native to the subtropics of eastern Australia. The butterfly, which was near extinct, is attracted to a particular vine we have growing in the rainforest on our campus. With the help of senior students, we hope to plant some of the vines around the college and kindy. The butterfly is also special to us as a community, especially at this time of the year because of the Christian symbolism of new life and resurrection. God has perfect time because there has been an abundance of butterflies flying all along the Sunshine Coast over these recent autumn weeks. In coming weeks, I look forward to leading children through this butterfly labyrinth and link together for them these aspects of our local environment and Christian spirituality. Enjoy this one and a half minute video of the construction process. Thanks to the Pacific Early Learning Centre Director Julie McCosker and of course my daughter Ella.
In these times of the coronavirus pandemic, when school, as we know it, has been fundamentally changed through a distributive model of online learning, mindful meditative practices are being renewed in creative ways. It can be challenging to do this through digital technology, but it is an opportunity to think of different ways to centre and ground ourselves and our students for the sake of everyone's well-being. Two ways I have used labyrinths creatively to cater for students who are learning at home and school via a screen is through finger labyrinths and a virtual labyrinth walk.
Pictured below is a Finger Labyrinth that I used with staff over Zoom for a devotion at the end of last term. It was the season of Lent, so the apt words of Philippians 2:8 were used; "Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross!". Staff were then invited whether in their offices, workstations or at home to either touch their screen and trace the labyrinth to the centre of the cross or to use their mouse and cursor to trace the path. Then when they had reached the centre, they could take three deep breaths before tracing their way back out of the cross. It was great to use the technology in such a tangible way to slow people down, let them breathe, and meditate on the way of the cross of Christ. In my next post, I will share the virtual labyrinth I have created. Thanks to Flame Creative Children's Ministry for permission to share this image: http://flamecreativekids.blogspot.com/2012/05/finger-labyrinths.html
In these anxious times of the corona-virus pandemic, pausing, taking a breath and centering ourselves on God is so important. The rate of change in the day to day life of schools for the end of this first term has been mind-blowing. Teachers and staff have been amazingly open to the huge demands put on them, especially in the area of upskilling their digital technology capabilities. In what looks like a totally new technology driven learning environment for students and staff next term, taking regular breaks from screens and connecting with our bodies will be necessary for everyone's well-being.
With this in mind I have created a devotional resource for staff and possibly secondary students based around the ancient concept of breath prayers (thanks to Steph Maher from LEQ for the idea!). There are lots of mindfulness and well-being resources floating around at the moment but there is not much mindfulness material that uses biblical passages and the promises of God. These breath prayers link a focus on our breath with succinct phrases from the scriptures. I have put them into a PowerPoint Presentation with guided audio on each slide. Below is a taste of what I have created with introductions and the whole script of ten prayers. If you are interested in the whole collection of breath prayers for a ten week term click here Staff Devotions.
The following Ash Wednesday devotional piece I wrote for our college newsletter .
One of the things I love doing in my garden is composting. After several months with a bit of patience, I can make rich compost from my kitchen scraps, garden trimmings and lawn clippings. Then I have the pleasure of digging the earthy humus back into my vegetable beds or flowerpots. It is extremely satisfying to reuse organic material from my household and with the help of decomposition, re-enter it into the environment through more fertile soil. This enriched soil then helps me to grow more flourishing flowers, plants and vegetables. Soil and compost are so important for our environment, our care of creation, our food supply and it is also important in teaching us how God acts in the world.
This week our community at Pacific celebrated the beginning of Lent with a focus on Ash Wednesday in chapels. Students and staff had the opportunity to have dirt on their heads; ash put on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. This ritual act was accompanied by the words; “remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” Ash, dust, dirt, these elements all remind us of how vitally connected we are with the soil and how all life that has been created by God will eventually decompose and return to the soil. This was God’s message to Adam in Genesis 3:19 that he would return to the ground where God had made him. Composting is part of God’s plan for the world and shows us that new life, new growth, is coming.
The American poet and farmer Wendell Berry says that soil is Christ-like. Christ-like because it constantly welcomes death and turns it into new life. That was God’s point in sending Jesus to us, to show us that his pattern for the world is to work through death to bring us resurrection. New life and hope can sprout and flourish from what was decaying and dying. One soil scientist, after years of research, concluded that our soil is unexplainably mysterious in how it keeps on turning matter into new life and feeds and nourishes the world. Composting and connecting with the ground we live on is good for our gardens, our environment and for us spiritually. Getting our hands and heads dirty is not such a bad thing. In fact, it can be a God thing when it connects us with Christ who grows new life in us.
Have a blessed Lent and enjoy a garden and composting if you can.
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
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