Dear Members and Friends of St. John,
Next Tuesday, October 31, will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing 95 statements for debate to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther intended for those statements to be considered in a scholarly debate in the small eastern German university town where he taught. Instead, “The Ninety-Five Theses” were printed and spread around Europe, beginning the historic movement we call “The Reformation.” Many churches will celebrate the 500th anniversary of this historic event this Sunday.
Luther was not just a reformer of the church. Luther’s challenge to the authorities of his time, by appealing to the higher authority of God and His Word, makes him an important figure in Western history. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German, the language of his people, continues to define the German language until this day. At the end of the last millennium many lists were made of important people. Time Life had Luther listed as the 4th most important person of the previous 1000 years. A&E had him listed as number 3. Other lists considered him as equally important.
But, it is always dangerous to put a human being on a pedestal. We are all weak and sinful. We all fail. Luther himself said and did things that continue today to point to his sinful humanity, such as his writings about Jewish people.
I am thankful, however, that Luther consistently pointed, not to himself, but to God, who is our only and real hope. When brought before the representatives of the pope and before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in Wurms in 1521, Luther was asked to recant or withdraw his writings and his words in order to escape punishment and to save his life. His answer points to God and to God’s Word as the source of reliable truth for the life of a child of God.
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), 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.” (* debated words)
When on his death bed Luther was asked by friend and pastor, Justus Jonas, “Do you die trusting in Christ and what you have taught?” Perhaps Luther’s answer sums up his work and his life. Whether the words were spoken, or written, or both, is debated, but there is agreement that Luther’s last words were his answer to that question. “Yes! We are beggars. This is true!”
Thankfully, though he was seldom quiet, Luther consistently pointed, not to himself, but to Jesus. We are indeed all sinful beggars before our holy and almighty Creator, God. But, God is gracious and forgives and saves us in Jesus. So, we trust, not ourselves, but the grace of God in Jesus.
There are many Bible verses that state the truths which Luther taught. One of His favorite verses was John 3:16, which he called “The Gospel in a nutshell.” But, for me the words of Galatians 2 express our lives as children of God saved by His grace for us in Jesus.
“20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:20-21) (See also Acts 4:10-12, 1 Timothy 1:15-17, Titus 3:3-5, 1 John 4:10, etc.)
There is a way in which Luther’s words on his death bed could be frightening. “Yes! We are beggars. This is true!” We don’t want to be beggars. But, when we realize that, even though we cannot count on ourselves or on our righteousness before God, but we can be SURE that Jesus lived and died and rose for us, it is good to be a beggar! The grace of God in Jesus is what we need The grace of God in Jesus is all we need!
A Child of God, Thankful for Spiritual Fathers who Have Pointed Me to Jesus,
P.S. Yes, we do have worship at St. John this Sunday at our normal times of 8:15 and 11:00 a.m. (I was asked.) This Sunday is our last Sunday in our sermon series on the Reformation and we will have a visit by “Martin Luther” himself (though I am still looking for a Luther).
ALSO, PLEASE REMEMBER our Alaska celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation held Sunday afternoon at Anchorage Lutheran Church, 1420 N Street.
P.P.S. The St. John Men’s Group – Promise Keepers, held a beginning of the school year get together at the home of Eric and Chris Wyatt. Here are some pictures from the October 21 fellowship activity. https://photos.app.goo.gl/LjMfX35NIkX2Syal2
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 regularly adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.