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Sermon October 30 2022

Reformation Sunday 2022 Luther and the Church Sermon

John 8:31-36


Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Today is Reformation Sunday.  I can tell because many of you are wearing red today to highlight the importance this day is in the Lutheran Church.  I too am wearing Red under my alb.  

I am wearing red because red is the liturgical color of Reformation Sunday and because red also represents the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been given to each one of us when we were baptized. 

Yes, red is an important color on Reformation Sunday.  Red covers the altar today, and red is on the pulpit, and red is on the lectern, and red is the dominate color today in the stole I am wearing.  Red is everywhere today to symbolize the joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit in our lives today. 

The joy that was rediscovered at the Reformation was that our sins can be/are forgiven through the blood of our Lord and Savior and that we can have a relationship with God our Father. 

I think we sometimes forget how big a mess the medieval church was in at the time of the Reformation.  The church was teaching a gospel that was not in line with the Bible.  And we often ignore the fact that the church was more interested in empire building than in the individual lives of the folks in the pews. 

The church crowned and deposed kings.  The church owned land, lots of land.  The church authorized military campaigns.  And the clergy, well the clergy were often more interested in money, power, fame, and the rewards that came with the office than ministering to the people. 

Worship, Bible study, and prayer were not the main activities of the church.  Yes, the church met for worship, but worship at that time was more of a spectator sport where one watched the priests perform strange rituals and listened to the priests speak in Latin, a language that most people did not understand. 

It is quite possible that the words spoken in Latin at the Catholic Mass at communion stating, “this is my body” is where we get the magic phrase “hocus pocus.” 

The people in the pews had little understanding what was being done and said in the church.   But not only was worship participation withheld from the people, the Bible was also withheld.  The Bible was only available in Latin and most people could not read Latin.   Therefore, one had to trust that what the priest said was correct and backed up with scripture.  

And this caused problems.  Big problems.  Over time a false teaching crept into the church and the church began to teach that salvation was based upon our merit and our ability to keep God’s law. 

Simply put, the church taught that religious life was like climbing or descending stairs – sin pulls us down while good works brings us up.  Faith therefore was a matter of personal initiative and hard work. 

Good deeds were thought to be the ticket to heaven.  And people who accumulated enough points (good deeds) went to heaven.  And people who accumulated more than enough points were called “saints.” 

And these extra points (merits) were somehow transferred to the church to be handed out to folks who needed them. 

The medieval church taught that it held the keys to the treasury of good deeds and that it could dispense good deeds in the form of an indulgence that could help people climb the ladder to heaven and grant them time off from their sentence in purgatory. 

One could earn this indulgence through acts of penance, or by participating in righteous deeds such as pilgrimages to holy places, interacting with holy relics, and through monetary donations

You could even purchase an indulgence on behalf of a dead loved one to help them climb the stairway and get out of purgatory. 

And this practice came in handy to the church.  For you see, the church was in the midst of a massive fundraiser to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  And a serious push to sell indulgences to fund the project was in full swing. 

Well, it did not take long for this practice to catch the attention of a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.  When a man named John Tetzel started selling indulgences in Germany with the promise that buying his indulgence would release sinners from Divine punishment, Luther became upset.  

When Luther heard the sales pitch “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs” he became angry.  Luther realized that according to scripture, money cannot save souls. 

In an attempt to discuss this false teaching, on October 31, 1517, the Eve of All Saints Day, Martin Luther nailed 95 statements of debate to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg – the place where public notices were usually posted. 

He wrote the document in Latin, and Martin Luther intended the document for scholarly debate at the University.  But the document was quickly translated into German due to the recent invention of the printing press.  And soon his arguments against indulgences began to spread throughout Germany. 

The church responded by charging Luther with heresy and insisted Luther make a public statement admitting he was wrong.

Luther refused and he was excommunicated from the church.  He was forced into hiding.  And while laying low at Wartburg Castle, Luther began to reform the church. 

Due to his efforts, the church was transformed/reformed in six important ways.  

  1. The Bible was translated from Greek/Hebrew to the German language so all people who could read would not have to rely on a Priest to tell them the “Good News” contained in scripture.
  2. Luther wrote over 30 hymns that could be sung at worship. The church until that time used professional choirs and now the congregation could sing too.
  3. Luther encouraged the Priests to proclaim the Gospel in German so the congregation could understand what they were saying.
  4. Luther encouraged all baptized Christians to receive both the bread and the wine at communion.
  5. Luther taught it was acceptable that Priests marry. He married Katherine Von Bora and together they had six children.  They adopted 4 other children as well.
  6. In 1529 Luther wrote the Small Catechism to help parents teach the basic truth of the Christian faith. The Small Catechism included instruction on The Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Baptism, and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

The Good News Martin Luther wanted to be made known in the church was that the Gospel informs us that through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

And that “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you and for me, and for His sake God forgives you and I all our sins.  To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become children of God and bestows upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

Thanks Be to God.  Amen. 

Let us pray:

O Lord God, heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your grace and truth,
protect and comfort them in all temptation, defend them against all enemies of your Word, and bestow on Christ’s Church militant your saving peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.