2023-10-29 Reformation Sunday
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
Places of significance. There’s been many in the history of humanity! Think about your own life. Your parents met somewhere. Their parents met somewhere too. And without that place, you wouldn’t be here! My mom and dad met at the Grant Hall here in Moose Jaw and, viola! Here I am! My kids’ parents met at Concordia University in Edmonton and viola! There they are! All of us have this same kind of significant place attached to our history. This is something that quite literally all people from all walks of life share in common. And when we think about significant spots on earth, all the travel agencies will be quick to point out the obvious ones: Machu Picchu, the Egyptian Pyramids, Stonehenge, the Colosseum in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens, Mac the Moose, you get the idea. These are all places of significance because likewise, something amazing happened there.
And that’s precisely what we are exploring today. We have to rewind history about 500 years or so and we run smack dab into Wittenberg, Germany. It’s name literally means “White Mountain” and there probably aren’t many more places on planet earth that have been more important and affected more lasting change in our world. October 31, 1517, Wittenberg became the place that kicked the Protestant Reformation into high gear. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther nailed his now infamous 95 Theses to the Castle Church door. 95 things that were wonky with the Roman Catholic Church. Dr. Luther had high hopes that this document would spur on discussion and “a clean up on aisle 9” of those strange doctrines and practices that had crept into the medieval Roman church. But instead, Wittenberg became forever entrenched as the place where the breakaway Protestant Christians were born! And viola! Here we are!
October 31, ‘All-Hallow’s Eve.’ It wasn’t about pumpkins and candy back then. No no. It was the eve of All Saints’ Day on November 1st. The day that all the good Catholics would be making their way to the church to commemorate and remember the holy ones who had come before them in the faith. And instead, they get an awakening. The faith of the saints isn’t about earning brownie points with a big angry God Who wants to damn you to hell every day! It’s not about paying Him off with indulgences like some crooked prison guard down at the slammer! It’s not about trying to acquire a 5 gallon pail full of merit from the saints or the Mother of our Lord! Rather, it was about knowing from the Scriptures about the merciful and gracious heart of God Who sent our Saviour Jesus Christ to win salvation for us.
But the Church of Rome had a slick scheister named Johann Tetzel. He went around from town to town drumming up sales for the church’s indulgence business. You buy your way into heaven, with these indulgences. What a deal! All the red in your ledger was wiped out as soon as you bought your ticket to the celestial paradise. But wait! There’s more! You could also unlock the pearly gates for grandma and grandpa too – for the right price! But you gotta call now, right now, because we can’t do this all day! Tetzel even had the marketing slogan all worked out too: “Once the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!” So let the sales begin! These poor, uneducated peasants didn’t know any better. If the church promised that uncle Friedrich and auntie Hertha could be sprung from purgatory with money, then it must be true! It made more money in one day than 12 fowl suppers! Now, who’s going to pitch in and help spring cousin Üter?!
This is the kind of nonsense that Luther wrote against and spoke out about. And as you can guess, it went over like a grenade in a bucket of oatmeal with the establishment, cutting into their indulgence sale profits big time. The fall out at Wittenberg took Luther to another place, the Wartburg castle. This is the place where Luther went into hiding under Prince Frederick the Wise’s witness protection program. Martin Luther was now excommunicated from the church. He grew a beard and took on the name Junker Jörg or Knight George. He was public enemy number 1. But Luther didn’t just sit back eating Cheetos and watching the Roughriders lose, over and over and over again! No, no! Luther went to work big time in that castle whose name means “Watchtower Fortress.” Besides further sparring with his theological opponents, Luther did perhaps his greatest work: translating the New Testament into German. The Word of God was now in the language of the common people, just like the original koine Greek of the New Testament that was intended to be. And, with the advent of the Tik-Tok of the 1500s, the newly invented Printing Press allowed sharing and spreading the Gospel far and wide. Luther’s Bible became the uniting touchstone of the German language even till this very day.
But we wouldn’t have Wittenberg or the Wartburg if it wasn’t for another place of far greater importance: Calvary, in Latin; Golgotha, in Greek. No matter what language you use, it means the ‘place of the skull’. This was the place that made all the difference. This was the place just outside the city walls of Jerusalem where Jesus our Lord was crucified. Here it is where He brought to fruition the ancient Gospel from Genesis 3:15 “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The serpent’s skull would be crushed once and for all, at that place called the skull. And this is exactly what our Lord Jesus did for you and for me and for all mankind. From yet another place, the Garden of Eden, came the promise of the Messiah. Even though we poor miserable sinners warranted nothing but wrath and judgment, instead we see promise. Instead, we see hope from God. And it is exactly this promise and hope that springs forth for us from the cross of golgotha. But wait! There’s more! It springs forth again from yet another place, the empty tomb of our resurrected Messiah. Risen from the dead, death is defeated. The skull is crushed. Life reigns. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Free indeed. This is our Lord’s promise by grace alone, through faith alone. The Son makes us free. Not our money. Not our works. Not church-sold indulgences. Not anything else in all creation. Christ alone gives us this promise. And He gives it to us here, in this place, His house. His sanctuary. In the very places He has promised to be: in the Word and Water of our Baptism. In, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. In the pages of the Holy Scriptures that make us wise for salvation. In the love you have and show to your brothers and sisters in Christ. These are the places where the love of Christ is revealed. “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom 3:22-25). Thanks be to God who has done such marvelous things for us in this place, now and forever more. Amen!