The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
500th Anniversary of The Reformation

Pastor George Pejakovich
Matthew 22:34-46

 

THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY DESCRIBES THE FINAL ATTEMPT OF THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES TO GET JESUS TO SAY SOMETHING THAT WOULD DISCREDIT HIM IN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE. AFTER THE PHARISEES, HERODIANS, AND SADDUCEES HAVE NO LUCK IN CHALLENGING JESUS, THEY SEND AN EXPERT ON THE LAW TO TRIP HIM UP. THE TRAP IN THE QUESTION OF WHICH IS THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT IS THAT TO CHOOSE ANY ONE IS TO DEGRADE THE AUTHORITY OF THE OTHERS. WHEN JESUS ANSWERS, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, THIS IS THE GREATEST AND FIRST COMMANDMENT. AND A SECOND IS LIKE IT: YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” HE SUMMAIZES THE ENTIRE LAW OF GOD. HE MAKES IT CLEAR BY SAYING, “ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS HANG ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.” THE LAW OF GOD IS LOVE, AND WE CAN LOVE GOD, AND OUR NEIGHBOR, BECAUSE GOD FIRST LOVED US, AND SENT HIS SON TO SHOW US WHAT LOVE TRULY IS.

ON THIS REFORMATION SUNDAY, WE COMMEMORATE A MAN WHO REDISCOVERED THE LOVE THAT GOD HAS FOR US, AND, IN DOING SO, CHANGED THE WORLD. THIS REDISCOVERY OF GOD’S LOVE DID NOT COME EASILY TO MARTIN LUTHER, SINCE HE INITIALLY FEARED GOD, AND WAS, INDEED, ANGRY AT GOD FOR BEING SUCH A DEMANDING GOD THAT LUTHER COULD NOT SEE HOW ANYONE COULD BE SAVED. HE BECAME A MONK OUT OF FEAR, AND DROVE HIMSELF HARDER THAN ANYONE ELSE IN A VAIN ATTEMPT TO PLEASE THE GOD HE FEARED. THIS GAVE HIM ALL SORTS OF PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS. HE WAS APPOINTED PROFESSOR OF BIBLIAL STUDIES AT WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY AT A VERY YOUNG AGE, EVEN WHILE HE WAS SERVING AS THE OVERSEER FOR ELEVEN MONESTARIES. HE WROTE NOTHING OF NOTE, UNTIL HE STUDIED PAUL’S LETTER TO THE ROMANS; AND THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE. HIS REDISCOVERY OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IMPUTED TO US BY FAITH, A FAITH GIVEN TO US BY THE GRACE OF GOD, WAS ORIGINALLY EXPOUNDED BY ST. AUGUSTINE, THE FOUNDER OF HIS ORDER, IN THE FOURTH CENTURY. THIS UNDERSTANDING OF SALVATION BY FAITH ALONE, OPENED LUTHER’S HEART TO LOVE.

THIS LOVE OF GOD ABOVE ALL ELSE, AND WITH ALL HIS HEART, MIND, AND SOUL, LED HIM TO QUESTION THE WHOLE CLIMATE OF FEAR AND REPRESSION IN THE CHURCH HE SERVED; AND LED HIM TO DRAMATICALLY PROTEST THAT CLIMATE OF FEAR AND REPRESSION, EVEN AT GREAT RISK TO HIMSELF. HIS SUPPOSED POSTING OF HIS NINETY-FIVE THESES ON THE DOOR OF THE CASTLE CHURCH AT WITTENBERG WAS NOT A PROTEST; IT WAS A CALL FOR A REASONED DISCUSSION OF QUESTIONABLE PRACTICES OF THE ROMAN CHURCH. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT HE POSTED HIS THESES TO CAUSE A COMMONTION ON OCTOBER 31ST, 1517, SINCE HE SENT A COPY IN LATIN TO HIS BISHOP. HIS FRIENDS AND STUDENTS TRANSLATED HIS THESES INTO GERMAN, AND IT WAS SOON SPREAD ALL OVER GERMANY AND BEYOND. IT WAS JUST OVER A YEAR LATER THAT LUTHER’S REAL PROTEST BEGAN.

HE HAD WAITED A YEAR FOR SOME RESPONSE TO HIS QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT THE CHURCH WAS DOING. THE RESPONSE WAS TO CALL HIM TO AUGSBURG TO MEET WITH THE PAPAL LEGATE, CARDINAL CAJETAN, WITH WHOM LUTHER THOUGHT HE WOULD HAVE A DEBATE. IT DIDN’T GO WELL. LUTHER WANTED TO DEBATE, CAJETAN WANTED HIM TO RECANT, AND EACH THOUGHT THE OTHER UNWILLING TO LISTEN. UP UNTIL THAT MEETING, LUTHER BELIEVED THE CHUCH, WHILE IN NEED OF REFORM, WAS FUNDAMENTALLY SOUND. AFTER THAT MEETING, LUTHER SAW THE DEEP PROBLEMS IN THE HEART OF THE CHURCH CENTERED IN THE PAPAL CURIA IN ROME. ON 25 NOVEMBER 1518, LUTHER WENT TO THE CASTLE CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS IN WITTENBERG AND ISSUED A PUBLIC PROCLAMATION THAT HE WOULD, “NEVER RECANT WHAT HE HAD TAUGHT, WRITTEN, AND PREACHED.” HE HAD A LAWYER PRESENT TO WRITE UP HIS REMARKS AND PRINT IT FOR DISTRIBUTION, AS WELL AS POSTING IT ON THE CHURCH DOORS. THE REFORMATION HAD BEGUN, AND THE PEOPLE WERE READY FOR IT.

