The Next 500 Years
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 29, 2017
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Matthew 22:34-46
Good morning! I am delighted to be here. Dr. Luther sends his apologies. He couldn’t make it but he has every intention of being with you this evening for all the festivities. You may be wondering who I am. To Dr. Luther, I am known by many names. He often calls me “Boss of Zulsdorf,” after the name of the farm we owned, or “Morning Star of Wittenberg,” due to my habit of rising at 4 in the morning to take care of my plethora of responsibilities, or, and this is my favorite, “Dear Kate.” While my given name is Katharina von Bora, it is the name Luther that means the most to me because Martin Luther is the love of my life, my companion, my closest friend, my husband.
No doubt our marriage shocked the world—but, alas, I get ahead of myself. Allow me to provide a little background. My mother died when I was a child and at the age of five, my father took me to a convent to “further my education” he said. Likely, he was really interested in finding me a home so he could start his life with his new wife. Regardless, I first entered a Benedictine cloister but was later moved me to a Cistercian monastery where my aunt resided.
At first, I was happy enough but as my education grew, so did my discontent with the monastic life in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. As a young woman I was interested in the happenings in Germany—especially the movement Martin Luther started when he nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. I became convinced that the Holy Spirit inspired Dr. Luther and others to set right the corruption within the leadership of Christ’s church.
I wasn’t the only one interested in the new movement. There were several in the monastery—friends of mine—who were equally captivated. In time we contacted Doctor Luther. He seemed to be the person who knew how to get things done and we wanted something remarkable done. We wanted to escape the monastery. It would be a dangerous feat because a person caught abandoning her vows could be tortured, imprisoned, or worse. Still, we felt inspired to take a bold step. We wanted to be part of Christ’s work in the world!
Dr. Luther, sympathetic to our cause, recruited a merchant to smuggle us out of the monastery. Upon our arrival, Luther was determined to return us to our families but that turned out to be impossible. For a variety of reasons, they did not want us. Mostly, though, they feared the consequences of violating Roman Catholic law. Never one to turn away from a challenge, Luther decided to find husbands for us, according to our wishes. Everyone found a mate—except for me. I was pickier than most. In the end, I determined in my heart that only two men would suit me—Nikolaus von Amsdorf, a colleague of Dr. Luther—or Luther himself.
At first, Luther resisted the idea. Although he had come to believe that marriage was a gift from God for all people—even those called to the religious life—he had not considered marriage for himself. Many of his friends were unsure, too. They feared Luther’s marriage would hurt the Reformation by causing undue scandal. Luther’s father, on the other hand, was overjoyed at the idea. He said it was what he always wanted for his son. Eventually, Luther came to the conclusion that his marriage would “please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.” How could he lose?
Martin Luther and I were married June 13, 1525. He was forty-one years old and I was twenty-five. Against all odds, we had a wonderful life together. We took up residence at the Black Cloister, a former dormitory and educational institution for Augustinian friars given to us as a wedding gift. Immediately, I took on the task of managing our property, which included breeding and selling cattle, and running a brewery to provide for our family, the steady stream of students who boarded with us, and visitors who sought an audience with Dr. Luther. In times of widespread illness, I opened our home to serve as a hospital site and ministered to the sick along with other nurses. In our life together, we were blessed with six children. In addition, we brought four orphans into our loving home—and a loving home it was.
Along with Dr. Luther, I had strong opinions about the way in which we are to live out our faith in the world. While I might have been known as being bighearted, I could not hold a candle to Dr. Luther. In fact, his proclivity for generosity is what led me to handle our finances. We would have starved, otherwise. Luther knew that I was a strong-willed woman when he married me—and he had no desire to dampen my intellect or my creative abilities. On occasion, he described me as “My Lord Katie” because he was determined that I have control over my own life—a stance unheard of in the 16th Century. One of my fondest memories, though, is waking up one morning to Dr. Luther smiling brightly at me and saying, “Dear Kate, I never tire of seeing your pigtails on my pillow.”
It’s incredible that 500 years have come and gone. When Dr. Luther nailed his theses to the door, he never intended to split the Roman Catholic Church. He wanted a debate. He wanted reform. He wanted the blatant abuse of church power to stop—no more taking advantage of the people (90 percent of whom were illiterate and had little choice but to accept the church’s teachings without question). Repulsed by the sale of indulgences, he wrote, “Why does not the pope [with his great wealth] build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers.” Most importantly, Luther was convinced that it was faith alone—and not deeds—that led to salvation.
You know the rest of the story. The Pope and other church leaders had no desire to debate their own folly. Instead, they were determined to continue the sale of indulgences, to continue to take advantage of the poor, to continue to do whatever it took to maintain their power and financial status. But the Reformers, Luther, in Germany, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, and later, others like John Calvin and John Knox—they set a fire that could not be quenched. The church was being reformed. It still is!
Many good things came out of the Reformation. The corrupt leaders of the Roman Catholic Church became less powerful as people were exposed to new ways of understanding God and all that is holy. Scripture became available to people in their own languages. Bibles and other books became more plentiful, literacy grew, and schools and universities multiplied.
Clearly, though, the Reformation came at great cost. Faithful people died gruesome deaths for their beliefs. Religious art and religious institutions were destroyed. The unity of the Western church was broken. Sadly, division has become the hallmark of the Protestant movement which is evident by the 9000 Protestant denominations now found throughout the world. We have divided over the meaning and administration of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism; we have divided over forms of church government; we have divided over issues like predestination and free will. In more recent years, we have divided over worship styles; we have divided over the ordination of women as Ministers of Word and Sacrament; we have divided over being welcoming and affirming to all people regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation. We have divided and we keep dividing. This is a far cry from what the Reformers had in mind.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am glad for the work the Reformers did—and for the small part, I played. Still, we have fallen short of bringing God’s kingdom to the earth. We cannot pay lip service to spiritual unity and continue to tear one another apart. We dare not ignore the fact that a shrinking percentage of the community even finds the church relevant anymore.
Truly, there is work yet to be done. It is time for a New Reformation and there is every indication that it has already begun. The Holy Spirit is on the move—challenging us to be courageous—challenging us to seek reconciliation rather than schism and war—challenging us, once again, to take the gospel out into the streets. The body of Christ, the church was never meant to be housed in a building—neither in St. Peter’s Basilica, nor in First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta. Believers and seekers alike enter into a sacred space like this one to worship, to pray, to learn, to grow, and then to return to the world equipped to BE the church. YOU are the church—each and every one of you. YOU are the church when you go shopping at Publix or TJ Maxx. YOU are the church when you go to work or to school and or to a restaurant or to a movie. YOU are the church when you volunteer for Break Bread Together or for other ministries of compassion. YOU are the church when you provide words of love and light on social media rather than disseminate turmoil and fear. YOU are the church when you get involved in matters of justice. YOU are the church when you try to right that which is wrong. YOU are the church when you obey the words of Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of our faith points us toward the future of his Church. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus showed mercy when mercy was needed. Jesus showed compassion when compassion was needed. Jesus spoke the truth when the truth was needed. Jesus embodied the words of Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you are the Reformers of today! You are the Reformers of tomorrow! Go forth with the Spirit as your guide—reformed and always being reformed!
“The Morning Star of Wittenberg” by Susan Verstraete @ www.bulletininserts.org
*Cover Art “Katharina von Bora” in Public Domain.