Monday, October 31, 2011

Reformation (Thank You, Martin Luther)

Please don’t read my next sentence as any type of proselytizing (that would be out of character for a Lutheran anyway). But …

I love Lutheranism.
Love it. Particularly the ELCA variety.
The Luther LoveFest (my term) that we observed in worship this morning reminded me how much I do.

In honor of Martin Luther’s most recognized and lasting legacy, we Lutherans pulled out all the stops (literally, I believe, for the organ) to observe Reformation Sunday. Our music director even specially arranged an incredibly creative third verse of “A Mighty Fortress” for the congregation, adult choir and Waldorf College brass ensemble. I have always found that verse, which speaks to Luther’s notion of the earth filled with “devils,” fascinating. Today it was even more so. The director’s version had demonic choral sounds, bold brass fanfares, dramatic organ glissandos, and an abrupt finish – as if “one little word” had “felled” it.

Then we launched into the final verse: Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.

During this iconic hymn, I filled with so much emotion, so much gratitude for Luther’s kick butt, tenacious faith, that I found no extra room in my throat for music to come out. I simply couldn’t sing any more. I could only take in the fullness of the moment and hold on to one thought: I am at home.

I am a Martin Luther sort of follower – at least the historical Luther that has been championed by scholars and theologians for centuries. The Luther who identified corruption, spoke truth to power, wrote volumes of spiritual musings, and aspired to live serving others.

So why not pull out the stops? It is Reformation Sunday, a bit rowdy and rebellious with large doses of passion and pride.

But, of course, I am prejudiced. I am a baptized Lutheran, who – after two separate sojourns into other denominations – returned to the reformer’s road each time. Once via a liberal arts education at Lutheran college, and once via a move that found my husband and I choosing a Lutheran church as our comfortable, spiritual home.

While a young woman at Wartburg College, I, perhaps like many in the mid-16th century, began to read scripture with a mind more connected to who I was than to who those reading it from the pulpit wanted me to be. Through scripture, I met a personal and relevant God who wasn’t nearly as complex and rule-oriented as authoritarian theologians proposed God to be.

My mind transformed – renewed – without the benefit of a personal 95 Theses moment. Not even an outburst of spiritual rebellion. My personal change – my reformation if you will – occurred more subtly. In fact, it continues to occur; I hope it never stops.

As far as Martin Luther’s Reformation, I recognize that my Lutheran tainting may leave me incapable of objectivity concerning how he changed the world. I may also be too enamored by change itself to be objective.

The way I see it: The world changed in an instant because of what happened on October 31, 1517, and yet it took years for that change to be realized. After Luther nailed his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, temple curtains did not tear and graves did not open with the dead suddenly raised to life. But a barrier of authority had been broken and minds began to open. People had greater opportunities to encounter God personally. To think. To use their minds to challenge prevailing beliefs about God. To pray and meditate on scripture they had read themselves in a familiar language.

Luther helped get the church out of God’s way. It’s a feat I continue to regard as worthy; it’s a goal to which I often aspire. Reformation.

Today we celebrated with red stoles on the usually stole-less pastors and assistants, red flags hanging from the interior buttresses, red orbs on the communion servers and, yes, red wine. All of them witnessed to the presence of the Holy Spirit and what can happen when people get out of God's way and faith gets real.

I am seeing red today, but only the best shade of this powerful hue. For at the end of the day – any day – no matter what has happened or is happening or may happen, none of it matters. God’s truth abides. God’s kingdom is forever.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
- Martin Luther’s response to the Diet of Worms on April 19, 1521, after having been asked to recant his writings on the previous day.

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