I have to be honest. When we, as pastors, were deputized by our Lutheran leadership to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation over a year ago, I was not very enthused about the whole thing. For one, I saw that there are many challenges that our church is facing in the present. Much of the talk about the 500th anniversary seemed backwards looking to a reforming movement that was, at the neglect of the reforms we need to bring to the church in our own time. I try hard to make sure that we do not treat our church like a museum, but the things I was hearing about this celebration of our history seemed exactly the work of museums. Our congregation is a living, thriving community of faith and we need to constantly live into that identity, even as we honor our past.
The other big issue that I had with celebrating Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses is that the real work of reforming the church happened in the years following 1517 – not in that year alone. It was not as though Luther nailed this document to the church door, walked away, and said, “Alright. Everybody good now?” On the contrary, that single act started him down a journey and career that would demand great energy, effort, insight, collaboration, and faith that God was calling him to serve the church by disrupting it. The Reformation was not a one and done sort of thing, it demanded seemingly endless effort by the guy our denomination is named after and all who supported him. It was no easy task to change centuries of church malpractice and lead people to stand on a Gospel that they were barely familiar with. Lutheran Reformers surely rose to the challenges of their day. Over the next decade, they would out publish their Roman Catholic opponents 10 to 1, and, to this day, Luther remains one of the most prolific writers in human history. His work in the years following 1517 proved that the movement was only just getting started.
Obviously, we did have a grand celebration on Reformation Sunday, but I want to let you know that I will not stop drawing on the legacy of the Lutheran reformers. They have left us a great example for our own time. Like the church in the 21st century, they had no clear way forward and had to fight the tide of their time to bring renewal to the church. The way forward for the church of the 16th century was almost entirely unknown. There was reason to doubt and despair over the massive upheavals that were threatening the social fabric of Europe and, seemingly, even threatened the very salvation of Christian souls. But, the Lutheran reformers were convicted by scripture and their faith in a loving God, so they pressed on anyway as I believe we must.
Martin Luther could not be stopped because he believed in the mission that God had set upon his soul, and his conviction was contagious. The Gospel mission that inspired the reforms he brought to the church was one worth fighting for, and the fact that he did not shy away from putting his life on the line for what he believed in is an example that is worth following into the unknown challenges of our own time. Press on in the faith my friends, and know that while our faith draws on the past, it will only propel us forward to the unknown paths that lie before us.