EMAIL DEVOTIONAL week of Pentecost 24
I spent an hour and a half today with ten church members gathered for a Book Club discussion of the book Martin Luther, written by our American Lutheran historian Martin Marty. It was a fascinating discussion as we marveled at the courage of a simple monk who took on the papacy of his day and the very theology of the Church of which he was a clerical product. It was a challenging discussion also, as we wrestled with some of Luther’s less savory moments involving the moral indiscretions of one of his princes, his apparent disregard for the peasants in Germany who revolted, in part due to his passionate preaching and teaching, and his now well known vitriolic words of condemnation of the Jewish people late in his life.
We found ourselves conflicted. Could we in good conscience endorse and affirm a man who did remarkable things in terms of laying the foundation for the reform of the Catholic Church of his day, while also being duplicitous on some key moral and ethical issues of his day. Luther’s life was a complex mix of highs and lows … of blessings and curses … of faithfulness and sinfulness. It was a bit of a conundrum. And while we landed on the side of affirmation for the life he lived, it was not the kind of endorsement that was untainted by parts of Luther’s life which are regrettable.
Is that not the conundrum of life in general? None of us are purely faithful and good. St. Paul, the biblical writer with whom Luther most identified with, said it this way … I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15) The dilemma of Christian life is the challenge of trying to live with just and honorable intentions, while at the same time being undermined by the sin that is always present within us. Few understood that dilemma better than Luther, who gave it a German name that is filled with gutteral gusto … anfechtung.
So as you continue your Christian walk this week, think of Luther and the complicated history that informs his life. Recognize that while he is rightly considered one of the men who changed the world in which we lived, he was not a perfect man. Neither am I … and neither are you a perfect woman or man. But we walk this journey of faith in our years on earth, striving to embody everything good that God invites us to model in our faith lives, but knowing that at times we will fail. It is complicated and it is disappointing at times. But it is also human and holy in its own way. For a realistic and honest engagement of the sin that stands side by side with our faith, reminds us to regularly fall upon our knees before the God who has made us, asking forgiveness … regeneration of our lives … and the opportunity each morning we arise from bed to remember our baptism, and proclaim ourselves loved and saved by God. There are no better words with which we might equip ourselves for this new day’s opportunities and challenges. Join me in this hopeful journey of faith, prayer and hope, if you will.