Rev. Harrison Goodman
I'm a Lutheran, so Reformation Day is kind of a big deal. Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of a church and that spark gave way to the fire of the Reformation. We talk a lot about how bold Luther must have been. He stood up to the pope. The emperor. He was excommunicated. People were burned alive for saying the things he said. Still, Luther dared to question authority. He wouldn't back down. He wouldn't shut up.
It sounds great. It doesn't jibe with what else we know about Luther though. He was a man who lay awake at night terrified over sin. He was in almost constant worry. He nearly collapsed and spilled the blood of Christ all over himself the first time he celebrated the sacrament. He was such a wreck that people still wonder if he had a mental disorder. This isn't exactly the face of boldness and certainty.
I kind of feel bad saying it. I don't want to rob us of another hero. Maybe I'm just not German enough to be Lutheran. Then again, maybe Lutheranism is bigger than one man. Maybe it's even bigger than just liking brats, beer, and lederhosen (I even had to Google the spelling). Maybe there was something that turned a man who, on a good day, could be described as "teetering on the edge of sanity" to a great confessor of faith with a denomination named after him.
More than bold, Luther was desperate. I don't think this makes him less admirable. He saw something that was lost for a long time. Jesus is for sinners. Jesus is for you. There is peace here.
Jesus saves sinners. This gives an answer to every whisper that keeps you awake at night reminding you every single way that you're not good enough. Luther's sins were very real, but also very forgiven. It was a free gift, and it was for him. It was not bound to promises he made, works he did, or anything in him. In his desperation, Luther dove into the scriptures and saw the Gospel. The Love of God which came down from heaven to be named Jesus, died on the cross to win forgiveness for all the world by paying the price of sin Himself so that we would not have to. This is the kind of peace that endures.
It was enough to stare down and stand firm before the emperor who would call for his death. Luther's last words before he died were "We are beggars. This is true." The Gospel is a freeing truth. We are beggars, but God is gracious and merciful. He is shelter, freedom, help, and salvation for sinners, for Luther, and for you.
That's something worth hanging on to. God doesn't need you to fight. God fought for you. It is finished. He won. We abide in His shelter here. We live because He died. We stand because we kneel to receive the very thing that holds us up—life that conquered death, poured out in Word and Sacrament, over and over and over again for sinners who need it each day. Christ, who died for you, is risen from the dead. Death has been destroyed. We endure because He lives. Every last sin is atoned for. I'm not Lutheran because I'm German. I'm Lutheran because I'm desperate. I need what Christ freely gives. I'm a sinner that Jesus died for. I'm baptized. I'm a beggar. This is true. But God has been saving beggars for a while now.
Rev. Harrison Goodman serves as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Carroll, Nebraska.
Created: November 1st, 2016