Sermon Date: October 31, 2021
By Pastor Elaine Boone
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“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God”
Today is a celebration day as we mark Reformation Sunday - we sing the Lutheran Hymn - A Mighty Fortress is our God and we hear Paul’s words from Hebrews that stand at the heart of the preaching of Martin Luther and other Protestant Reformers. Romans 3:28 - a Lutheran’s favourite verse!
In Romans we find one of the most central claims of our faith. God’s love comes to us and all creation unconditionally. By grace we are set free to bring the good news of God’s love.
So why do we celebrate the Reformation on the last Sunday in October?
In the 16th Century some German Lutheran Churches celebrated an annual thanksgiving day for the Reformation. In 1667 the festival was set for October 31st or the Sunday prior, since by then it was popularly believed that on this date in 1517 Martin Luther posted the 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door, in anticipation of people coming to worship on November 1st - All Saints Day - to view the Saint’s relics.
Scholars now question whether Martin Luther actually did nail the theses to the door - but it is a beloved Lutheran story.
The point of the Reformation festival day is the continuing need for perpetual reformation of all Churches rather than Lutheran self-congratulation.
And our calendar celebrates Martin Luther in February not on Reformation Sunday. We mark the day of his death - February 18th 1546.
But today perhaps it is good to reflect on Martin Luther’s life and what he believed.
Martin Luther initially studied to be a lawyer - that’s what his parents wanted him to do! However, he really wanted to be a Priest. The story is that he was horseback riding in a thunderstorm - he prayed that if he survived he would devote his life to God. He did survive!
Martin Luther a Priest and a scholar - teaching and writing in universities. He translated the Bible into German so that the people could read scripture for themselves.
Luther ended up marrying a former nun. Luther helped a number of young women leave a nunnery by smuggling them out in barrels. Luther’s wife was very hardworking - raising children - their own and others they adopted - renting out rooms and doing farm work to help support the family. Apparently she was also famous for the beer she made.
Martin Luther became disillusioned with the Church in Rome. He was specifically against the selling of indulgences. This was a practice used by Rome to raise money. People were told that if they purchased an indulgence they could shorten their time in purgatory or hell - and they could buy them for other people as well. It was the poorest people who were being taken advantage of in this way. Martin Luther had the support of some German Princes -because they were not pleased about money leaving Germany!
So what did Luther do? He wrote and preached against the practice of selling indulgences. And as we know, the story goes that he finally nailed 95 theses or ideas to the door of a Church. This was a common way of sharing information at the time.
The Church of Rome was not pleased! Luther had to defend himself in a Church court called the Diet of Worms. It was called this because this was the location of the trial. Luther refused to recant what he said and is purported to have said - here I stand I can do no other. He relied on scripture for his defense. Martin Luther felt that everything should stand on scripture over doctrine.
Luther was excommunicated and was considered an outlaw. By law he could be killed by anyone who saw him. He was kidnapped on his way home - he vanished. But his kidnappers were friends and he was hidden away in a castle until things calmed down.
Luther never really wanted to start a new Church - he wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church. After awhile people who followed him began to be called “Lutherans” - at first it was a derogatory term. Used by people who were against what Luther was teaching. But very soon it became a treasured term and today we are proud to call ourselves Lutherans. Proud to celebrate today a constantly reforming Church. Proud to share the good news that we have God’s love - a gift - we do not have to do anything to earn it - its already ours.
Martin Luther said in “The Freedom of a Christian” that a believer in Christ is both “perfectly free” and “perfectly a dutiful servant” we are freed from guilt and shame and free for loving and helping our neighbour.
Our celebration of Reformation Sunday calls us to on-going renewal. We are called to carry on the Reformation legacy of direct and ongoing engagement with scripture - so that we deepen our relationship with God.
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