Tell The Next Generation - 500th Anniversary Of The Reformation
October 27, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church
October 29, 2017
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
500th Anniversary of the Reformation
Tell The Next Generation
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. Psalm 48:1,12-14
On October 31st 500 years ago, 33 year old theology professor Martin Luther publicly posted a notice that he would like to conduct a scholarly debate. One that concerned certain errors and abuses of the church of his day. The notice was a list of 95 points of discussion, or as they are famously called, “the 95 Theses.”
Though this took place in Germany, the theses were written in Latin because it was the language of the church, but something amazing happened.
Within two weeks the 95 Theses were translated from Latin into German. They were then duplicated using a new technology called the printing press, and widely distributed; all without Luther’s knowledge or permission, but apparently he was not alone in his thinking.
The 95 Theses immediately captured the hearts and minds of the German people and the Lutheran Reformation was born. That is the occasion we celebrate, and praise God for, today. But how do we commemorate such an august event?
There are three ways which we can label “the good, the bad and the ugly.” Let us begin with the “ugly”.
As you are well aware, bashing history is the national sport today. There are many people who would like to wipe the remembrance of history from people’s minds. If that isn’t possible then they are happy to put the worse possible spin on things so that people will come to doubt everything they have learned; and cease to imitate the virtues of their heroes. The world is, indeed, very evil. (TLH #605)
It is not surprising when scholars do this. If you have been paying attention they have been heavily engaged this year in “opposition research” which demonizes Luther, his work, his motives and his legacy. They love their work, they’re well paid for it, and enjoy rock star status because of it. They are having a bull year!
But what unsettles the spirit most is when Christian scholars do the same! Granted, Luther did not get everything right, nor did he know how to modulate. He was a highly gifted writer, and charismatic speaker, who used his abundant talents to skewer his opponents. But it was theological debate, motivated by his deep love for people, and rarely personal. Was it as unhinged as the attacks that media and politicians conduct against their enemies today? It’s hard to say. But his faults don’t cancel the great good that he did.
There are also “bad” ways to celebrate the Reformation.
One would be to redouble the disputes Lutherans have with the Roman Catholic Church. It’s what many Lutheran pastors are accustomed to doing on Reformation, but it is quite pointless. Not because the rift has been repaired, it has not; or because the disagreements are resolved, they are not. Indeed they are still serious enough that Catholics and Lutherans continue to sleep in separate beds. But there is hope, and things are changing for the better.
Another “bad” way to celebrate this day is for Lutherans to think that they have arrived, or that the need for Reformation is over. It is never over. Not for Rome, for Lutherans, for the many step-children of the Reformation or for Christ Lutheran Church. The steeples are always falling. (TLH #467) Your steeples are always falling. And so if you are not reforming; not growing in your faith, religious knowledge, religious practice, and in your quest to be an imitator of Christ, then you are losing ground and in need of reform. Of confession. Because it is impossible to stand still, and it is no Christian virtue to be frozen in time.
But there is also a “good” way to celebrate this blessed event, you are doing it now! You can proclaim aloud in the words of today’s Gradual, “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised!”
Sounds simple, right?
Not so. For over 1,000 years a largely corrupt church taught people that their sins rendered them unworthy of God. They were made quite aware of their wrongs, and that is as it should be. But they were never taught how sins are taken away. They never heard the Gospel of salvation, which we all need to hear, and believe with every fiber of our being, if we want to find peace, and have a share of divine life.
By Luther’s time God’s mercy had become a finely tuned business with a catalogue of products and prices. This sin forgiven, that penalty erased, for this established cost. Not only could a person pay to have his own transgressions erased (and O how this appeals to our sinful minds), but to have the souls of his loved ones delivered from the supposed torments of purgatory. It was a devilish scheme which robbed Christ of his glory, and troubled consciences of their peace. Is it any wonder that Martin Luther attacked his opponents so vigorously?
For how could a person say what we say in today’s Gradual, “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised,” if he believes that God is a hanging judge? Or if he thinks of him as an evil father who delights in tormenting his children?
That was the state of the church in Luther’s day until, by God’s mercy, the true Gospel was re-discovered. The glad and joyful message that God’s love for sinners is a gift of his grace, obtained without money, and without cost. (Isaiah 55:1) A gift that is received by faith, and faith alone even as our dear Savior says to his disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
And so what is the right way to celebrate this 500th Anniversary of the blessed Reformation? The answer is in today’s Gradual, “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever.”
In New Testament terms we would say it like this. Walk about the church! Look at her towering Gospel, the ramparts of her beautiful doctrines, the citadels of her holy sacraments, the sanctity of her worship, the holiness of life that she teaches, and the everlasting glory she promises. So that you can tell the next generation (as you have been told for 500 years) that this is God. Our God. Our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.