On All Saints Day in 1517, Martin Luther publicly posted what we now call
“The 95 Theses.” These “topics for debate” were intended to confront the “selling” of indulgences. An Indulgence was the relief of the temporal consequences of sin but not for the forgiveness of sin itself. Pope Leo X had given approval for a “full” indulgence of sin given in exchange for contributions to the building of St. Peter’s in Rome. However, to make the Indulgence more desirable, Johann Tetzel, acting under the authority of Albert, the Archbishop of Mainz, falsely sold indulgences as a means of securing the individual’s release from purgatory or the release of a dead loved one. The burden of these ambitions for wealth and the corrupt misuse of church teaching fell upon the poor, who, acting out of faith, gave alms they could not afford to give. The sale of indulgences were transferring wealth away from Germany, providing opportunity for corruption in the church, taking money from the poor and were being “sold” through an incorrect and exaggerated theology. This original protest would then become “the Reformation.”
We now have the opportunity to celebrate and observe the occasion of the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. I will have to be honest about my difficulty in “celebrating” the Reformation. I am certainly proud to be part of a church body whose heritage originates in the cause and the defense of the Gospel. Although respectful of, I am not, by integrity or conscience, obedient to the Bishop of Rome. I don’t see any scriptural need to be so. Yet, I do want to acknowledge that any division in the body of Christ is a sin against the prayer of Jesus that his disciples be one in Him. The consequences of the Reformation also included hundreds of years of violence and war, not limited to the Thirty Years War in Germany, the St. Bartholomew Day massacre in France and more recently “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland. This can be observed, even grieved, but cannot be “celebrated” without also acknowledging the consequences of the Reformation.
The first occasion I would like to encourage you to attend is sponsored by the Michigan District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The details are provided in this newsletter separately, but essentially it is a Lutheran Worship Service titled “Here We Stand” and will be held Sunday, October 15, 2017 at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University. It will be all that you can imagine a fully Reformation Church celebration can be. I expect to enjoy this thoroughly and am inviting you to attend.
The second occasion will take place in Kalamazoo on Sunday, October 29, 2017 at Wings Stadium. Again I am including a separate flyer with the details. “Kalamazoo United” is a historic gathering of Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders and churches to observe the 500th year of the Reformation by providing an opportunity to pray together, sing together and serve in mission and ministry cooperatively. The further goal is to provide an opportunity to create relationships and friendships that can help the Christian community of Kalamazoo to serve and witness Christ. It does not expect or demand agreement on doctrine and practice, but uses the Nicene Creed as a binding core statement of belief.
I am participating in this event because I believe that it is important to cooperate in witness and service opportunities in the Kalamazoo area. I have often stood by the side of Catholic clergy (and Bishop Paul Bradley) at Pro-Life functions. I have prayed with Protestant leaders for our community. I believe that it is a position of integrity to publicly proclaim our common values and faith and to agree to work together for the betterment of our community. I do want the church, in the broadest sense, to be a positive and transformational force in the greater Kalamazoo area. The risk of not doing so is that the church becomes pushed to the sidelines of our community and our culture. It is not our call to allow that withdrawal or to willingly do so.
A “side” aspect of this cooperation is to allow a chance for healing in our relationships. Even as the Vatican II reforms of the Roman Catholic church are over 50 years old, there is still a memory of the conflicted and confrontational history between Catholics and Protestants. Many of my own members can tell stories from their experience where prejudice and animosity prevailed on both sides. I do not want this to continue for our church, my family or our community. We can have integrity and positions of conscience regarding our faith and belief. We cannot be mean or rude. I am proud, in the best meaning of the word, to be Lutheran. But the language of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, often rude, vulgar and harsh, represented its time and place. Our time and place does not need such language and our culture is offended by it. This harms our collective witness of the Gospel and of Christ. We have too much to do and we cannot accomplish any impact of significance for our communities alone. We have problems to solve of gross poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, lack of health care, drug addiction and violence. We have students and immigrants coming to Kalamazoo from the four corners of the earth bringing with them their religions (or non-religion.) I think it is important to present a Christian community united in its love for all and willing to serve and witness in the name of Christ.
I encourage your prayers and participation. I am making the point of supporting our study of Holy Scripture through the “Chronological Bible.” This is meant to provide a comprehensive knowledge of Scripture. I am also teaching the core documents of the Lutheran Reformation on Wednesday mornings. We have read the “95 Theses” and are now studying the Heidelberg Disputation. I will provide these for Adult Bible Study and feature relevant quotations in sermons to come. This can be an occasion for personal growth and discussion with our neighbors. But the purpose will be clear: to proclaim Christ crucified, died and Risen! Remember that it still is, as it always was, all about Jesus.
Happy Eastertide! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!