October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation poster I grew up with pictured Martin Luther nailing 95 theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door. The sound of the hammer hitting those nails spread throughout Europe.
We know Martin was the son of a copper miner who became very successful in the business. Martin went to law school. Some legend creeps in at this point. He was riding back to school from visiting his parents when he was caught in a thunder storm, thrown to the ground and cried out that he would become a monk if he survived. The storm part of the story is shaky at best. Luther leaving law school and becoming an Augustinian monk is true. The 95 thesis? Probably never nailed to a door, but rather sent in a letter. Martin wrote to a close friend he never intended these to be published. What is true is Martin Luther unleashed a dialogue about God’s grace, church corruption and a Papal fund raiser gone very badly. Martin Luther and other reformers of the time were not subscribing to buying your way to heaven with indulgences and believed all people had a direct line to God and salvation by grace through faith.
The Reformation gave birth to new expressions of the Christian faith. They looked different, but with the saving grace of Jesus Christ being central. Today the traditions are distinctive and subtle. Communion with wine or grape juice. Baptism by dabbing or dunking. Praying with hands raised or folded. Psalms chanted or spoken. Worship in ornate sanctuaries with Bible story windows or simple worship spaces with heritage or clear windows. Music led with guitar or praise band or piano or organ. Favorite hymn A Mighty Fortress or The Shining Shore. The richness of diversity should not serve to divide, but rather celebrate how God’s gift of grace is lifted up in relevant languages and practices to the people.
What’s the big deal? Denominations from Roman Catholics to the Reformed are celebrating our Christian faith as followers of Jesus and not carrying our denominational IDs. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) The focus today is moving beyond conflict and toward communion.
This prayer was presented to me when I was called in 2001 to lead a disaster response agency at Ground Zero. It has significance in my life every day and is a reminder of God’s never ending presence. Pray this for our future together as followers of Jesus. God’s grace is the big deal.
You call us to ventures
Of which we cannot see the ending,
By paths as yet untrodden,
Through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with courage,
Not knowing where we go,
But only that your hand is leading us
And your love supporting us,
In Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen
John J. Scibilia