Watching for the Morning of October 25, 2015
Martin Luther was a pious monk, pastor and Bible professor. He did not set out to start a revolution. He wanted only to correct some abuses he saw happening in the hands of the indulgence preachers.
Naïvely, Luther thought (or at least claimed to think) that Prince Albert and the Pope would want to know what was being said in their name and would want to correct it. He wasn’t looking for excommunication and the threat of burning at the stake.
Luther seemed to think that if he just had the opportunity to explain himself, everything would be straightened out – but the more he explained, the deeper grew the hole. The message of the grace of God he found in scripture didn’t blend with the amount of money and power that was at stake in the indulgence controversy or the renaissance papacy.
So when the long sought opportunity to discuss (so he thought) his teaching finally arrived in 1521 at the Diet of Worms (the governing body of the Holy Roman Empire, now presided over by Emperor Charles V), Luther was not prepared for the outcome. He was given no chance to defend himself, only asked whether the books were his and whether he was ready to recant. A parliamentary maneuver requesting a night to think it over allowed him to say a little more the next day than a simple “yes” or “no” – but not much more, only a recognition that some of his writings were statements from scripture and he could not in good conscience recant those. He needed to be shown what in his writings was false.
Luther’s prince, Elector Frederick, was better at reading the tea leaves and arranged for a band of armed men to kidnap Luther and take him into hiding to the Wartburg castle. Luther was condemned by the council – and anyone who aided him liable to forfeiture of all their lands and titles. But there, in the Wartburg, Luther – needing something to keep busy – set about translating the New Testament into German. Thanks to the invention of the printing press, the Bible began to became available to all.
Eventually, Luther could stay on the sidelines no longer and returned to take control off the chaotic reformation underway in Wittenberg. When Katie offered to marry him, Luther was still under sentence as an outlaw of the empire, though the Emperor was unable to enforce it until he seized Electoral Saxony in 1547, a year after Luther had died.
We forget, sometimes, the price that some of our sisters and brothers have paid for confessing Christ – a price that people are still paying in various places in our world.
And we forget, sometimes, that God’s free grace did not come without price to God.
Reformation Sunday takes us into the scriptures (as it should) and takes us into prayer for the Spirit to work its reforming and renewing work in and among us (as it should) – but this day also takes us back to remember and honor those of the 16th century whose rich insights into the Gospel, fought for at great personal risk, are our privilege to inherit. And it bids us remember all those who even now confess the grace of God at great personal cost.
The Prayer for Reformation Sunday, October 25, 2015
Gracious and eternal God,
who by your Word called all things into being,
and by your Spirit sustains and renews the earth,
send forth your Word and your Spirit upon your church,
that ever renewed they may bear faithful witness to your grace and life.
The texts for Reformation Sunday, October 25, 2015 (assigned for Reformation Day)
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” – Though the covenant formed between God and Israel when God’s law was given at Sinai lies broken, God will create a new covenant relationship, where God’s teaching/commands are written on the heart.
Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A hymn proclaiming the power of God to protect and preserve the people and expressing their confident trust in God’s saving work. It provided the inspiration for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” – Paul’s classic expression of his understanding of the function of law and gospel and the idea that we are brought into a right relationship with God (justified) not by the law, but by the free gift of God (by grace) apprehended by our trust in that gift (through faith). This phrase “Justification by grace through faith” becomes a summary statement of the 16th century reforming movement and subsequent Lutheran churches.
Gospel: John 8:31-36
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – This promise of freedom in Christ – freedom from authorities or powers that would prevent their living in service of God – is spoken to followers who do not abide in Jesus’ teaching, and his challenge will reveal their true heart.