Thursday, November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday, Martin

Today in 1483, Martin Luther was born.

Martin Luther, loved and hated, heroic and foolish, stood at the doorstep a new world, indeed, pushed the door wide open, and the chimes of religious freedom rang throughout western Europe. The 95 Theses that he nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg was a clarion call to all who sought after God amidst the abuses of the medieval church.

After Luther, the western church was split in two: Protestant and Catholic.

Luther democratized the faith. No longer was the believer beholden to the cruel teachings of the Holy Roman church. Just the bible and the individual conscience were enough to discern the Word of God, Luther said. Bibles were translated into the common language. The Latin Mass was thrown away in favour of the vernacular.

Literacy was on the rise. Education blossomed. Faith surged.

But when people stop me on the street and ask what a Lutheran is, I tend to revert to church-speak that I learned in seminary, “A Lutheran is a Christian who believes that sinners are justified by grace alone through faith alone, not by works of the law.” An answer which meets a glassy stare. The great triumphant Reformation call of the gospel is unintelligible to modern or post-modern ears.

But what about those of us inside the church. What would your answer be if asked what a Lutheran is? I often ask my confirmation class what they know about Martin Luther and the history of our church and I am often met with that same glassy stare as the person on the street.

I remember the first time I really heard and experienced the gospel and felt its impact. It was in seminary, oddly enough. I heard the gospel previously of course, in church, in bible study, etc, but never really EXPERIENCED it. It was in church history class, of all places, and the professor, Dr. Oz Cole-Arnal was lecturing on – you guessed it – the Lutheran Reformation.

He described Luther’s understanding the salvation: salvation was something that you couldn’t earn. You can’t cozy up to God to receive God’s favour, you can’t even choose salvation.

Salvation was a gift, pure and simple. There was nothing we could do to make God love us more and there was nothing we could do to make God love us less. Our salvation was taken care of when Jesus stretched out his hands in suffering and death, and rose again to bring us new and everlasting life. Jesus went and came back from where we could never go ourselves. And in our baptism we die and rise again with Jesus, named and claimed as God’s own beloved children, clothed in the garments of salvation

To suggest that we could co-operate in any way with our salvation was an offence. Hubris. An insult to the sacrifice Jesus made for us. We didn’t have to do a thing. No good works. No moral purity. No religious observance. Nothing. It was Christ alone that gave us our salvation.

Wow. I walked out of class renewed. And I committed my whole life to sharing this good news as a minister of the gospel.

A message that tell us that a world that says: “You must compete, achieve, earn.” I can say, “No, I am a beloved child of God. a world that seeks freedom through violence, peace through war, and prosperity through greed, I can answer “No. I am a servant of the Prince of Peace, who makes all things new through God’s creative and self-giving love.” a world that tells me to be self-sufficient, to be independent, to pull myself along by the force of my own internal will, I can say, “No. I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, who lift me up when I fall, who comfort me when I sorrow, who seek me when I stray. And in return, I help bind their wounds, I feed them when they are hungry, I listen when they speak. And together, we pray, we serve, we love. Because we can’t do it alone.”

That is Luther’s legacy. Happy birthday, Martin.

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