[Sung] Happy anniversary to you. Happy anniversary to you. Happy 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, challenging the church to a debate and changing Christianity forever. Happy anniversary to you!
It’s been 500 years since that historic day: October 31, 1517. Martin Luther could not have imagined the tidal wave of change he was unleashing as he posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. These theses were academic points of debate where Luther challenged the Church’s practice of selling of indulgences. For those unfamiliar with the term, indulgences were certificates people purchased that forgave them of their sins. They could also lessen a loved one’s time in purgatory.
Needless to say, the Church was making money off of the fear of the people. It was Luther’s belief that only Christ could forgive sins. Confession was an internal spiritual process rather than a sacramental one instituted by the Church. He argued that the selling of indulgences led Christians to avoid true repentance of their sins. They also discouraged them from giving to the poor since people were placing a higher value on buying indulgences.
500 years later, we look back at Luther’s posting of his 95 Thesis and are amazed that something so simple had such a profound effect on Christianity. But we also know that there is power in standing up for what we believe in, and refusing to back down. There is power in sticking to your convictions, no matter what the cost. Martin Luther stood his ground and refused to back down.
In fact, there is a marvelous story that is told about Luther that happened in April of 1521. Luther was called before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms. [A “diet” is a formal meeting, not a weight loss plan!] At this meeting Luther though he would have the opportunity to defend his ideas. But this was not the case. Charles would only accept an ironclad recantation. Faced with this dilemma, Luther refused to back down.
It was at this point that he gave what is referred to as his “Here I Stand” speech: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything. For to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen.”
The exact words of this speech are debated. But the sentiment is the same, no matter which version of the speech is accurate. Luther stood up for what he believed in. He stuck to his convictions no matter what the cost. We are here today, because of what Luther did 500 years ago.
As we reflect on the life and theology of this amazing man, perhaps the most important thing we learn from him is that there are time in our lives when we must take a stand for what we believe in. Contrary to what some people believe, the church is an ever-changing institution. It is a living, breathing, dynamic thing. The Church of 1st century Israel looks a lot different than the Church of the Reformation. The Church of the Reformation looks a lot different than the Church of today.
Reformation is not a one time event in history. It is an ongoing process where the Spirit continues to speak to God’s people; where young men and women see visions, and old men and women dream dreams. [Acts 2:17] Every once in a while, there comes a time when individuals and congregations have to make a stand for what they know is good and right and true.
Abiding Savior made one of those stands back in 2012 as we unanimously approved our new Welcome and Mission Statements and became a Reconciled in Christ congregation. Those of you who were a part of this process back in 2011 know how difficult it was. Some people left our church because of the way we choose to define ourselves as followers of Jesus.
Becoming an RIC congregation was our “Here I Stand” moment. Ever since that day, your pastor, as well as your Church Council, makes all ministry decisions with our Welcome and Mission Statements in mind. We will not let any other group use our facility if they don’t agree with the inclusive welcome we value as a Church.
I’m sure it will not come as a surprise to you but some people think we’re heretics for making such a stand. Some people think we are merely catering to the whims of liberal social causes.
However, you and I know this is not the case. Scripture and reason have shown us that Jesus has to be the center of everything we do, as individuals and as a church. If we try to put anything else in the center, it will all fall apart. When we put Jesus in the center, it changes everything we do. His inclusive welcome becomes our inclusive welcome. His empathy for the poor and powerless becomes our empathy for the poor and powerless. Here we stand. We cannot do otherwise. God help us! Amen.
So, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we remember the “Here I Stand” moments of both Luther and our church. As we look to the future, we must keep in mind that there will be other “Here I Stand” moments to come. There will be times when we need to stand up for what we believe in and refuse to back down.
At this moment in our nation’s history there are multiple, contradictory versions of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Some of these versions are the polar opposite of what we believe as the people of God at Abiding Savior. Therefore, on this Reformation Sunday, it’s important that we think about what our “non-negotiables” are. It’s important that we can define for ourselves the core teachings of our faith.
We did this last week in Sunday School as we began our exploration of Luther’s Small catechism. Luther designed this document as a teaching tool, for both pastors and families. He thought the clergy of his time were poorly educated and so he wrote the Small Catechism so that they got the core teachings of Christianity right. He also wanted parents to have a resource they could use in teaching their children the basics of the Christian faith.
This Small Catechism has stood the test of time. Out of all the many things Luther wrote, and trust me he was quite a prolific writer, this is the one I value the most. I use it as the basis for year two of Confirmation Class. The first year we study the essential teachings of Jesus. The second year we cover what’s in the Small Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, Baptism and Communion. I add to this a discussion of the Church Year and keep things open for whatever else the youth I’m teaching want to study.
If you are new to Lutheranism, this is a good place to start in learning the basics of what our denomination believes. If you’ve been a Lutheran all your life, it’s a great refresher course. Thanks to modern technology, there is an app of Luther’s Small Catechism you can download to your Smart phone. It’s the most modern English translation available, and it’s easy to operate. If you prefer an old-school hard copy, I can hook you up with that!
The Small Catechism is a great place to start when thinking about the non-negotiables of our Christian faith. When our class is finished studying it, you can borrow the DVD that is part of the curriculum. It has lots of wonderful information about Luther, the Small Catechism, and how they still influence the Church to this day. There are also lots of Luther books in our church library that you can borrow and learn a little more about this great Reformer of the faith.
So, Friends in Christ, I wish us all a Happy Reformation. My prayer is that the Spirit winds of reform will continue to blow through our church. May they strengthen, guide and transform us as we continue to shine the light of Christ into our broken and troubled world. AMEN.
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck