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Reformation Sunday C Sermon
Romans 32: 19-28
27, 2019


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

What is your motivation in life? What moves you to do what you do, especially when that involves loving those around you, sacrificing of your own time, effort or resources? Motivation comes in many different forms, and we all experience it in many ways.

Martin Luther was pretty typical in what motivated him in life. When he entered into law school his main motivation was to please his mother and (especially) his father. His motivation to change course and enter the monastery seems on the surface to be a promise he made to St. Anne that if his life was spared from a terrible thunderstorm, that he would become a monk … although, I suspect this was something that he was wrestling with for quite a while. The promise was probably a way to deflect the motivation away from his own desires to something else … “what else can I do? I made this promise!!!”

In his early years in the monastery it seems like his primary motivation was fear. He was certain that God was a just God, always demanding payment for sins. He fasted constantly and as a result had terrible digestive problems his whole life. He went to confession daily, sometimes many times a day until he wore out his confessor by owning up to every little selfish thought or passing of gas, which of course was exacerbated by his terrible eating habits. It led his superiors to encourage Luther to enroll in the PhD program at Wittenberg to study scriptures.
It was during this time that Luther discovered passages like our second lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Passages which focused on how we are made right with God as a free gift and not as a result of good works. God’s love comes to us apart from the law – as a matter of fact, it all comes down to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to sacrifice his whole life for all of humanity. This changes the motivation of ever Christian person from doing good works in order to be loved by God, to doing good works because we are first loved by God through Jesus Christ. Luther’s quote on the topic is, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does!” This brought release to his captive souls.
Unfortunately, that didn’t sit well with the Christian church of the day. They were trying to motivate people to rely upon the church and the pope for their salvation, to tell them what is in The Bible, and especially to pay a sum for loved ones’ release from purgatory. The selling of indulgences was turning into a very lucrative venture that helped to fund huge building projects, like the cathedrals in Vatican City and all of the buildings surrounding them. Johanne Tetzel, the pope’s chief indulgence salesperson, played off desire of common European peasants to release souls from purgatory. As a result, huge sums of money collected and people remained in their sin and guilt.

Luther was motivated to reform the church – to correct its errors and to fix the order of things from “what should I do to receive God’s love” to “God loves me, now what am I called to do …” He never wanted to create a new church, but to “right the ship” of the church of his day. So, he developed 95 arguments against the selling of indulgences and nailed them to the community bulletin board of his day – the door of the church in Wittenberg. He intended it to inspire theological debate in the academic setting. Because of the recently developed Guttenberg Movable Type Printing Press, his theses were copied down, reprinted, and spread to common German people all over the land. Luther was instantly lifted up as the new leader of the church. He continued to write other articles and treatises against the practices of the church which went contrary to scripture. These were also broadcast all over the place. Finally, he was called to the Diet of Worms – a church council at which Luther was to recant his writings. They had hoped that the motivation to save own skin would inspire Luther to tow the company line, but he knew there were deeper consequences. So, he uttered those famous words in response: Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me.

This set things into motion, including sequestering out of fear for his life during which Luther continued to write, and translating the scriptures into the vernacular language of his German people. They needed to have the word in their own hands! If we are saved by Faith alone in the God’s Grace alone as proclaimed to us by the Scripture alone, then people needed to be able to read it for themselves. It seems logical but consider that at the time it was illegal for a lay person to possess a copy of the scriptures! People were burned at the stake for translating scriptures either from the original Hebrew or Greek languages, or from the Latin Vulgate into languages that people outside of the church and scholastic settings would understand. Luther was not a perfect person – some of his writings were blatantly anti-semitic, and he could be very crass in his language – but he brought the church back to the central teaching of the Bible – that we are to live out our callings to be husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, children, siblings, servants, and friends because God loved us first, made things right in our relationships with him, and then gave the gift of the law – not to save us, but to direct our lives so that we can have more concern for those around us, trusting that God will take care of us as we care for God’s creation.

What is your motivation? Fear? Are you afraid that you will not live up to your calling as a disciple? Maybe it is recognition? Do you want your name on a plaque or on a building, or some other kind of certificate? Do you love so that you can be loved back by those around you? What is it that moves you to live out of love and dedication in your relationship with God? Remember, God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does! Reformations happen within organizations like churches, but they also happen within individual Christian people as well as we discover new motivations to love. May we live out of faith and grace through the Holy Scriptures alone, with Jesus Christ as our servant king; may the bravery of the reformers model for us lives motivated more by God’s gift of grace than the fear of what others might think of or do to us; and may the spirit of the reformation motivate us individually and as a congregation to good works of love! Amen!