Reformation – It’s About People
October 30, 2016
Tomorrow morning, at 8:30am Swedish time,
Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic church
Will take part in a prayer service with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation,
Commemorating the beginning of the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation.
A joint Roman Catholic-Lutheran prayer service with the pope!
It’s really astounding.
NPR featured a story about the event…
The headline was “Pope Francis Reaches Out to Honor the Man who Splintered Christianity.”
“Pope Francis Reaches Out to Honor the Man who Splintered Christianity.”
I object to that headline, but maybe not in the way you think…
One man did not splinter Christianity;
Martin Luther didn’t splinter Christianity on his own…
It took a whole bunch of people to splinter Christianity…!
We “Lutherans” sometimes miss the fact that throughout the years of the Reformation,
Luther never works alone.[i]
When he arrives to teach at the University of Wittenberg in 1508,
The school is only six years old.
As a young university,
It attracts creative minds –
Minds that are willing to challenge thought;
Minds that are willing to speak out against the accepted doctrines of the faith;
Minds that disagree and yet are willing to converse and debate and argue…
and in the end, learn from each other.
Luther’s colleagues do all that…
And with the support of each other,
They try out some radical ideas.
On the faculty there’s Johann von Staupitz,
Luther’s friend and mentor
Who is already a radical
because in the theology department, he’s giving lectures on the Bible –
This just wasn’t done!
And then there’s Andreas Karlstadt,
Who in April of 1517, six months before the 95 theses,
writes the 152 theses, advocating reform in the University.
And again, a few months before the 95 theses,
Karlstadt and Luther together write the 97 theses,
From which Luther takes many ideas for his own 95.
Another person important to Luther at the time is the librarian of the University – George Spalatin.
As private tutor to Prince Frederick’s children,
Spalatin helps the relationship between the Wittenberg professors
And Prince Frederick – a relationship which ends up saving Luther’s life.
Luther does not work alone.
It takes a bunch of people working together
To make a reformation.
This morning 8 young people from our congregation will be Confirmed.
Madeline, Rosalind, Robert, Jessica, Charlie, Ben, Killian, George…
I invite you now to stand and look about –
These people are part of your reformation.
These are the people who have supported you in faith.
These are people who care about you …
These are people who will help to ensure,
That your journey of faith is never alone.
These are the people who will help you make a reformation…
Because the church (and the world) is always in need of reform.
Now there are many other people who help splinter Christianity in the 1500’s.
An important woman of the Reformation is Katherine von Bora,
the nun who becomes Luther’s wife.
Katie runs Luther’s household,
Including their beer-making business.
She is in charge of feeding the 30 or 40 students at a time
Who meet at the dinner table in their home in the lower level of the University –
listening, arguing, debating the issues of life.
The students’ notes become what is known as Luther’s “Table Talk.”
Katie raises some eyebrows because she takes part in the conversation,
Herself being well-versed in Latin and Scripture.
My hope for you Confirmands…
Is that you have a lot of “table talk” in your life.
That you not be afraid of debate and conversation…
And that you be willing to learn and even change your mind on occasion.
It happens in Wittenberg.
Luther and his colleagues aren’t afraid of differences of opinion,
They thrive on differences of opinion!
What begins as ‘table talk’ around the dinner table in Luther’s home
is spread by the printing press.
The printing press makes it possible for people to even consider the possibility
that there are alternate points of view
from what they ae hearing from those in power.
Those in power at the time are royalty and clergy.
Today, social media has made it easier than ever
for us to know there are other points of view than that of royalty or clergy…
…or others in power.
I hope you listen to those other voices…
I hope you read books from people who live in countries far away.
I hope you listen to news from many different channels.
I hope you follow on Facebook or Twitter people whose experiences are far different from yours.
I hope you learn more not about just Christianity, but Islam and Buddhism, and Hinduism, and secular humanism.
I hope you have a lot of ‘table talk.’
It’s easier than ever to do these things.
There would not have been a reformation –
There would not have been reform –
If people weren’t willing to consider that there were alternate points of view.
For Luther, reform in the church is largely a matter of people – it’s a matter of pastoral care.
While he’s teaching at the University,
He’s a pastor at St. Mary’s church.
He’s burying scores of parishioners who have been killed by the black death.
He knows the fears of those in his parish –
Death is ever present.
And Luther’s angry … because rather than support the people,
The church is taking advantage of them…
Selling indulgences – selling promises of eternal life.
Luther says, “If the church is really concerned
About the well being of her people,
Why don’t they give them away for free?!”
And so on October 31, 1517, he posts his 95 theses for debate.
(Whether he actually nailed them on the door of Castle Church
Is under debate.)
As you complete your studies for Confirmation,
You may notice that we didn’t memorize the 95 theses.
(I suppose there’s still time.)
I’m less concerned that you memorize the words Luther wrote,
You have the small catedchism,
You have study Bibles,
You have Google – you can look them up.
I’m more concerned that you know why he wrote them….
Why he wanted to change the church and indeed society.
The purpose of the reformation for Luther, was for the sake of people who were hurting.
He and his colleagues in Wittenberg
wanted to get back to the Bible and its message that God so loved the world,
That God came to earth and showed us how to love each other…
In the example of Jesus.
So I hope when you think back to these last couple of years,
These are some of the things that stick in your mind:
- Our visit to Guest House and the stories of the women there;
- Our visit at Christmas to sing carols to Mrs. Jorgensen and Jack and his family and at the fire department
- Listening to Wasihun’s stories about hunger and human rights in Ethiopia;
- The homes you visited delivering furniture for ALIVE
- The people who ate the meal you served at Meade memorial
- Talking with your mentors and learning from each other;
- Sharing highs and lows together and holding them in prayer;
- Eating a meal of bread and wine at the top of the hill one evening at Caroline Furnace;
- And the community of faith gathered around you today.
Martin Luther and his colleagues splintered the church
Because they believed that Christianity is about people – real people.
As Pope Francis said last summer about Luther – he was an intelligent man!