For at least the last 503 years October 31st has held a different significance in the life of the church than in, say, popular culture. On the date in 1517 Martin Luther (not the King), posted 95 problems with the church on a church door in a German town called Wittenberg. While he always maintained he wasn’t trying to start a new church, simply reform one, following the theologian’s protests, the church never look the same—in most ways, for the better.
Sometime later, the date October 31 began to be celebrated by the church. Today we call the day Reformation Day. Chances are, last Sunday many of your churches celebrated the date yesterday. Chances are, especially if you are Lutheran like me, yesterday you heard sermons about the church’s need to always be reforming, always be changing, always be looking new. But chances are, especially if you are Lutheran like me, yesterday you heard sermons that missed the mark.
Somewhere along the line we lost track of what the 95 Theses Martin Luther posted were actually about. Somewhere along the line we started celebrating what the theses did (that is, changed things), and forgot that what we were supposed to be celebrating wasn’t the change. What we are called to celebrate is the content of that which changed them. We are called to celebrate God’s Word and God’s Grace. Perhaps part of the problem is that we call the day Reformation Day emphasizing the change. Maybe we better call it, Grace Day or something (nah, not as catchy).
I leave you this Reformation Week with this thought. When Martin Luther was asked later in his life how he reformed the church he allegedly responded, “I didn’t reform the church. The word of God reformed the church, even while I drank a beer.” Martin Luther never lost sight of the significance of what we now call the Protestant Reformation, and may that be so today—amongst Lutherans and the church universal. The significance of the Reformation is not that things changed, but that God’s Word that tells us the story of God’s love and grace changed.
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