Our October 31 Sunday worship service is available on video through Facebook. You may view it without being a member of Facebook. We are excited to say that our Sunday 8 & 10:30 am services are open again for in-person worship. Services will continue to be streamed online.
The November 7 Sunday worship service will be held with in-person attendance. We have returned to regular in-person worship services. With an upturn in county COVID cases, we recommend masks even for those who are vaccinated.
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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, he probably pasted it to the doors, nailing would destroy the door over time, and it didn’t. But, nailing is more dramatic. And that is the way Melanchthon remembered it years later. And, really, I believe 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 anyone’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. He wanted to talk, which Luther was very good at, by the way. 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.” The Roman Church’s latest fundraiser, which were being heavily marketed in Luther’s neighborhood by Luther’s own Archbishop. 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 and wouldn’t be until after Luther’s death!
Reformation means literally “to change.” We’ve seen a lot of changes lately; some good, some bad. Since the pandemic hit, I have not been able to visit people in the hospitals, any of them. Recently, at least one of them has changed their policy. I can now visit people who aren’t in isolation, namely people who don’t have Covid. So, this week, I was able to visit one of our members who is in that hospital. And, I wondered what other changes had been made there. I hadn’t been there in nearly two years. Well, they had rearranged the parking lot a bit. When I entered the hospital, it was cordoned off like a ride at Six Flags. And there, waiting at the end was a volunteer with a thermometer and a clipboard, standing next to a security guard. They must have had to change because of the situation. When I left, there were now two security guards standing at that post.
All Lutherans know that Luther saw things, especially the selling of Letters of Indulgence, 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. Also, vs. 32 of John today, “and the truth will make you free,” may also be translated as “the truth will save you.” Christ’s truth, continuing in his word, faith in him. Luther may be seen as restoring that truth, reforming the Church. 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 Bible Class, I thought today would be a good time to mention a couple of other items that needed to be changed.
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. By the way, 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 Vatican Council II. 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.
But, there was another issue going on in Luther’s time, and that was the issue of perfection. During Luther’s time, the Roman Catholic Church was not teaching this, but the different monasteries were 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 Emperor Charles V himself would abdicate and join a monastery later in life, becoming a monk. They would leave the 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 monasteries. 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. I often see the Gospel twisted when I watch certain televangelists on television. It it embarrassing. Part of our Lutheran heritage is also to stand vigilant, correcting such misunderstandings. I’ve been known to write to certain televangelists to point out their shortcomings. We have recovered the Truth of Christ’s Gospel, continuing in Christ’s word, and that Truth has freed us, set us free, saved us. Praise be to God!