500th Anniversary of the Reformation
St. Paul Episcopal Cathedral October 29, 2017
Rev. Sermon delivered by Dr. Carol Worthing (Ph.D. 1994)
Dr. Worthing serves as Adjunct Pastor (ELCA) at the cathedral and is canonically resident in the Pacifica Synod of the ELCA.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Today, our past, present and future meet, as we commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, that began in earnest when a young Augustinian monk, Dr. Martin Luther, posted 95 theological points that he wanted to dispute, within the Catho-lic Church that he served – points on which he thought the church needed reform. We can think of him putting pen to paper, inking the thoughts of his heart that he anguished over even as he wrote them, and then striding to the church door, mallet in hand, as he struck the blows that would echo down through the centuries, from Wittenburg, on that crisp All Hallows’ Eve – October 31st, in the year 1517 – even echoing down to us, here and now…
The church door was the local bulletin board for what was happening in the University town of Wittenburg. Luther, 33 years old and on the teaching faculty, knew that the next morning, All Hallows’ Day, would bring everyone to church to pray for all the blessed saints – a perfect time for his concerns to get the most attention! Luther, of course, could-n’t know that certain of his friends would take his posting from the door, and carry it off to the local printer, where, by means of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention, the movable type press, multiple copies of his disputations were made and very quickly distributed, throughout Germany, and from there would impact the entire world! Luther couldn’t possibly have known that the posting of his concerns would mark the start of a movement that would cascade down through history, from that moment on, changing everything!
The printing press had much to do with what followed, of course. It is regarded as the single most important invention of the 2nd millennium, and it played a central role in the emergence of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution, as well as laying the foundation for the emergence of the Modern Era with a knowledge-based economy, and the eventual spread of information, that led to the inven-tion of cyber-space & of the instantaneous, universal communication that we all use, to-day! It was a world-changing moment of theological and technological co-emergence!
Education wasn’t readily available, then, though forward looking Luther advocated edu-cation for both boys and girls! He was able to get an education himself, due to his father, Hans Luder’s success, in copper mining. Hans wanted his son to study law and bring the prestige of the Law Profession into the family, though Martin had little desire to go in that direction. Margaretha, his mother, encouraged him to follow his own conscience.
Luther’s young life was preoccupied with the impossibility for a sinner to earn salvation on his own merits, only to “fall into the hands of a righteous and angry God.” This drove him to study theology – really as the result of a trip home to Mansfeld from the University of Erfurt, in a terrible storm. Thunder and lightning flashed all around him in the forest, & he was in danger of being thrown from his frightened horse. In terror for his life both in this world and the next, he cried out: “Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk!” He survived, and entered the monastery at Erfurt, where he had his “tower experience.” It
was there that Luther was set free from his struggle for justification, by the truth he found in Paul’s letter to the Romans: righteousness isn’t earned by works of the Law. “It is the
free gift of God’s grace, by faith in Christ, through Jesus’ death on the cross, that redeems us from Sin.”
Teaching that Scripture is the source and norm for faith and life, Luther translated the Bible into the people’s language so they might read it, and receive the Gospel. He taught that all baptized believers are a royal priesthood, as you all so wonderfully proclaim in an abundance of ministries within the cathedral and our surrounding community. And yet, Luther would remind us, that: we are simul iustice et peccator. I.e., we are at the same time saints & sinners. He preached an ethic of works of love for our neighbors, in re-sponse to God’s love & empowered by the Holy Spirit, as we live a Christ-centered life.
Those who accept these teachings, as well as Luther’s catechesis on the Ten Command-ments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, & the two sacraments of Christ’s presence – conjoined by God’s Word, in with and under – water, bread & wine; those believers came to be called Lutherans, even though Luther insisted on Christian or Evangelical as the only acceptable names for believers in Christ. Luther said that all Christians ought to remember their baptism daily, as a daily dying to sin, and a daily rising to new life in Christ. And, whenever he found himself in trouble, he would say “I thank God I am bap-tized,” since this sacrament confers the gift of salvation! I once heard a Lutheran col-league say – “I have baptized 200 and more, in my years of ministry, and not one of them was baptized a Lutheran! They were baptized Christians, all!” Luther did not intend to start a new expression of church – and yet it emerged, out of his Theology of the Cross.
Luther wasn’t the only reformer, of course, nor was he the 1st – John Wycliffe in England, & Jan Hus on the continent were forerunners, & many paid the ultimate price of martyr-dom. The English Reformation took place independently of the European Reforma–tion, yet there were points of contact as the movement gained momentum. Truly, the Holy Spirit worked in many & various ways in those days, to reform Christ’s Church.
Through the years, and as we have entered the 21st Century, we have seen many changes – among them, the church becoming more welcoming and inclusive, and how all these changes will be ordered, within our communities. In keeping with the motto: Ecclesia Semper Reformanda, the church must always be reforming – Who will be Reformers of the church in coming years? What co-emergence of theology and technology may lead to another 500 years filled with renewed missional vitality, in Christ’s Church on earth?
God has need of you, & me, & of many, to do the ongoing work of Reformation! For we are all God’s hands in the world – equipped & sent out to do God’s work & will, today!
It is interesting to note that within 200 years of the beginning of the Protestant Refor-mation, the Catholic Church reformed many practices from within, answering many of Luther’s points of disputation. We have come a long way since the Catholic Church ex-communicated Luther for the content of his theological writings, demanding that he recant. “Here I stand! I can do no other!” his voice rang out, as he resolutely stood his ground. Today, Lutherans and Catholics are agreed on Justification by Faith Alone, and that good works will surely follow… even as our ecumenical dialogues toward unity continue… Let me now close with another quote from Luther: “Soli Deo Gloria – to God
alone be the glory – as God calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps us all united with Jesus Christ, in the one, true, faith.” For at the foot of the cross, we all stand together, on level ground. This is most certainly true!