This Sunday we will have a special worship service at our church to remember the beginnings of the Reformation, which happened nearly 500 years ago. The man at the center of the Reformation, of course, was our good friend Martin Luther. He was a very troubled man, to say the least. He wanted to do right but felt like he was always sinning (and he was a monk who was supposed to devote his entire life to prayer and study and teaching, to boot). He made pilgrimages, climbed up the steps in Rome on his knees, beat himself with a rope whip, and got so mad at the devil that he threw his ink bottle at the wall making a stain that supposedly can be seen to this day. He challenged the institutions of his day that he felt were taking advantage of the poor and uneducated, which was nearly everyone except the rich, so on October 31 (yes, that is Halloween), 1517 he made a list of things he thought was wrong with his employer (The Roman Catholic Church) and posted them on the door of the church in the village where he lived, Wittenberg. There were 97 things on this list so they became known as the 97 Theses. That act of nailing them to the door of the church (which was the ancient equivalent of a bulletin board) was revolutionary and it began a movement that expanded and spread like wildfire across Europe. It became known as the Reformation.
Luther did not actually intend on leaving his beloved Church, at first, but just wanted others to straighten up and stop what they were doing that he considered to be wrong but the authorities in charge took offense at what he wanted them to do and instead began proceedings against him to accuse him of crimes and to excommunicate him from the Church, which in their day was equivalent to banishing him to Hell. Luther stood up for what he believed in and spoke to the authorities about his ideas resulting in his having to run for his life, literally, because there were people who wanted to kill him because of the ideas he taught.
Eventually, Luther found safety and a wife after he stopped being a monk. Today, if you go to Wittenberg, Germany you can visit the place where Luther lived and the church where he nailed the 97 Theses. You can hear an organ concert in the church and see a statue of Luther on the street. The citizens of Wittenberg are preparing for the huge crowd of people to come in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Everyone has forgiven Luther for speaking out so long ago and now see him as their favorite son (since he brings so many tourists to town).
Luther's lesson in speaking up is one that all of us must consider when we see injustice around us. Questioning authority seems easy to do today when we live in a country with freedom of speech but often we are afraid and do not speak out when injustice is around us. Luther faced death by speaking out for what he believed in and finally had to give up his job in order to live in peace. We remember Luther at this time of year for his courage and ask God to also give us courage in the face of modern challenges.