This is the year of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The actual anniversary date is October 31st on the eve of All Saints Day. It was on that night in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg Germany. His 95 theses was essentially a “protest” document, outlining his charge of offenses made by the papacy – one of the most serious being the sale of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins for admission into heaven. Luther’s conscience would not let him continue to accept what he knew was an offense against God and a misuse of religious power and authority for material, worldly gain.
It was dangerous to oppose the papacy in the 16th century. It surely meant you would be branded a heretic and excommunicated. And it also could mean death if the soldiers were able to get their hands on you. The papacy ordered Luther to retract his accusations, but to this he said “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scripture or by plain and clear reasons and argument, I can not and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!”
Today when I listened to Martin Luther’s hymn (c. 1529) “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” I couldn’t stop thinking about the deep admiration I felt for Luther’s courageous spirit. Luther unintentionally began the Protestant Reformation because of his moral convictions as he understood them as a disciple of Jesus Christ. He is someone I am very thankful for, because when he heard the call of God to question the corrupt practices of the church, he set out to do just that, putting his personal career and safety second. And it is because of what he started that we are here as the church today.
It is wise for us to take a lesson from history every once in a while, and even more often than that. We sometimes fall into the trap of believing that we are the first ones to ever experience something such as personal struggle with choices and sin, or even a call from God to protest against corrupt powers that tear down God’s values and harm God’s children. But someone has likely already “been there and done that,” in another context…if we care to look for it, and learn from it.
I think one of the lessons we can learn from Martin Luther, is to never underestimate the power of faith. Some of us might say, “what can I do, I am only one person?” Yet Luther was only one person – a monk of the Catholic church who acted on his Christian conscience, and unexpectedly changed the world. Most of us have certainly had those times when we tried quieting that still small voice – we’ll call it conscience – urging us onto something we’d rather not do. Yes, complacency can be the easier path, but it can also make us complicit to the work of sin.
God has been calling faithful souls out of such work and giving God’s people courageous spirits for a very, very long time. And we have all met some of them – on the pages of history, in the communities where we live, and in the pews of our churches.
In this season of Thanksgiving, when we need moral clarity and courageous, faithful spirits more than ever, I am thankful to know such a call is being heard. Following in the tradition of the Reformers, let us continue to stand up for the things that matter to God. And give thanks to God (as Paul told us) in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for us! (1 Thess 5:18)
I wish you and your loved ones a Blessed and Holy Thanksgiving Holiday!
Yours in Christ’s Service,
Reverend Linda C. Hey