Dear Fellow Children of God,
Do you know what this coming Friday is? The date this Friday is October 31. You may think you know what this special day is. But, no, I am not thinking of Halloween.
I was thinking of another more important day. This Friday is the 497th anniversary of Reformation Day. On this date in 1517 Day Martin Luther nailed 95 theses, or statements for debate, to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. These statements pointed people to Jesus and pointed people to faith in Jesus’ saving love as their only hope. These statements also challenged the teaching and authority of the church at that time.
Actually, this relatively simple act, intended for academic debate in a university setting, set in motion events that led to what is known historically as the Reformation. Among other results, the Reformation led to the formation of Protestant Christian Churches, put the Bible in the hands of everyday people, helped to create public education, led to the modern form of the German language, and created new freedoms, political realities, and opportunities for the people of the day.
However, the events of the Reformation did not come without personal cost. Martin Luther and his followers were scolded and censured by the church and the political leaders of the day. They were removed from church membership and had a death penalty put on their heads. This penalty was not carried out in Luther’s case, but was for others.
Today we hear a lot about the “legacy” of politicians and even athletes. But, the Reformation was much more than an historic political movement and legacy. In many ways what we call the Reformation was an intensely personal struggle of a man needing the love and forgiveness of God.
Luther was a man who believed the Word of God to be true, not just in a general theoretical sense, but true for His own life. His came to realize deeply that he did not live up to God’s demands in the law to “love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” (Matthew 22:37-39) This personal failing haunted Luther. Try as he might, he knew his efforts at personal good works and religious practice fell short of God’s perfect standard, and Luther was filled with guilt and shame and fear.
For someone who was personally overcome with guilt, Luther’s discovery in Scripture of God’s love and grace and forgiveness was freedom and joy and life to him. By studying the Bible Luther discovered that righteousness in God’s sight is not earned. Righteousness is a gift that God accomplished by sending His own Son to die for the sins of all and to rise again, overcoming death and sin. This gift is not earned, because no one but Jesus can be perfect. But this gift is freely and lovingly given by God when people believe in and trust Jesus as their Savior from sin and then God forgives our failings for Jesus’ sake.
Luther’s whole view of his life and his future changed. He had been someone who knew he deserved death and God’s eternal punishment, and knew he could not escape. Now, because of God’s grace in Jesus, Luther realized that He still deserved God’s punishment, but that God instead offered love and forgiveness and heaven. Look at what God tells us in Romans 5:6-8! “6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Luther had rediscovered the ultimate truth that God saves sinners in Jesus. Luther did not need to live in guilt and shame and fear, because even when we have sinned, 8 God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”. No wonder Luther spoke the truth of God’s word to the emperor and the pope’s representatives so boldly, even at the risk of his own death. In spite of Luther’s failings God loved him. In spite of Luther’s continuing struggle with sin, God saved him. Luther could now live for God, and his imperfect life, which trusted the perfect love of God, led to the Reformation.
When we were on vacation recently we found that a long-time furniture store had closed and become a “Halloween Store.” This observance of “All Hallow’s Eve” has surely grown. But, that was only one store. Every Christian Church which teaches God’s grace in Jesus becomes a place where God can and does work to radically change the lives of people who are caught in failure and sin, so they can live in the joy and hope and love of God in Jesus.
I hope to see you this Sunday!
A Child of God, Personally blessed by the grace of God in Jesus,
P.S. The 2003 movie “Luther” with Joseph Fienes and Peter Ustinov is worth seeing if you get a chance. I believe it is in our church library.
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am always adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message. . . Or, if you know someone who would like to receive one of these e-mails, please send me their e-mail address.