Happy Reformation Sunday! Next Sunday (the 25th), Lutheran churches will commemorate the founding of the Lutheran Church in 1517 by Martin Luther. We will wear red and play our favorite Lutheran hymns, such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” We might even post the 95 Theses (the document Martin Luther is alleged to have posted on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church) in our churches. I know many of you reading this will not be celebrating Martin Luther in your congregations, but, instead, might commemorate a different reformer at some point during the year. Blessings to you in your celebrations.
Sometimes, when we remember Martin Luther and his Reformation, we can become very fixated on the historical details of the time period. Similarly, we can solely emphasize Luther’s role in breaking from the Roman Catholic Church, building him up to be this great and notorious rabble-rouser. Indeed, in some ways it is true that Luther was no stranger to conflict and utterly reshaped the religious landscape of Europe in his time.
However, this is not the whole story. It isn’t the start of the story. Martin Luther began his religious work as a monk. As a monk, he was extremely fearful that God hated him for his sins. He would go to confession constantly. He slept outside in the cold, he tried to forgo sleep and he even whipped himself to atone for his sin. Finally, his confessor told him he could not come back to confess his sins until he could confess a real sin. Luther remained plagued with doubts and was afraid of God.
One day, while reading the Bible in a bell tower, he was reading the book of Romans. As he read, it became clear to him that God’s righteousness is given to us as a gift through Christ. Luther then started to understand that God consistently showers grace on humanity and loves to forgive us. In this way, Luther started to understand that God loved him and redeemed him.
Trying to remember God’s love and grace was a lifelong battle for Luther. Again, we often make it seem that after that bell tower experience, Luther’s doubts left him. On the contrary, God’s grace kept reaching out to Luther in many moments of fear and despair throughout his life.
This “start” of the story is crucial to me because I think that, though many of us can’t relate to the extreme nature of Luther’s fear of God, we can understand his plight on some level. It’s easy for many of us to wonder if God could love us on our worst days or maybe even our best days. The entire Reformation, though, was started when Luther caught a glimpse of God’s amazing, generous, steadfast and abundant love poured out on us despite the fact that we could never earn God’s love.
I think all of us need an “extra” reminder of God’s love and grace these days. Most of us, in attempting to survive the pandemic and all of the extra demands placed on us in this time, are running on all cylinders constantly. Some days, that goes OK. Other days, not so much. It can be easy to start thinking that God loves us only on the days when we are perfect or, at least, doing really well. But, that’s not how God’s love works. On the days when you cross everything off your to-do list, are a superstar family member and lend a helping hand to everyone you meet, God loves you. On the days when you forget half of what you were supposed to do, feed your kids take-out for the third time this week, binge watch movies instead of facing reality or say countless things you’d like to take back, God loves you. God is going to keep loving you through this pandemic. Every. Single. Day.
May we remember to celebrate God’s love and grace this Reformation Sunday and every day.
The Rev. Jeanette McCormick is pastor at Worthington's First Lutheran Church..