Reformation Day 2015
October 25, 2015
“A 21st Century Reformation”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our great Triune God. Today for our celebration of Reformation Day the textual basis – more or less – will be Psalm 46.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
It had been a rough 4 years (1517-1521), and not just for Marty. Everyone seemed to be hurting: financially, emotionally, even spiritually. Adequate revenue was scarce. The economy was limping along. The situations and peoples of the Middle East were, as always, chaotic and filled with death. But Marty didn’t fear the common every-day violence in the Persian Gulf. That was a world away. No, his trouble was much closer to home. He had given it a chance, but time had come and gone and little had changed; it couldn’t be allowed to go on like this.
The place was packed. “I expected a crowd, but nothing like this” he thought. There was friendly face…his friend Fred (Fredrick III of Saxony). How comforting to see someone who shared his beliefs! But…there was John also. Oh, Marty knew John. They had seen each other around and they certainly did not see eye to eye on the issues of the day. Fundamental change was needed. He didn’t know if what he did would change the world or even make a small difference, but Marty knew in his heart of hearts he had to do the right thing; he had to be faithful to himself and, more importantly, to God. Marty did what he had to do. He stood up for the truth of God’s Word.
What image came into your mind throughout that vignette? An important community meeting? An election polling place? A court room somewhere in America? Actually, what was described in a sort of modern way was what took place on April 18, 1521. “Marty” is actually Martin Luther, the great reformer of the Church. “John” was John Eck, the theologian and council for the Emperor Charles V who called Luther to an imperial Diet in Worms (‘vorms”), Germany in 1521 to fess up regarding his writings. Luther wrote and taught that the Church cannot “sell” God’s forgiveness which is free and unmerited because of Jesus Christ; the great reforming message of the Church. The Church of his day wanted Luther to be quiet lest the flow of money from the sale of indulgences dry up.
That meeting in Worms was a kind of no-win situation for Martin Luther. If he recanted or disavowed his writings, people would see him as a sham who lacked true conviction in what he was preaching and teaching. If he did not recant, Emperor Charles could order him burned at the stake as an enemy of the state and Church. So what did Luther do? History records his words for us. To John Eck’s question “do you or do you not recant your books and the errors in them?” Luther replied like this:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason…I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand; I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”
In a very difficult time and under very difficult circumstances, Martin Luther did the right thing. He stood up for what is right. “I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted. Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Luther knew and cherished the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 46, for it was a basis of Luther’s timeless hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” being sung all over the world today: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:1-3, 7, 10a ESV). How was Luther able to be still in such turmoil and distress and not have any fear? By faith!
Truth be told, we could use a little more Martin Luther and a lot more scripture in our day and in our age. We are sorely in need of a 21st century reformation of heart and life! And that reformation starts with YOU. God has placed you where you are in life – your vocation – to be His witness to His divine truths. But in the Church we have clammed up like captured spies refusing to call sin what it is and to hold people accountable for their actions all in the name of toleration, and then we wonder why our world is in such a mess. We told our children to take the Bibles out of their backpacks, so they filled them instead with guns and bombs and hit lists. But guns themselves are not the problem. People have had guns in their hands for years, but these public massacres are a recent phenomena within the last 25 years. Why do people shoot up public gatherings? They no longer know what is absolutely right and absolutely wrong. As a society we blurred right and wrong, and then cannot figure out why people gun each other down. Haven’t we had enough yet? When are we going to hold people accountable for their actions and bring back a sense of morality? Until we do, guns will still ring out every night on America’s streets, in our malls, schools, theaters, and even churches.
Granted, you may not have to stand in front of the Emperor or President, but what about your family, friends, co-workers? When your “Here I Stand” moment comes, what are you going to say? Will people know that you belong to a church home willing to take a stand? Do they know that you attend church at all? It is time to call ourselves and our community to repent of being bound by human opinion instead of the authority of God’s eternal Word which makes us wise unto salvation and teaches us to have no fear.
What Martin Luther did 494 years ago is as pertinent and significant now as it was then. This community, this state, and this nation are ready for a 21st century reformation. Are you ready, willing, and able to proclaim salvation by grace through faith alone – “here I stand” – or will you let human will and opinion suppress God’s will?
On this Reformation Day AD 2015, be unafraid, be bold, be strong, and be still and know that He is still God.