Psalm 46 (7)
Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
8:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
St. John 8:31-36 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Lutherans, at 500 Years
It was 499 years ago, as the story goes, that a young, German monk made his way to the large wooden doors on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, and posted 95 complaints he had about the way the church was misunderstanding and misapplying the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The monk was Martin Luther. The church was the bigger-than-life Roman Catholic Church. And this simple act set off what would eventually become known as the “Protestant Reformation” — a movement that would divide the western church, but one that reinvigorated believers who began to study God’s word in earnest, and whose lives and witness were shaped by the good news of the Gospel.
The sale of indulgences is what triggered Luther’s protest. Pope Leo X, who had an oversized appetite for art, literature and personal luxury, had quickly depleted the papal treasury built up by his predecessor, Julius II. He responded to this financial crisis by granting indulgences: official church documents, available to those who made financial contributions, which transferred a portion of the merits of the saints to the bearer. This transfer had the effect of dramatically reducing one’s sentence to purgatory, or the sentence of someone whose life had already ended (in most cases, a cherished friend or relative).
A major promoter of this method of fund-raising was Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, who dispatched Dominican preacher Johann Tetzel throughout Germany. Tetzel was known to declare, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.” Luther was furious that the church would propose to sell forgiveness — a gift he understood to be free, and paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. At the heart of the “95 Theses” posted on the church door that day was his insistence, in the words of Jesus from the eighth chapter of the Gospel According to St. John (our Gospel lesson for this Sunday), that “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
A central understanding of the reformation is that we are saved by grace, through faith. It is Christ alone who puts us right with God. Neither our worthiness or our faithfulness has anything to do with it. Nothing less than God’s grace is what is at stake here; the gift of salvation, given freely by God, to unworthy human beings.
Luther would promote this central teaching until the day of his death in 1546. The church that bears his name has continued to hold itself accountable to this teaching in the years since, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding. Reformation Sunday is an opportunity for us to commit ourselves to this ideal, and to explore the ways God might be calling us to further our reform our life together, so that the proclamation of our faith might be as clear and as compelling as humanly possible.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What was Jesus trying to say to the Jews who had believed in him?
- Why did these descendants of Abraham (descendants, also, of those who were enslaved in Egypt) claim they had always been free?
- What role do word, truth and freedom play in our faith?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What do I most appreciate about my Lutheran heritage?
- Do I tend to think of my faith as a commitment I’ve made or a gift God has given?
- How do I experience the freedom of a faith that is rooted in Christ?