Reformation Sunday (10/27/2013)

Lessons:Jeremiah 31:31-34 Psalm 46 (7) Romans 3:19-28 St. John 8:31-36

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”  34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

St. John 8:31-36. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Reformation and Stewardship

There is something disturbing about celebrating Reformation Sunday and Stewardship Sunday on the same day. As a colleague of mine used to say, “The Lutheran movement had its beginnings in a bad stewardship program.”

Pope Leo X (1513-1521) was in the midst of the Roman church’s greatest building project: the demolition and rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Upon his election, Leo inherited an overflowing Vatican treasury, but his appetite for war and art soon depleted the Vatican’s funds. In 1517, Leo contracted with Johann Tetzel, the son of a successful German banker, to sell indulgences, the proceeds of which would help to finish the rebuilding of the basilica. Preying largely on uneducated peasants (many of whom lived in and around Wittenberg, where Martin Luther was a University Professor), Tetzel would go from town to town preaching and speaking and announcing that if his listeners purchased “indulgences” they could lessen the sentences their deceased loved ones were serving in purgatory. It is said that Tetzel would cry out, "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs."

Martin Luther had by this time already become disenchanted with the leadership of the church in Rome, but Tetzel’s arrival seemed to push him over the edge. He wrote a document that has come to be known as the “Ninety-Five Theses” — ninety-five complaints about the way the church was being run in his day (#53 being that the Pope had no authority whatsoever to grant pardons on God’s behalf, in return for financial contributions). Luther’s contention was that the church was withholding Christ from the people by selling salvation. Leo X couldn’t have disagreed more.

Luther posted these “Ninety-Five Theses” on October 31, 1517. By January 3, 1521 Pope Leo had excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church, and the Protestant Reformation had begun.

Ever since then, we Lutherans have been a bit touchy about financial stewardship. It is important to us that nobody interpret stewardship the way Pope Leo and Johann Tetzel did. God does not dole out forgiveness (or anything else!) to those who are financial contributors. In Christ, we are free from from having to purchase God’s grace.

We think about financial support of ministry from the exact opposite direction. All that we receive from God, we receive as a gift. Our lives. Our faith. Our families. Our health. Our homes… The list goes on and on. So why do we encourage each other to grow in the amount of ourselves that we offer to support Christian ministry? Because that is how we thank God for all that we have received. And this changes everything! We give, not out of a sense of obligation and fear (to escape God’s judgement and wrath), but out of a sense of gratitude and joy (to celebrate God’s generosity). Our giving is an expression of the delight we feel at being children of God. The more gratitude and joy we experience, the more generous we become, and the more delight we know.

Now that sounds like a good stewardship program! Maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to celebrate Reformation Sunday and Stewardship Sunday on the same day. Why don’t you join us at church this weekend? There will be plenty of joy to go around. Guaranteed!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. From what did Jesus seek to free his listeners in the first century?
  2. How were the oppressive financial campaigns of the 16th Century similar to this?
  3. Why was Luther enraged with the demands Leo X and Johann Tetzel placed on believers?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I been tempted to believe that my generosity influenced God’s love for me?
  2. What stories can I think of in the Bible that speak to generosity?
  3. Is my support of Christian ministry a fitting response to how grateful I feel to God?