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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Reformation 500 - 10/28/2017

We've arrived. This is the worshiping weekend when we officially m ark the 500 year since Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg Germany.

Tomorrow in the place of the sermon we will be doing a skit with Martin and Katie Luther, so I'm reshaped that script for us tonight, but I encourage you to come tomorrow too. Certainly for the German banquet and fellowship time to follow, but you may also enjoy hearing this information from Luther and Katie too.

So who were these people. First some biographical info:

Katie Luther:

  • Born: January 29, 1499, near Pegau (Pay-GOO), Electorate of Saxony, Holy Roman Empire
  • Died December 20, 1552 (aged 53) at Torgau (TORE-gow) Electorate of Saxony, Holy Roman Empire
  • Spouse: Martin Luther, 1525–1546, just over 20 years.
  • Children:  Hans, Elisabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margarethe
  • Before married to Luther was a nun.
  • After several years of religious life, became interested in the growing reform movement and grew dissatisfied with life in the monastery. Conspiring with several other nuns to flee in secrecy, contacted Dr. Luther and begged for his assistance.
  • On Easter Eve, 4 April 1523, he sent Leonhard Köppe (COP), a city councilman of Torgau and merchant who regularly delivered herring to the monastery. Katie and some other like-minded nuns successfully escaped by hiding in his covered wagon among the fish barrels, and fled to Wittenberg.
  • Partnered with Luther to support his reformation work and open our home, hearts and minds to all who God sent our way.

Martin Luther:

  • Born: November 10, 1483, in Eisleben (ICE-lay-ben), Saxony, Holy Roman Empire
  • Died: February 18, 1546 (aged 62) at  Eisleben
  • Education: University of Erfurt (AIR-fert)
  • Occupation Friar, Priest, Theologian. Professor
  • Wrote a lot, some highlights:  Ninety-five Theses, Luther's Large Catechism, Luther's Small Catechism, On the Freedom of a Christian, On the Bondage of the Will

So here we are. It's been 500 years since Luther nailed those theses to the door of the church.  It was not unusual for a professor to call for a public discussion by posting a Thesis or Theses in a public space like the door of the church in Wittenberg. It would be a little like when someone today has something they want to say in a public context and so they write up an opinion and put it on Facebook. The desired outcome of  hammering something to the church door would be to have face-to-face dialogue and debate about the issue. Sometimes things like Facebook editorials are written by people who don't really desire to have other perspectives on the issue, let alone speak to another in person about it.

So this was not an unusual or even inflammatory thing for Luther to do. But I think we can assume he was feeling feeling quite passionate about what he was doing. He had seen far too many instances of greed and power corrupting the church – poor people bullied into buying indulgences for the dead instead of food for their children; people of means led to believe they could not help the needy as Christ commanded because they need to purchase their dear dead mother's soul and save it from purgatory.

So, maybe he was was feeling the spirit of Isaiah move him. Perhaps God said to Luther as he did to Isaiah: “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from My People's way.” (Isa. 57.14)

If he were here today, I think he'd be amazed that 500 years later people are still talking about that day. I think this affirms that God worked through him and continues to work through his legacy to help us keep the powers of the church in check, while continuing to share God's hope and forgiveness with the world and invite people to the Font and the Table.

If here today, I think Luther might be surprised that so much division remains too, because he would be the first to say that what God wants is the unity of Christ's church. And that should continue to be our prayer – all of us. We find that truth about our God in Paul's words to the Galatians: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:26-28)

Another product of the Reformation we really appreciate as Lutherans of this age is our tradition's foundation in education – making sure our ordained leaders are educated in how we uphold the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion; making sure parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles know something about these things so they can teach our children, plus the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creeds. And also that education of these things and in general should be made available to all children, including girls, which was unusual 500 years ago.

I don't think the importance will ever change. It affects different people in different ways. I think of the old adage: “You can lead a horse to water ...” Similarly, you can make teachings and worship experiences available to people, but you cannot make them listen or open their hearts. That is God's work. But at least you are making those teachings and experiences available. That in itself is critical and an important part of what has become the Lutheran tradition. 

Katie would probably not be surprised to learn that sometimes the youth of our time moan and groan when they are reminded that it is time for class or to work on their school lessons and religious studies. That is a timeless game of tug-of-war. But we keep at it, fighting the good fight as Paul's student Timothy wrote. “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Tim 6.12)

Perhaps just as important as studying the 10 Commandments and then asking “Was ist das?” is learning the posture – the attitude –  of a student. We see that in the Gospel lesson we just heard from John. Jesus' disciples – descendants of Abraham, just like us – have forgotten that they cannot be given true freedom by anyone or anything in the world. They have forgotten so deeply that they have completely detached themselves from the descendants of Abraham who were enslaved by the Pharaoh in Egypt and led out of that slavery by God through Moses.

So if they have forgotten this, they have surely also forgotten that the deepest, most abiding freedom for what we cannot escape – our sin – can only come from God and God is actively giving us that freedom, that forgiveness of sin.

So here, he is teaching his disciples how to be in that posture of a student so that they can learn to listen for the sound of God's freedom for us.

Disciple means student. Jesus' students here in this story have learned enough already to know that when they don't understand what he has said, they should question him. “The truth will set you free,” he said to them and they didn't understand. So they assumed the posture of a student and he opened this extraordinary truth to their hungry and learning hearts.

“Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

In my newspaper column this weekend, I wrote about how our time observing the Reformation this past year has not been a celebration because divisions in the Christian Church remains a cause for lament and that we should strive for unity in Christ where God's people have created this division. Still, the fact remains that God is with us in that division and brings gifts and blessings –  even from that brokenness.

Here I would argue that it is important to remember there is a difference between being a reform-ED and a reform-ING church. We strive for the later, because that is likely also the key to unifying our Redeemer's Church.

We as church should always be looking for ways to expand our minds and hearts. We will never be as expansive in our love as God – but we can sure shoot for the stars!

Luther's vast legacy of writings on theology shows this. If you look at everything he wrote, you'll eventually find places where over time he contradicted myself. This is because God was constantly reforming his understanding of God and what God did for all of Creation through the Son and a cross and an open tomb.

So for instance, Luther said some pretty harsh things about our Jewish siblings. If he were still here on Earth reforming and developing my theology, many say he probably would have contradicted those writings too. 

In fact, in 1994, the ELCA released as statement that said, among other things: “In the spirit of ... truth-telling, we who bear (Martin Luther's) name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther's anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther's own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther's words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day.”

This is really a great example of what it means to be a reform-ING, rather than a reform-ED, church. Reformed implies we're all done and we have nothing new to learn, nothing to seek forgiveness for, no place to grow. But we know that is not true. We are Saints and Sinners, as Luther was so fond of saying. The only one done is God, who through that incredible act of sending Jesus, has secured our eternal lives so we have nothing to fear in this life. In everything else, we will always have plenty of room to grow and doubt and reform as we continually push ourselves to love God more and to love one another more.


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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