Tag Archives: Martin Luther

Reformation Day – Hero or Human?

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Biblical Texts: Rev 14:6-7, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36
Full Sermon Draft

Reformation Day to me is always a tough day to preach. For all my formative years and if any of the examples that I sampled this week are representative, the general approach to Reformation Day is full on Triumphalism and spiking of the football. And it is not that I can’t or won’t defend my side. I think Luther in particular and the reformers in general were right on a lot more than they were wrong. But if there is one thing that the gospel doesn’t really accept it is heroes. We have heroes of the faith, usually called saints, but ask why they are saints. Many of them are martyrs with a subset dying gruesomely. The next batch are those dedicated to outcasts – like the priests in leper colonies or Mother Teresa among the untouchables. There are the scholars and teachers and theologians. They often avoided the deaths, but the exchange seems to be that the society around them was passing away (c/r Augustine). Usually the equivalent of the Chinese toast, “may you live in interesting times”. What gets you on the list of the Saints is not usually someone confused with “winning”. The more we make a Hero out of Luther or the Reformers, the less they actually have to instruct us. The more we make them great men and women, the less we allow them to influence us.

Not an argument to tear them down or deconstruct them or even psycho-analyze them (although I suppose I do a little of that). The argument is to see them in context – fully human. When we do that, it is not bringing them down to our level, because according to the law we are already all on the same level – in deep trouble. But when we allow them to human, we are set free. We can admit the flaws (repent) and accept the grace. Both for them, and for us; both for their impossible circumstances, and for ours. We can hope to mend what was broken instead of building monuments. One of Luther’s most famous lines for theologians is: “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” It is the harder road, but you don’t get real glory without walking through Calvary.

Martin Luther Sightings

In David Brook’s column an interesting wrap-up.

Liberalism has not expanded because it has not had a Martin Luther, a leader committed to stripping away the corruptions, complexities and indulgences that have grown up over the years.

If you’ll forgive some outside advice, President Obama might consider running for re-election as Luther. It’s not enough to pick a series of small squabbles and then win as the least ugly man in the room. He might run as someone who believes in government but sees how much it needs to be cleansed and purified.

Just two thoughts. First, politically (which you should care about my opinion as much as the crank on the street), he’s probably right, and it would take someone with a D after their name to do it. Just like it took a former extremely pious monk. Second, and this is the deeper problem, arguing for greater purity of anything this side of heaven is a losing battle. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. The first use of the law is as a curb – the civil use of the law. In this case the corruptions, complexities and indulgences need to be curbed. But the law does not save. The more you focus on the law the more it exposes the depth of our degradation. We would create new ways of selling indulgences (cross reference K Street Project, Fannie Mae, TARP – friends of Angelo were just plain refreshing old school corruption). The good news is that there is a Lord who knows our plight. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. And the increase of his government and his peace will never end. (Isa 9:7)