Writing in 1522, “A Sincere Admonition to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion,” Luther says,
“I ask that people make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone…How then should I – poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am – come to have people call the children of Christ by my wretched name? Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christian.”
Twenty-four years later, on February 15, 1546, in his final sermon, Luther preaches,
“Let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord, all you who suffer for his sake. Let misfortune, sin, death, and whatever the devil and the world loads upon you assail and assault you, if only you remain confident and undismayed, waiting upon the Lord in faith, you have already won, you have already escaped death and far surpassed the devil and the world….[let’s] learn not to think ourselves wise and to put away from our eyes all great people, indeed, to shut our eyes altogether, and cling only to Christ’s Word and come to Christ, as Christ so lovingly invites us to do, and say: ‘Thou alone art my beloved Lord and Master, I am thy disciple.’”
Within three days Luther lay dead. In a final conversation, dear friend, Justus Jonas, asks, “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?”
Luther replies, “Yes. We are beggars. This is true.”
Poignant, hopeful and insulting, eh? Never one to mince words, Luther is stunningly profane, is tenderly devout, praises his wife for her home-made beer made to support the family, never thinks himself anything but a Roman Catholic pointing to Jesus, so certain that we are 100% saint and 100% sinner the both at once, a man whose insults are found on the internet if one searches for the “Martin Luther-Lutheran Insulter” app, a man who suggests that Christians war against Satan with flatulence, calls himself poor stinking maggot fodder, and declares us, in his dying moment, beggars.
We fine upstanding people take offense at being label beggars, unless we, like Luther, take seriously the notion that God is the ultimate giver, freely giving all God’s gifts away; and like Luther, we take seriously what St. Paul says about faulty sliding scales.
Because people had forgotten that they are beggars, a congregation is threatened as members use their faulty sliding scales to create inners and outers, dividing the community into the self-defined deserving and undeserving, forcing St. Paul to address the Christians at Philippi.
And it starts when use of faulty sliding scales comes into play; Jewish-Christians requiring circumcision of Non-Jewish Christians. And Paul calls them out, convicting them of “confidence in the flesh,” which by default is lack of confidence in God’s free grace given in Jesus. In matters of faith, whenever you start requiring, have-tos, ought-tos, and musts, then you are not relying on Jesus, for by default, your anxious faith is pandering to confidence in the flesh.
Paul takes a dim view on confidence in the flesh and decides to pull out his Jewish pedigree, saying, “If anyone else thinks they have reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more…I am circumcised on the eighth day, person of Israel, tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, I am blameless.”
Now that’s a curriculum vitae. Paul covers every base that a Jew, or Jewish-Christian, could claim to recommend themselves.
And then Paul metaphorically shreds his curriculum vitae in front them, saying, “…whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”
It’s either confidence in the free grace of God freely given in Christ Jesus, or confidence in your works, your faulty sliding scale measurements, and your imperfect understanding of living into perfect righteousness. Either you are looking confidently to Jesus to recommend you, or you are looking confidently (or not-so-confidently) to yourself. One option offers free comfort, the other a life of nagging doubt and fear geared towards human ability working a God-sized redemption. We Lutherans love “both-and” paradoxes, but here we have an “either-or” truth.
Either your confidence is in the flesh of some poor stinking maggot-fodder, which will fail, or your confidence is in the abiding freely given precious Flesh of Jesus, given and shed for you—the forgiveness, hope, ground, truth, and source of God’s saving grace for you.
Are you looking to any flesh other than the flesh of Jesus? Bear in mind that Luther sees his own flesh as stinking maggot-fodder. And St. Paul calls his fleshly works, σκύβαλα, a stunning profanity that you might utter when you fill your grocery cart, get to the register ready to pay, then realize you’ve left your wallet, purse, or debit card at home.”
Maggot fodder and skubala are what faithful Christian leaders have considered their works. In 1521, the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Mainz said to Luther, “I know very well that without God’s grace there is nothing good in me, and that without God’s grace I am as much a piece of useless, stinking *beep* as anyone else, if not more.” Together with St. Paul, Luther, the Cardinal of Mainz, we ought to know that whatever is held by any of us as confidence in human flesh, is utter poo.
St. Paul uses an ancient Greek profanity to name it emphatically for what it is.
So, where is your confidence? Is it in a self-created poo pile offered to God on your behalf?
Isn’t our lack of confidence in God’s freely given grace truly because we’re look to some flesh other than the Flesh of Jesus?
Isn’t that what’s really behind our deep-seated anxiety borne from our not-so-confident flesh compelling us to use our faulty sliding scales to keep us white-knuckling for perfectionism, ever-wondering whether or not we are enough, fretting about feeling in control, determined to be right rather than kind, feeling justified to carry grudges, pouting in anger, taking resentments, measuring ourselves against others, making judgments about others’ beliefs, choices, or lifestyles, intentionally dodging the faithful work of reconciliation, preferring to write people off rather than work things out, being physically present while never relationally showing up, criticizing this, that, and the other, expecting something big out of a relationship yet putting so little of ourselves into that relationship, playing the lead role in our own gaping want of gratitude and celebration, denying the truth of that reality, all the while hanging tight to some shame, guilt, or sin that we’re so sure can’t or won’t be forgiven?
That is the not-so-confident faith for those whose confidence is in human flesh. There’s no righteousness to be had in it, no grace—only anxiety and false confidence.
But, thanks be to God our Giver, who gives a far more precious Flesh, nothing like our maggot-foddered skubala, the righteousness that comes from God to us through the Flesh of Jesus!
God the Giver gives this Flesh for you, and you freely receive the benefit of that Flesh’s righteousness, on your behalf. That’s all God the good Giver sees when God looks on you, the Flesh of Christ for you!
Only Jesus is pleasing in God the good Giver’s eyes. And God gives Jesus, in whom God the Giver is well-pleased, for you. And God’s Spirit freely joins you to Jesus in the waters of Baptism, and freely offers his Flesh to you in the Meal. All freely given for you!
There is nothing left to be work on, worked out, or worked at. All that is need God’s hands are providing, great is God’s faithfulness Lord unto us. Everything else is plain ole maggot-foddered skubala.
And all skubala offers is stench; stench of anxiety and fear, stench magnified by the stench of sin, stench further multiplied by our own efforts to cleanse ourselves from it.
So, take a page from Luther’s play book and call it maggot-fodder, or snag a page from St. Paul and call it skubala; call it whatever you like but, “Count it all loss.” And rest your trust confidently in the Flesh of the One who died and rose for you.
You have new life freely given in Jesus. Count the rest of it loss. You are forgiven; and being forgiven means you have eternal life now, you have resurrection now. Cling only to Christ’s Word and come to Christ; for the rest is just skubala, so along with your own faulty sliding scale, DROP IT and COUNT IT ALL LOSS.
Apart from Jesus it’s just poo. Count it all loss. Come the Table of mercy with only Jesus to recommend you. Come to the Table of mercy dropping all that skubala along the way. That maggot fodder’s just weighing you down anyhow, isn’t it? Don’t come to the Table white-knuckling, but open-handed and naked-hearted, just like the beggar you are, open to receiving the Flesh of Jesus. Let the perfectionism go, for you are already clothed in the Flesh of Jesus in the sight of God the good Giver—take confidence in that truth. The only death you need fear happened in Baptism, so let the skubala go; apart from Jesus it’s just maggot-foddering poo. Count it all loss, and beggar that you are, receive the more precious gift from God the free Giver, the gift freely given for you, the forgiving Jesus coming for you in the words, “Given and shed for you!”