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Reformation Sermon at Christ Lutheran in El Cerrito, California

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Reformation Sunday, October 28th 2012

Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, California

The Continuing Reformation

Pastor Sharon Lubkeman: Peter, we are honored to have a Luther scholar like yourself in our midst today.  Would you entertain some questions from us?   In all your studies of Luther, what is something you find surprising?

*Martin Luther was very radical in his day and we have domesticated him and made him a jolly-good fellow, just like one of us. Ah, but he wasn’t. He stood up for his free conscience to serve Christ in truth even before the Emperor and the Pope.

When Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X and declared an outlaw by Emperor Charles V – that meant he was as free as a bird for anyone to kill, the people who followed him no longer dared to call themselves Martinists or Lutherans. His name had become too dangerous. They now called themselves New Believers as opposed to Old Believers.

Luther was no paragon of virtue and he did not pretend to be. He did not want followers to name themselves Lutherans after him. He said,

“people [should] call themselves not Lutherans, but Christians. Who is this Luther? My teaching is not my own, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Why should it happen to me, miserable stinking bag of worms that I am, that the children of Christ should be called by my insignificant name? I am not anybody’s master, nor do I wish to be. With the one church I have in common the teaching of Christ who alone is our master.”[1]

In one place he comically referred to himself as mouse dirt mingled with pepper. He had a real sense of humor.[2]

Pr. Sharon: He was definitely a man of great courage and conviction.  How did Martin Luther define faith?

In his Commentary on Romans Luther himself writes:

“Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam [and Eve] and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a [person] would stake his [or her] life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes [people] glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all [God’s] creatures.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a [person] is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace[,who has shown her this grace].”[3]

Pr. Sharon: How did Luther separate works from faith?

“[He said] it is as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools.

Therefore, pray to God to work faith in you. Else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.”[3]

Yes faith “is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.” According to Luther it is a solid trust in God that allows God to work through us. “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace.”

Pr. Sharon: Could you talk about how that confidence in God’s grace related to his understanding of justice?

We Lutherans today are not out front on justice issues, not like the Quakers have been or the Unitarians even. I thought that perhaps it was because Luther wrote about two kinds of righteousness that perhaps divided it and allowed our concern for justice to be overcome. I reread his pamphlet under the title of that name and found just the opposite. He argued that the spiritual righteousness of Christ in us was the source of our hunger and thirst for justice in our lives. Spiritual freedom is not an alternative to social, political, and outward freedom, but its source in the freedom from sin as well as freedom for love and service of our neighbor.

In “Two Kinds of Righteousness” Luther wrote,

“Through faith in Christ, therefore Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that [Christ] has becomes ours; or rather, [Christ] himself becomes ours.”[4]

Yes, the righteousness shall live by faith. The just shall live by faith. The righteousness of Christ

“is an infinite righteousness and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ; on the contrary, [a person] who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he [or she] is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as {Christ]. It is impossible that sin should remain [in such a person]. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness.”[5]

Luther always has justice proceed from Christian love. Faith becomes active in love and love seeks justice,[6] love hungers and thirsts for justice. Righteousness and justice was not separated in those days. Today righteousness usually revolves around personal and individual morality, which is very important, but justice and fairness involved in the systems we live in, is crucial as well.

Luther was very much a Christ-figure and Christ worked through him. But he had many failings and he was the first to say: “Follow Christ and his teachings, because you will be able to find real faults in me.”

Pr. Sharon: We certainly all have our faults. As a faith community how is it we can continue to reform?

The church always has to be ready to continue reforming itself in head and members. That goes for our Lutheran church, too. Because of the Internet, we stand in a very opportune place in that regard.  Maybe the invention of the Internet will provide the possibility of another wonderful Christian renewal as the invention of the printing press was crucial for the great Reformation. Also the great Orthodox and Catholic schism took place in 1054 and the Protestant Reformation took place in 1517. If a great renewal in the church happens every five hundred years, then we are due for another big one after the second millennium. We are now celebrating the Luther Decade, because 2017 will mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

You can see that we need another reformation of the church and you can see that you and I like Luther before us, have to take a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ our Lord, because that will ensure that we are on the way, full of truth, to a life pleasing to God. Yes, the just shall live by their faith and faith is a living, busy, active and mighty thing. It makes us come alive to God and die to sin. Yes, faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, upon which we stake our lives, put our bodies on the line. It makes us glad and bold and happy before God and all God’s creatures, rejoicing even in the faith that brings social, political, and even environmental renewal! Amen.

Some quotations: Gottes Wort und Luther Lehr vergehet neimals und nimmer mehr. (God’s Word and Luther’s teaching will never ever pass away.)

Luther wrote in a letter, when he was turning from Aristotle’s philosophy to theology, that he meant a theology that searches out the meat of the nut, the kernel of the grain, and the marrow of the bone.”[7]

A note that was not preached: In throwing the canon law into the flames on December 10th 1520, Luther undermined and disqualified two ecclesiastical judicial systems, thee old arch-diaconal and the episcopal courts, as well as a great many canon lawyers and church legislation involved in the benefice system. The concept of receiving a salary for professional services began with the officiale, the judge of the episcopal court. The cardinals or archbishops, for example, would own and receive the income in tithes of a cathedral, several churches, and a string of monasteries in his “portfolio.” Because he could have no heir, the pope sold these benefices over and over again.

N.B. This was a twelve page sermon, from which all the historical material was taken out, so that it was reduced to five pages.


[1] Diana Griffith, Martin Luther in 3-D,  http://synodresourcecenter.org/wma/worship/sermons/drama/0007/luther_3d.html

[2] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 123.

[3] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii.

[5] Timothy Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneaplis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 156.

[5] Ibid.

[6] William H. Lazareth, A Theology of Politics: Christian Social Responsibility, (New York: Board of Social Ministry, 1965), p. 20. In this place Lazareth writes: “[The Lutheran] concentration on the gospel has energized a sound evangelical personal ethic: ‘faith active in love.’ But the whole vast realm of corporate structures and institutional life has thereby been deprived of the normative judgment and guidance of God’s law by the church’s neglect of any corresponding social ethic: ‘love seeking justice.’ Though responsible for the proclamation of the whole Word of God, Lutherans have been traditionally much stronger on the personal appropriation of the gospel (for politicians and statesmen) than on social demands of the law (for politics and the state). What is desperately needed today is a prophetic counterpart to the priesthood of all believers.”

[7] Preserved Smith, editor and translator, Luther’s Correspondence and other Contemporary Letters: Vol. I (1507-1521). (Philadelphia: the Lutheran Publication Society, 1913), p.24.

Written by peterkrey

October 30, 2012 at 11:54 pm

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