WHAT NO ONE EXPECTED WAS LUTHER’S IMMEDIATE GRASP OF THE ABILITY OF THE NEW PRINTING PRESS TO SPEAD IDEAS FASTER AND FARTHER THAN EVER BEFORE. EUROPE, AND EVEN ENGLAND, WERE FLOODED WITH PAMPHETS WRITTEN BY LUTHER, AND HE OVERWHEMED HIS OPPONENTS BY THE SHEAR VOLUME OF HIS WORK. THIS EVENTUALLY LED, TWO YEARS LATER TO THE POPE WRITING THE PAPAL BULL, EXURGE DOMINE, OR RISE UP O GOD, BECAUSE A WILD BOAR HAS RISEN IN THE NORTH. NOW THE BREAK WAS CLEAN, AND LUTHER’S FOLLOWERS, AND LUTHER HIMSELF, IN PROTEST, BURNED THE PAPAL BULL AND ALL THE POPE’S BOOKS IN THE GATE AT WITTENBERG.

LUTHER’S PROCLAMATION THAT WE ARE SAVED BY FAITH ALONE WAS A CHALLENGE TO THE AUTHORITY OF THE POPE, AND TO THE ECOMONIC OPPRESSION OF THE PEOPLE BY THE CHURCH. THIS LED TO THE EMPEROR CALLING LUTHER TO A MEETING OF THE REICHTAG IN THE IMPERIAL CITY OF WORMS, KNOWN AS THE DIET OF WORMS, IN SPRING 1521. HE WAS PROMISED SAFE CONDUCT, BUT SUCH IMPERIAL PROMISES HAD BEEN BROKEN BEFORE. AS HE TRAVELED TO WORMS IN A CART AS PART OF A GREAT PROCESSION, THE PEOPLE OF THE TOWNS AND CITIES LINED THE ROADS TO CHEER HIM. KNOWING WHAT WAS POSSIBLY IN STORE FOR HIM, HE CALLED THIS JOURNEY HIS PALM SUNDAY. AT WORMS, LUTHER WAS GIVEN NO CHANCE TO AIR HIS VIEWS OR JUSTIFY HIS POSITION. WITH HIS BOOKS AND WRITINGS IN FRONT OF HIM, HE WAS DEMANDED TO ANSWER TWO QUESTIONS. WERE THESE HIS WORKS, YES OR NO? WOULD HE RECANT HIS ERRORS, YES OR NO?

WHILE ADMITING THAT HE SOMETIMES USED LANGUAGE UNSUITABLE FOR A CLERGYMAN, HE WAS WILLING TO RECANT ANYTHING THAT COULD BE PROVEN TO BE CONTRARY TO HOLY SCRIPTURE. PRESSED ONE FINAL TIME TO RECANT, HE DELIVERED HIS MOST FAMEOUS PROTEST. “UNLESS I AM CONVINCED BY THE EVIDENCE OF SCRIPTURE OR BY COGENT REASONING – FOR I BELIEVE IN NEITHER POPES NOR COUNCILS ALONE, BECAUSE IT IS PLAIN THAT THEY HAVE OFTEN ERRED AND CONTRADICTED EACH OTHER- I AM OVERWHELMED BY THE SCRIPTURES I HAVE MYSELF QUOTED, AND WITH MY CONSCIENCE THUS TAKEN CAPTIVE BY THE WORDS OF GOD, I NEITHER CAN NOR WILL RECANT A THING, SINCE IT IS NOT SAFE NOR SOUND TO DO ANYTHING AGAINST ONE’S CONSCIENCE. HERE I STAND. GOD HELP ME, I CAN DO NO OTHER.”

MUCH WAS YET TO COME; HIS ESCAPE FROM WORMS, HIDING AS AN OUTLAW FOR A YEAR, TRANSLATING THE BIBLE INTO GERMAN, RETURNING TO WITTENBERG, MARRIAGE TO KATHE, CHILDREN, TEACHING, HOUSING AND FEEDING HIS STUDENTS WITHOUT CHARGE, PREACHING, AND WRITING, WRITING, AND WRITING. YET THE DEFINING IMAGE OF LUTHER IS HIS STAND AT WORMS, PICTURED IN PAINTING, PRINT, AND BRONZE AS “LUTHER CONTRA MUNDUM;” LUTHER AGAINST THE WORLD. HE WAS NOT A PERFECT MAN, AND WOULD HAVE READILY ADMITTED HE WAS A SINNER AS ARE WE ALL. HE WAS CROTHETY, ARGUEMENTATIVE, AND SOMETIMES DEAD WRONG IN HIS OPINIONS, WITH A PERSONALITY ALMOST LARGER THAN LIFE, YET THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING HIM IS THAT HIS CONSCIENCE WAS TAKEN CAPTIVE BY THE WORDS OF GOD. THE WORDS OF GOD THAT SPOKE TO HIS HEART, MIND, AND SOUL OF GOD’S LOVING GRACE.

THIS IS THE KEY TO THE REFORMATION, AND THE POWER WHICH DRIVES THE CHURCH TO A CONTINUAL REFORMATION; THE CONSCIENCE OF EACH MAN, WOMAN, AND CHILD HELD CAPTIVE TO THE WORDS OF GOD THAT PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD’S GRACE THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD. THIS IS THE LOVE OF GOD WHICH LUTHER REDISCOVERED, WHICH WE ALL GLADLY PROCLAIM, AND WHOSE LOVE WE RETURN WITH OUR LOVE FOR GOD AND FOR OUR NEIGHBOR. LIKE LUTHER, GOD HELP US, WE CAN DO NO OTHER. AMEN

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