On the Other Side of the Doors

Reformation Sunday is approaching. Each year I look forward to it, recalling the day when young Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences. I like singing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” even though sometimes we treat it like the Lutheran National Anthem rather than really listening to the faith proclaimed in that famous hymn. But hymns that good need to be sung, and Reformation Day lends itself to such a singing with bold enthusiasm. I find the story of Martin Luther and his colleagues compelling, inspiring, flawed, faithful, sin-filled, and well, rather quite human. It is easy to make Luther a hero and in many ways he is – standing up to corruption and authority, giving people access to scripture and painting a picture of Christian faith where it is lived in real life. But Luther also had deep flaws and the fragmentation of Christianity all started at his doorstep. The Reformation changed the landscape of the political, religious, social and economic realities of Europe as the modern age drew near. But it is also problematic – simply to translate those days into our own. We live in a different time, with different challenges, opportunities and complexities than people (including Luther) could have possible anticipated in the late middle ages when those 95 Theses found their way to the castle church doors and eventually into the homes of many Germans through the new innovation of the printing press. In his lifetime, Luther himself warned about taking his commentaries, booklets, letters and other writings and making a “pope” out of him rather than teaching and preaching God’s word that does transcend time and space as Christ meets us in, with and under the proclamation of scripture. For we using yet the newest technology through social media, it is a warning worth heading for ourselves, lest we think we bigger than the message we bring.

Yet those doors remain.

at the Castle Church doors, October, 2011

Reformation Sunday is approaching. Each year I look forward to it, recalling the day when young Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences. I like singing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” even though sometimes we treat it like the Lutheran National Anthem rather than really listening to the faith proclaimed in that famous hymn. But hymns that good need to be sung, and Reformation Sunday lends itself to such a singing with bold enthusiasm. I find the story of Martin Luther and his colleagues compelling, inspiring, faithful, sin-filled, and well, rather quite human. It is easy to make Luther a hero and in many ways he is – standing up to corruption and misused authority, giving people access to scripture and painting a picture of Christian faith where it is lived in real life. But Luther also had deep flaws and the fragmentation of Christianity all started at his doorstep. The Reformation changed the landscape of the political, religious, social and economic realities of Europe as the modern age drew near. As exciting as Reformation Sunday can be, it is problematic – simply to translate those days into our own. We live in a different time, with different challenges, opportunities and complexities than people (including Luther) could have possible anticipated.  As those 95 Theses found their way to the Castle Church doors and eventually into the homes of many Germans through the new innovation of the printing press, a revolution began, as old authorities were called into question, and new ones began to rise. Luther called for the authority of scripture, and the preaching of it to reveal Christ’s forgiveness to the world. In his lifetime, Luther himself warned about taking his commentaries, booklets, letters and other writings and making a “pope” out of him rather than teaching and preaching God’s word.      As a people using yet the newest technology to communicate, it is a warning worth heading for ourselves, lest we think we bigger than the message we bring.

Yet those doors remain.

I’ve stood at the site of those doors several times. The original doors on the Castle Church in Wittenberg were destroyed when the church was burned in the Napoleonic wars. When the church was rebuilt by Prussia – steel doors with the Theses permanently engraved upon them became a memorial to Luther and the movement that began on that first Reformation Day. The church tower was rebuilt, furnished with the words, “Ein Feste Burg Est Unser Gott” (A Might Fortress is our God) wrapped around it. The church was also rebuilt commemorating those days. Statues of Luther and his colleagues adorn the nave as the church takes on almost a museum like quality. Luther’s grave rests just below the pulpit (I preached there once in 2006, and I have to say I was a bit anxious preaching with Luther under the floor), and there is a certain sense of triumphalism or at the very least Lutheran patriotism (if there is such a thing) that fills the place. Even though the official name of the Castle Church is ironically, the Church of All Saints, it is clear which saint is being honored – Hero Luther, defender of the faith!

I like to celebrate Reformation Sunday; but not because of Hero Luther. As I said, I do find him a fascinating study. The events of his life are dramatic, interesting, and stretch well beyond those church doors. I appreciate his insights and even some of his foibles. Other things he said and did are detestable and his temper is a thing of legend. So was his love for his wife Katie and for their six children. He was a cherished friend and a bitter enemy. He was, a sinner in need of redemption and he found it through a faith that did not rest on laurels or accolades but by self-deprecating repentance and pointing away from himself to Jesus. What I appreciate most about him is that even though his writings fill volumes, his message was always rather quite simple: “The forgiveness of sins, on account of Christ alone.” In the world in which we live that seems at times to be overly complex, divided, rushed, secular, and all too eager to exploit others for personal gain we could use a simple message like that. To me, that is the Reformation’s lasting legacy.

Luther lived in a time when Christendom reigned supreme, and the church stood at the center of people’s lives. In those days a singularity of authority message spoke with a singular message in a singular society. His posting on the Castle Church doors signified a call to remember that Christ was truly central as he called people  to engage that message. Today we face a multitude of messages all competing for our attention, and in the church we often stand behind closed doors simply trying to survive in a world that has not only pushed the church aside but has also moved on. As one voice among many we can’t simply post a message on the church doors and expect change to follow. The question before us is not, “How can we post on the doors as Luther did?” The question before us is, “How can we open those doors, and carry our faith in Christ outside?” This will be our legacy. May the words “A Mighty Fortress,” give us confidence to sing boldly wherever we go, so our doors will never stay latched again.

at the Castle Church, August, 2006

Peace,
Pastor Geoff
___________

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  (Psalm 46:1)

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About geoff sinibaldo

Follower of Jesus, Husband, Father, Son, Friend, Change Proponent, Goofball, Seeking Faithfulness in the 21st Century
This entry was posted in Church & Mission, Special Days, Thinking About Church Differently. Bookmark the permalink.

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