|Sermons | Reformation Day 30.10.11|
RTE SERMON, 30.10.2011
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ. Martin Luther was not only one of the great theologians in history and a church reformer, but also a composer of hymns which are sung by Lutheran congregations world-wide to this day. The most famous hymn is Ein feste Burg it unser Gott/ A Mighty Fortress is Our God, which you will hear in a moment. For Luther, whose hope was to reform the whole Western Church in the 16th century, God’s grace and faith in God was everything. And so, inspired by the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible, he uses the metaphor of God as a fortress, a stronghold. Luther thus compares God to a building, a house, a secure home.
Food, clothes and shelter – these are essential to our lives, and this means: God, the Trinity, is essential, not an extra, but the foundation, the very cornerstone of our lives. The Reformation, however, did not only bring about reforms but also schism. Luther, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin and others before them, like Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, never intended a church schism. The split was to be the most tragic outcome of the intended reforms, that were so vital in the church in which many of its leaders had become utterly corrupt, selling indulgences to the faithful; popes who lead reckless lives of debauchery, and thus thoroughly abusing the faith and trust of the people of God.
Abusing the trust and faith of the people of God has been brought home to us only too painfully in the last few years in Ireland. The truth is that when abuses of whatever kind happen in one or in a few churches they always impact on the credibility of the whole church of Jesus Christ.
The church, as Luther pointed out, is an ecclesia semper reformanda, a church always in need of reform. Significantly, over 500 years after Luther, the Second Vatican Council, in a very similar way, called the church an ecclesia semper purificanda, a church always in need of purification. The churches as institutions are always in need of reform. Congregations and traditions which become stagnant and inward-looking, church leaders who refuse to ask and face difficult contemporary questions, will hardly foster a vibrant church which continues to be of real meaning to people.
Martin Luther and his fellow reformers did not intend to split the church. Rather they saw themselves as a reform movement within the Catholic Church, with the hope that ultimately the whole church and society would be reformed. This essentially meant that Christians would have access to the Bible in their own language and be educated in matters of faith. Christians should no longer be kept ignorant - rather they should understand and reflect on their faith.
The central question for Luther was: ‘How do I find a gracious God?’ ‘How are we in a right relationship with God and with others?’ Deeply influenced by St Paul and St Augustine, Luther stressed that we humans are totally dependent on God’s grace received in faith. Righteousness before and with God comes through faith. And faith must translate into good works, otherwise such faith is not credible.
Luther writes in his 95 theses: ‘Christians are to be taught that those who give to the poor or lend to the needy do a better deed than those who buy indulgences….Because love grows by works of love, we thereby become better.’
As we heard in the Gospel for today: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
Luther was excommunicated for not renouncing his views. He was ready to die for his faith, if necessary.
Not only Luther but many Christian women and men before and after him have demonstrated their commitment to Christ through their life, faith, and action, and at times even through martyrdom. Christian discipleship is costly, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer emphasized. Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian was involved in the resistance against the Nazis in Germany and was executed for this in 1945.
The message of Christ about the kingdom of God, - so radically brought home to us in the Beatitudes -, means that we must side with the marginalised and the suffering, be they the poor, or those belonging to ethnic, social, sexual and religious minorities. In this way the Christian life always has a dimension of the counter-cultural and subversive. As Christ taught us through his own life, to be Christian is to stand up for righteousness, truth, peace and justice. In this way we may anticipate through our life and faith some glimpses of the kingdom of God, the God who wants to be our mighty fortress, our cornerstone, - the God of love. Amen.
©Dr. Gesa Thiessen - Lutheran Church in Ireland