Here is today's sermon based on the principles of the Reformation and, for bible reference, see Romans 3: 19-28


One person’s ‘hero’ is another person’s ‘trouble-maker’.
Jesus Christ is considered a hero to Christians and even many others,...
but to the religious leaders of his day he was a trouble-maker.
We consider people like Nathan Hale and Thomas Paine to be heroes of the American Revolution,….
but to the English crown they were trouble-makers.
Martin Luther King Jr. is considered a hero to most Americans and he even has his own national holiday,..
but to many at the time he was a trouble-maker.

So, on this Reformation Sunday that marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we note one of the most significant ‘hero’ / ‘trouble-makers’ ever:  Martin Luther, the German monk and pastor and professor…..and revolutionary.
The revolutionary spark that he lit not only changed Christianity forever but it changed western civilization and, consequently, the whole world.

As both a teacher and a pastor Luther studied the scriptures and church history.
He became a sort of expert in the university town of Wittenberg where he lived.
But he was not the ultimate authority about things concerning faith and the church.
That role was held by the ultimate leader of the Church in Rome called The Pope.

For the most part, Luther had always deferred to the authority of The Pope.
But, under the Pope’s approval, Luther saw the local church doing things that troubled his conscience very much.
In order to raise money to build a grand basilica in Rome, The Pope permitted a plan where his minions peddled promises of heaven to those who paid for them.

More specifically, a guy named Tetzel, was selling what the church called ‘indulgences’.
Indulgences were certificates one could buy that assured grace for dead loved ones.
Instead of wallowing in purgatory a long time, an indulgence guaranteed them an out.
The church assured that, with an indulgence, loved ones would be elevated to heaven. 

Luther saw this happening and two things began to make him growl inside.
First and foremost, he knew that this activity and concept had no basis in scripture.
It was not something the Bible or the historical church ever suggested or endorsed.
And secondly, Luther’s compassionate side saw his poor peasant flock being exploited out of what little money they had to begin with.

Consequently, on the evening before All Souls Day (when the church asked to remember and pray for the souls of the dead), Luther took action.
That evening, the story goes, Luther posted a series of thought provoking questions and challenges called ‘theses’ on the door of the Wittenberg Church in town.
This was a common activity done so that theology students and professors could engage in discussion or debate over the ‘theses’, or topics, that were posted.

What made Luther’s act so radical and revolutionary were two things.
One was, instead of a few issues listed, Luther posted a total of 95 potential subjects.
Many of them were about various church practices that Luther questioned or disputed.
But what made such a stink was his specific critique of the selling these indulgences.


The rest of the story, as they say, is history: Luther’s little dispute became a big battle.
As the church and all its power at the time went after him, Luther received help from the local princes in Germany who had political fights with Rome and protected him.
And, with the help of the invention of the printing press by a man named Gutenberg, Luther’s writings and protests were spread far and wide as revolutionary fervor grew.

Soon almost all of Europe was embattled in a conflict between those faithful to the Pope and the Church in Rome, and those who saw validity in Luther’s arguments.
The end result was that the Protestant Reformation created a massive splintering of the Western Church in Europe into many factions which continued over the centuries.
Today, there are probably more Protestant Churches than there are car models to buy.

It’s important for us to note that since then, the Church of Rome has admitted that many of its practices at that time were flawed.
And, through the Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches have found agreement in many areas of theology and church practice.
It’s also been my experience that Lutheran churches and pastors today, rather than demonize the Catholic Church, mostly seek to find common ground and cooperation.

But the primary issue of the Reformation was not just about selling indulgences.
It was about a much larger issue which was reflected in that practice.
The question was to define how God’s grace (i.e. love and forgiveness) is found.
Is it, as Luther said, grounded in faith in Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross,…or is it, as the church was saying, achieved by what good we can do in life to earn it?

I have to say that in 20 years of ministry I’ve heard a lot of Protestants still talk about trying to do good to earn God’s love.
Luther would be sorry to know that a good many Lutherans in thinking and talking about heaven, stilll still say things like “Well, I hope I have been good enough”.

I think we’re all set up to believe throughout life: in school, in jobs, in our relationships, that we’ll get approval and sometimes love, only if we do good.
Most relationships are conditional like that, with an If - Then proposition to them.
If you pass the test, then you get a good grade.
If you excel at your job, then you get a raise or we keep you on.

What Luther learned studying the word of God is that Jesus’ message and death is about a different and non-conditional proposition that says …. ‘Because - Therefore
Jesus said, because of God’s love, therefore I’ll die for your sins and you’ll be forgiven.
It’s right there in the reading today from Romans and in many other places of the bible.

The whole Jesus story is about God’s grace and love that comes to us, undeserved.
Its about his death on the cross and having faith in that ultimate meaning and purpose.
Because if all we’ve got to to do is be pretty good, then who needs Jesus Christ? 
That dying on the cross wasn’t necessary if we just do good and keep our noses clean.

The problem with that formula, of course, is that none of us can do this.
We do things that are out of wack with what God wants, every day, every hour maybe.
That is why we have Confession and Forgiveness at the start of every worship service.
To bring us back to Jesus remembering that, on our own, we’re guilty as hell.
If you wanna try to gain God’s grace on your own effort and good works, then good luck to you but Jesus himself says you’ll be like a dog chasing its tail.

This issue in Luther’s conscience caused him to become the trouble-maker he was.
His revolt was grounded on solely trusting Christ’s sacrificial death, and nothing more.
That we know we’re OK with God through the death and the blood of Christ is why red is the color today and why so many Protestant church doors are painted that color.

As I said, Luther’s revolution changed, not just the Church, but the world itself.
Society was changed in ways that have reverberated throughout history.
Because of the Reformation’s affect on the world,….
The church had less total control over people’s lives and, thus, had to merit it’s value. 
Authority was expected to justify itself with more than just saying ‘because I said so’.
It became acceptable to apply logic and reason to question and challenge authority.
The Bible was elevated to an authoritative document, read and understood by many.
Status quo of many things in life began to be examined and consequently challenged.
One man or woman with a conscience became as important as the majority in control.
So that concepts like individual human rights and freedom were realized and helped lead to things like the Enlightenment in France and the American revolution.

Thus, our nation was founded by trouble-makers whose ideals grew from Reformation thinking that honored the principles that it inspired.
And the Reformation made possible subsequent progress towards valuing freedom and civil rights, by other trouble makers both here at home and around the world.

But most importantly, the Reformation affected how, not only Protestants but also many Catholics and people of other faiths and ‘non-believers’, think about God.
It reminded us that, at the heart of who God is, we find One who is not a tyrant master that waits to give grace like a dog trainer give treats to pooch that does good.
But a merciful and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, who loves and is ready to pardon even the worst sinner.

So if you’ve ever been in trouble or treated unjustly or sick or suffered for any reason,… 
if you’ve ever done things wrong that you needed to feel forgiven for,… 
if you’ve ever needed to feel loved or have someone to talk to who understands,….
and, whenever the time comes that you’re about to die,…
Luther and the Reformation opened the world’s eyes to see the truth that Jesus taught and brought to us - that we can trust a God who’ll be there for us in all those things.
Because every human being’s value and soul is not in the hands of some outside authority, be a church or a government,… but in the hands of a loving God.

Amen.