Monday, October 30, 2017
We’re here to help, with suggestions for a Halloween costume if you haven’t yet figured that out. Dress up like Martin Luther. Bet you hadn’t thought of that one.
Tomorrow, October 31, is the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther took a hammer to cathedral door, posting 95 Theses that within two weeks had gone viral, 16th century style. The anniversary is widely hailed as the beginning of the Reformation, though like all historical movements, a convergence of forces, political, social, scientific, theological had been at work for a while.
To help you live into the role of Martin Luther, a few Monday morning thoughts on some key contributions (and varied quotable quotes in the left-hand column), offered in the conviction that as individuals and as a church we always need renewal, refinement, repentance, revival, restoration and, yes, reformation.
Luther was about grace. Early in life, he tried hard to be a religious A+ student, to get it all right all the time, in that unattractive way that religious people focus on being holier than thou. It did not make him happy. As he read Paul’s letter to the Romans, he realized that he would be justified not by how many hours in prayer he spent, or how exhaustively he confessed every sin. He embraced grace, as he recognized what Rob Bell has said: There is nothing we can do to make God love us less. Grace his fears relieved. He talked about justification by faith. The word justification really means being set in right relationship, with God.
He was about scripture, known for his phrase sola scriptura. Scripture, the ancient text, the old, old story of Jesus and his love would be his guide. The church had lost that compass and he sought to return to that source, which is often the way renewal happens. He was no biblical literalist, not a fundamentalist. For instance, he was not sold on every book of the Bible (He called the Letter of James an epistle of straw.) And he saw God’s word coming to us in many ways.
He was saint and sinner at once. When he staked everything on grace, it allowed him to move beyond pursuit of perfection. Luther amply demonstrated ways he fell short of the glory of God (one way of describing sin) with his anti-semitic writing, which were extensive and which contributed to the vile and violent history of war against the Jews in western culture. (Read Jim Carroll’s book, Constantine’s Sword, for a powerful and disturbing portrait of what the church must confess.) Part of what he shows is that, in a way that can deeply challenge faith, religious people, even religious heroes often betray their loving Lord in the ways they treat each other, specifically in the area of social jusitce. We see that in the persistent racism in our own nation, where Sunday morning at 11am is still the most segregated hour of the week. That’s not a news flash, but it should keep us humble and ready for repentance and reformation, and open to reconciliation.
He prayed a lot. Apparently, the guy prayed about 3 hours a day. Someone asked how he had time for that, when he had this job to do, i.e., reforming Europe. Was that the best use of his time? He responded that he was too busy not to pray that much. As we contend with decline in many of our churches, we could do worse than follow his example, and take it to the Lord in prayer.
Take this week to give thanks for the ministry of Martin Luther, saint and sinner. Honor his day by beginning some process of renewal and reformation in your own life.
Quotable quotes from Martin Luther:
The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.
God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.
Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.
I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.
The fewer the words, the better the prayer.
Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.
God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.
One learns more of Christ in being married and rearing children than in several lifetimes spent in study in a monastery.
The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.
Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer.
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