Here I Stand

A Homily for Reformation Sunday

Texts: Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is ever reforming the Church and making all things new. Amen.

Worms, spring 1521. The Imperial Diet has brought together papal delegates and powerful bishops with prince-electors, dukes, and all manner of representatives from the across the Holy Roman Empire. Pope Leo X, a sire of Florence’s powerful banking dynasty, the Medici, and Emperor Charles V, who united Spain and the Holy Roman Empire under Hapsburg rule, are working together to crush an insurgent protest movement coming out of a college town in Saxony.

Already the year before Leo wrote Exsurge Domine:

 Arise, O Lord, and judge your cause…for foxes have risen, seeking to destroy the vineyard….The wild boar from the forest strives to destroy it….

It’s flowery language for a bull, an official letter from the pope threatening excommunication unless a certain German monk should recant. In response? That monk, one Martin Luther, burned the document. Quickly thereafter, Leo issued another bull officially excommunicating Luther for rejecting papal authority.

And so it is that we find ourselves in the imperial city of Worms, Luther standing trial with two options: recant of everything and go back to peaceful obscurity in the university, or be banished from the Church and the empire. Given a day to prayerfully consider his response, Luther entered the chamber and defiantly said these famous words:

Continue reading “Here I Stand”

Freedom and the Theology of the Cross

A Homily for Reformation Sunday

Texts: Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, and from the Holy Spirit who has called and renewed the Church throughout the ages. Amen.

Were we able to pluck Martin Luther from the 1500s and drop him into a car in our parking lot or in front of a computer screen today to worship with us, I doubt he would recognize what we are doing here today: broadcasting the service over the radio into people’s cars? While others watch a pre-recorded service on YouTube? First we’d have to explain what a camera is, what a microphone does, the basics of both radio waves and the internal combustion engine, what a computer is, and how a network of various wires connects almost the entire globe.

Continue reading “Freedom and the Theology of the Cross”

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

A Homily for Reformation Day

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has justified us by grace through faith. Amen.

Most of us know this story by now, either from confirmation or history class…especially after the build-up to the five hundredth anniversary festivities two years ago and the Vespers series* we just finished. But once more with feeling: On October 31st, 1517, a German Augustinian friar, deeply disturbed by the sale of indulgences, posted ninety-five theses, or topics for discussion, on the church door in the university city of Wittenberg to spark an academic debate among his fellow scholars. In doing so, Martin Luther launched the Reformation, and the world was forever changed. Of course, the historical reality is much more nuanced than that, with centuries of developments before and after that fateful day, but the October 31st story makes for convenient short hand. Continue reading “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est”

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

A Homily for Reformation Sunday

Texts: Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sets us free. Amen.

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Luther Memorial, Worms

About eight years ago, when my parents were stationed in Germany with the US Army, I had the chance to visit them for an entire summer. On my way to seminary as a United Methodist openly flirting with the Lutheran tradition, I jumped at the chance to visit the numerous historical sites affiliated with the Reformation. Over those months, I traveled to Worms (as in, “the Diet of…” and of “Here I stand, I can do no other” fame), Augsburg (as in “Confession of”), and Speyer (lesser known, but no less important – there, Lutheran leaders protested the imperial ban on Luther’s teachings and earned the name “Protestants” – a moniker that seems to have some staying power).

Touring these sites in 2010, I was shocked to see “500th Anniversary” signs everywhere. At first, I was worried that I had somehow missed something – that, despite studying religion and history and being something of a nerd, I had gotten the wrong date fixed in my head, that I had mixed up the year the Reformation began. It was, after all, by my count a full seven years before the big five-oh-oh.

Rest assured: 1517 is actually the correct date. But the German government, recognizing the epoch-defining nature of Luther’s 95 Theses, decided that one day or even a full year were insufficient. They declared 2008 the start of the Luther Decade and began in earnest preparing for the influx of history buffs, theologians, pastors, curious tourists, and faithful pilgrims who would descend upon these German towns to mark half a millennia of the Reformation. Continue reading “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est”