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Across the Pastor’s Desk: Celebrating Reformation Sunday

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Eileen Woyen


Sunday, Oct. 25 is Reformation Sunday. It is a sort of rock star day in the life of the Lutheran church.

This is the day that we remember Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, that began what came to be known as the reformation. It is a day that we remember our Lutheran heritage. It is a day to wear our team colors — red. It is a day that we sing all our old favorite hymns. It’s the day that we pray to be kept steadfast in the Word of God. It is a day that we look back at our history.

Eileen Woyen

But the reformation and our faith teaches us always to be looking forward. How can the lessons of the past inform our present and our future?

Much like 16th century Europe, we live in a fractured society. It’s a world of us versus them. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. We must remember, also, that there was a lot of bullying going on during the Reformation. And I’m not just talking about the papal bulls sent out by Pope Leo.

Think about it.

Indulgences. This was one of the main things that Martin Luther first railed against. People were buying their forgiveness from the church, and the church was then using the money to build St. Peter.

So how is that bullying?

Well, how do we receive forgiveness of our sins? Forgiveness comes from God and through Jesus’ death on the cross. Right? It is not something that can be sold or earned. It is a kind of bullying because the church was sort of preying on the fears of its members. If you don’t get this indulgence, give us your money, your loved one will stay in purgatory. They’ll be in pain, and it’ll be your fault.

At that time, people didn’t or couldn’t read the Bible (it was written in Latin and many were illiterate). So, they didn’t have the knowledge or faith from the Bible that forgiveness comes from God alone through the cross of Jesus. It is like the big kid taking the lunch money from the smaller kid.

Part of the Reformation was translating the Bible into the language of the people, the vernacular. Then the people could read for themselves. Their faith and understanding could  grow. They wouldn’t be so much in the dark — literally and figuratively.

Martin Luther was bullied. He was threatened on many fronts — politically, socially, religiously. His life and livelihood were threatened because of the things he said and the ideas he believed. But before we put Luther on the big pedestal — like we like to do, especially today — Luther did some bullying too. He called people names. If you didn’t agree with him, he could be pretty mean. He spewed a lot of venom not just against the Roman church, but Luther didn’t mix words toward other Protestant groups, Jews or the Mohamedians (Muslims). Sometimes he even advocated their destruction. Not very Christian. We all have moments in the darkness of our souls that we are not proud of in the light of day.

But Thank God, thank Jesus that we all have grace. We all fall short. We all have been bullied. We all have been the bully. We all sin. Sin is the “failure to hit the target in life.” God’s love lifts us from being lost, forgives us and puts us on the right course in our relationship with God and others. The God-intended target in life is being a whole person, a quieting of inner conflicts and a release of inner peace that radiates joy and caring.

That helps us. Grace helps us to be a good husband, a good wife, a good parent, a good kid, a good student, a good worker, a good neighbor.

Grace comes to us all when we are unworthy (while we are still sinners). God wants to give us life. We are saved by grace — not because of something we can do or something we can buy, but from something Jesus has already done for you.

Jesus knows what it is to be bullied.

As the theologian Hans Kung wrote of our grace-filled life: “Harassed on all sides, but not crushed; plagued in doubt, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; as dying, but see we live; as punished, but not put to death; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing everything.”

Grace restores. And from that grace — we serve — the forgiven share faith — love abounds. We share the love of God with a hungry, broken world. We offer hope to others in their hopelessness. We become the light in a dark, scary and gloomy world. The world is full of hurt.

The world is full of pain, but God is full of grace. God is full of forgiveness. God is full of love for all God’s children.

You have that God-given grace, that God-given forgiveness, that God-given love. You are saved because of Jesus and not because of anything you could ever do by yourself.

God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s love is bigger than anything that can get in its way.

Eileen Woyen is a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Albert Lea.