Our October 25 Reformation Sunday worship service is available on video through Facebook. You may view it without being a member of Facebook. Our social spacing seating arrangement assures minimal risk when you come in person.
The November 1 worship services will be held in our church sanctuary at 8 and 10:30 am with members and friends in attendance. It is scheduled to be streamed live on the DeSoto Redeemer Facebook page. We will post a direct link to the recording here as soon as it is possible after the service.
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Reformation Sunday Sermon
Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28 | John 8:31-36
Today, we celebrate the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation of the Church, and recall Martin Luther’s act of nailing his 95 Theses to the Church door at Wittenberg, which started the whole thing, sort of (actually, there’s a strong argument that he actually glued or pasted them to the door. Either way, they were posted). I think that it actually started when Luther was reading St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, preparing to teach his class on the subject. That, I think, is when the little light bulb went off in his head, “We’ve got it wrong!” That, to me, was the impetus. In light of that, you would have to call the nailing of the 95 Theses as the beginning of a chain reaction which does indeed kick off the Reformation. By itself, it was a fairly simple act, which then snowballed beyond everyone’s control – including Luther’s. If you read the 95 Theses, and most people have not, they are merely 95 statements which Luther wished to hold a public debate on, and the church door was only the town bulletin board. They didn’t have a lighted sign in front of City Hall. They still don’t, I’ve been there. He wanted to talk, which Luther was very good at. What did he want to talk about? Virtually all of the 95 Theses are aimed against the selling of “Letters of Indulgence.” Or, as I often describe them, “Get out of Purgatory Free Cards.” They were the Roman Church’s latest fundraiser. And they were being heavily marketed in Luther’s neighborhood. Mainly because Luther’s own Archbishop was using them to try to pay off his debts (we won’t go there right now). Luther saw them as selling the Gospel of Christ. They were. They were also a bit ironic when you consider that Purgatory wasn’t even an official doctrine of the Catholic Church at that point anyway. And wouldn’t be until after Luther’s death! And souls were in Purgatory voluntarily to get the last remnant of sin purged out of them. Most people don’t put those factors into the equation, either.
All Lutherans know that Luther saw all of this as going against his understanding of, “We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ,” the great Lutheran banner. That slogan, gleaned from St. Paul’s writings, sums up the Lutheran vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the very heart of our message. Those few words basically make up Article 4 of the Augsburg Confession, the very center of Lutheran Doctrine. Also, in vs. 32 of John today, we read, “and the truth will make you free.” That may also be translated as “the truth will save you.” Christ’s truth, faith in him. Luther may be seen as restoring that truth. All of this, we know, and we celebrate today. But, there were other issues that led to the Reformation, and since we hardly ever talk about them, except in the Adult Class, I thought today would be a good time to mention a couple.
In Luther’s time, and really until just a few decades ago, if you went up for Holy Communion at a Roman Catholic Church, you only received the bread (wafer). The reason given is that the lay people had petitioned the church leaders saying that they were afraid that if they were to accidentally spill the wine, they would be spilling the blood of Christ again. And so, the clergy stopped giving wine at communion. BTW, being a church scholar, I have searched some of the greatest libraries of the world looking for that petition, or even a copy of it. I have never found it. Luther’s stance was simple. Christ instituted Holy Communion with bread and wine, so that is how it should be distributed. The Roman Catholic Church would not agree with us on that one until 1965 at the Second Vatican Council. But, what they did do was bake wine into the batter of the wafers, so when you take a wafer, you are receiving both bread and wine.
There was another issue going on in Luther’s time, and that was the issue of perfection. During Luther’s time, the Monasteries, not the Roman Catholic Church proper, was teaching that the only way to live a perfect life was by becoming a monk. All other forms of life were seen as lacking. So, if you wished to have any hope of heaven really after this life, you had to become a monk. Many men were doing just that, including numerous kings and nobles. The Holy Roman Emperor during Luther’s time would, in fact, later abdicate and become a monk. Men would leave their wives and children at home, and join a monastery. The wives and children would have to work the best that they could to eke out an existence in this life, while the husband and father was busy following the Hours at the monastery hoping that he would secure the gift of perfection and go onto heaven after he died, and not purgatory (there, it popped up its head again). The Reformers saw this also, as weird twisting of the Gospel. It is. In the hopes of saving their immortal soul, good Christian men were leaving their wives and children to starve. Does this seem a bit odd to you? Speaking out against this logic, and remember, Martin Luther himself was an Augustinian monk, Luther asked a very Augustinian question: “Why do we keep our best Christian people locked up in monasteries (and convents)? Shouldn’t they be out in the world working for the Kingdom of God?” This is why there aren’t any Lutheran monks. Also Luther argued, why are we confusing good men so that they abandon their homes and families in order to save their souls? Is not being a husband and father also a blessed vocation? Indeed, Luther will later say that the highest vocation is to be a parent, for you are raising new Christians into the world. This foolishness must stop. It is one of the strangest episodes of the Middle Ages, and one which isn’t often recorded (I think out of embarrassment).
Those are just a couple of “other” reasons which helped kick off the Reformation. There were more. What is most important however, is the recovery of the Gospel in its purity. That short little kernel, “we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.” If the Church would have been regularly proclaiming that, so that all people understood it, it by itself would have gone a long way towards silencing these aberrations. They may never have occurred. Today, we remember the beginning of the recovery of Christ’s Gospel. But, today, we must also remind ourselves that as part of our heritage, we must also be aware that there is always a tendency among people to twist the Gospel again. And that part of our Lutheran heritage is also to stand vigilant, correcting such misunderstandings. We have recovered the Truth of Christ’s Gospel, and that Truth has freed us, set us free, and saved us. That is the most important part of the Reformation, the recovery of the Gospel. Christ has saved us by our faith, through God’s grace. Praise be to God!