Sermon for Reformation Sunday – October 27, 2019
This sermon is delivered in character as Martin Luther, who emerges from the “sacristy time machine” to take questions from the congregation.
Guten morgen, guten morgen! It has been a few years since I’ve been here to the O.H.L.C. It is good to be back. I love time traveling to the internet age. I love your “memes” as you call them, those funny pictures you post online with funny captions. You know, back in the time of the Reformation my buddy Lucas Cranach and I had something like memes. I’d come up with the ideas and Lucas would draw these slightly naughty cartoons that were printed on the printing press. They spread like wildfire! They went…how do you say it…viral! Here is one we made when the pope tried to ban our faith. [Woodcut is shown on screen.] We responded by showing a couple of German peasants breaking wind in his direction! The caption said: “Don’t frighten us, pope, with your ban, and don’t be such a furious man. Otherwise we shall show you our can!” Now that’s a meme, am I right?
Anyhoo, your pastor wanted me to take questions from the congregation, so let’s do that. If you have a question, please raise your hand.
Question #1: Dr. Luther, why do we celebrate Reformation Sunday on the last Sunday of October?
Yes, thank you. Good question. While there have been many reform movements in the church, the Lutheran reformation can be said to have begun on October 31, 1517. That was when I went to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg – not to trick or treat, but to post my 95 theses. It was an urgent call to debate. You see, as a monk I’d had the privilege of studying the scriptures in great depth, and the more I looked from the Bible to the church, the more I saw that things weren’t lining up. Church practice had gotten far afield from the Word of God. Take forgiveness – according to the scriptures, forgiveness is not something to be sold or earned, it is something to be proclaimed freely for all in Jesus’ name! Or the sacraments – our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice to God, but the receiving of a gift from our Lord Jesus, the gift of his grace, the gift of his presence. There was the papacy, the marriage of priests, the nature of saints. I could go on and on – and believe me, I did!
Yes, church practice was way out of alignment with God’s Word as given to us in the Bible. The posting of my theses was the first step in bringing about reform. It was the first step in clearing away the spiritual mischief of church bureaucrats so that the Good News could ring once more. My favorite thesis is number 62, where I wrote: “The true treasure of the church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.” You know what grace is, don’t you? You better if you dare to name your church after me! Grace is unearned favor, undeserved blessing. That’s what God gives us in Christ!
As I said, I posted my theses on October 31st, the day before All Saints Day. I knew the church would be full of worshippers the next day, and that they would see my call for debate. This is why you celebrate Reformation Sunday on the last Sunday in October, and actual Reformation Day on the 31st. No tricks here – only the treat of being saved by grace through faith! Not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done for us!
Question #2: What do you believe is your greatest accomplishment?
Without a doubt I would say my greatest accomplishment was to translate the Bible into the language of the people. I’m glad you asked this, because there’s a great story behind it. After the meeting at Worms, where I was put on trial for heresy, when I refused to recant there was a price put on my head. Charles, the emperor, had to let me leave the city because I was promised safe conduct and he couldn’t go back on his word. But as soon as I was outside of town I was kidnapped! Riders in black surrounded my wagon. They put a bag over my head and took me away. Thankfully I was kidnapped by friends! My prince, Frederick, sent these riders to take me away to hide in his castle at Wartburg until things died down. Little did I know I would be there for an entire year! I used the time to translate the Bible into German. I came up with a disguise so I could sneak out of the castle. I grew a beard and wore a sword on my belt to look like a knight. I went to the markets as Knight George, listening to how the people spoke so that I could translate in the language the people used, language people could understand. I wanted people to have the Word in their own hands, so that the church couldn’t bury the gospel ever again!
Question #3 What was your biggest challenge in life?
Biggest challenge? I can name three: sin, death, and the devil.
As a young monk I wrestled mightily against sin. I never felt like I measured up. I could never do enough to shake the feeling that I was falling short of the glory of God. Thankfully I came to see in Paul’s letter to the Romans that righteousness before God is not something we achieve, but is something given to us freely as a gift through Jesus Christ, received through faith. This Word from God changed everything. It truly set me free!
I have known the sting of death. My dear wife Kate and I lost two of our beloved children. Elizabeth was just an infant, while Magdalena was thirteen years old when she died. My grief was so crushing that there were times I thought I might never come out of it. But Christ held me fast.
And, of course, there have been times when I’ve known the hot breath of the devil tormenting me, planting doubts in my heart about my worth and my work. I have known many dark nights of the soul. The devil wreaked much havoc in my day, such that I sincerely thought the end was near. There was so much violence, so much disease, society seemed to be coming apart at the seams. There was so little hope, apart from Christ.
Those were my three greatest challenges.
Question #4: What would you like to say to Lutheran Christians today?
Well, first I would say that things in your time aren’t as different from mine as you might think. Sin, death, and the devil are still as active as ever. I know you struggle against sin, even though that seems like a passe idea among so many in your time. I see how you try in vain to make yourself righteous – and what does it get you? Either pride or despair, both of which are rampant in your culture today. I know you have buried people you love. I know your culture is rife with anxiety and despair. I know it sometimes seems to you like the devil is winning, that your society is coming apart at the seams, that the end must be near. Sin, death, and the devil are all still around in 2019!
And so I would say to you what our Lord Christ says in the gospel reading we heard today: Continue in his word! Continue in his word so that you will know the Lord, as the prophet Jeremiah says, so that you will know that he forgives your iniquity and remembers your sin no more. Continue in his word so that you will know that God is your refuge and your tower as the psalmist says, your mighty fortress in the midst of all the challenges of life in a fallen world. Continue in his word so that you will know that though you fall short of the glory of God, he has made you right with him by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Continue in his word so that this good news we have been given will never be buried ever again! Continue in his word so that you would truly be his disciples. Continue in his word, and he will continually reform your hearts in faith, hope, love, and joy.
Our Lord calls all Christians of all times and all places to continue in his word – to abide in it, to immerse ourselves in it, to remain in it. He promises that if we continue in his word, we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free.
And if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed!
I must be going. I leave you with a hymn I wrote on this very subject, “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word.”
I bid you Christ’s peace. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church