We in the Lutheran Church and other denominations have been looking forward to this day for at least a decade. We commemorate the day Luther posted the document that became known as the Ninety-Five Theses for public review. Whether he nailed the list to the door of the Castle Church or if he posted them in another location, is unimportant. What happened next is important.
Luther objected to the use of indulgences to buy forgiveness. Posting his list in a public place was in his day like posting a comment on Facebook or making a video for the evening news. The intent was a discussion among scholars to call the Church (with a capital C) into reformation. What happened was something much farther reaching. His objections caused radical change in the way the Church thinks about God and our relationship with God.
Luther himself was transformed in the process. He went from a simple objection to purchasing forgiveness to a deep understanding that forgiveness is anchored in the sacraments of baptism and holy communion.
Forgiveness itself comes from our relationship with God. Forgiveness is given to us easily, because of God’s love and care for us. That’s what grace is … forgiveness we don’t think we deserve.
During the last 500 years, the worldwide Church has recognized the validity of many of Luther’s points. Just a few decades after the day we mark today, with the nailing of the 95 Theses on the church door, the Roman Catholic Church met in Trent, Italy, and agreed that some of his points were valid.
In the last 50 years, since the Second Vatical Council, Lutheran bodies around the world have sought to restore our relationship with other Christians. Especially, we have been in serious dialogue to mend the relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Today, we agree that many of the things that have seemed to divide us are actually different ways of saying the same thing.
Yesterday morning I joined Lutherans from at least 5 congregations and many Catholics in worship. We prayed and sang together. We introduced ourselves to each other, Catholic priests and Lutheran pastors, and recognized the validity of our similar calls as servants of God. Many of the wounds of the Reformation are healing, and that’s a very good thing. We all agree that God’s grace is a gift we can’t earn, but a gift that is freely given.
… Let’s look at the Gospel for today. The Pharisees challenge Jesus again. “What do you say is the greatest commandment?” I think Jesus gives them the answer they were expecting. “You shall love God with your whole being. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These two commandments summarize the ten.
I have often said that if we remember the first commandment – put God first in our lives – all the rest falls into place. Taking time out for God each day reminds us that we are not God. We remember that God loves us and wants to be with us. We remember that God wants the best for each and every one of us.
If we remember that all people are created in the image of God, then we remember to care for them. If we remember that the God who created us loves us, all of us, then we may find it easier to love others. It is easier to treat our family members, neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and chance encounters with love and respect we want for ourselves.
Out of curiosity, I looked on the internet to see what Luther might have said about today’s Gospel text. Not surprisingly, if you have ever read any of Luther’s writings, the sermon was lengthy and twisted and turned around the point he wished to make. Here is one paragraph of the sermon.
As if Christ said: If you love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, then nothing will be lacking; you shall experience it in your daily life, namely: when everything you do, whether you wake or sleep, whether you labor or stand idle, whether you eat or drink, is directed and done out of love to God from the heart. In like manner your mind and thoughts will also be directed wholly and entirely to God, so that you will approve of nothing you are not certain is pleasing to God. Yea, where are those who do this?
In essence, Luther says that the law is written on the heart and we obey it naturally. We are to love God with our whole being and love our neighbors as ourselves. If you want to give your neighbor a special kindness, do not do it to make points with God, but do it because you love your neighbor.
… I said last week after watching the video that I appreciated Bishop Eaton’s use of the term “Lutheran Movement”. The word movement implies that we are always being made new, always being reformed, always changing. Society is always changing, and we in the Church must always be changing in order to reach those who have never heard the good news.
Some of those who need to hear the good news are those who go to churches where they are taught that they must do good things, they must obey the rules, in order for God to love them. They are taught that dancing, or watching TV, or playing card games, or loving the “wrong” person (there are lots of examples of wrong persons), will make God angry and stop loving them.
Lutherans say God loves us first and always. In response to that love, we worship and praise God and do good things for our neighbors. We know it is not possible to be perfect, so we don’t try. We accept that God loves us, forgives us, and wants to be in relationship with us. We live in grace.
Please pray with me. Reforming God, be with us around the world as we remember Martin Luther’s bold action this week. Lead us to be just as trusting and just as bold. Amen