The spark that inspired the Reformation hundreds of years ago continues to fuel creativity, conversation and thoughtfulness within the church today. We get the chance to honor this ever-reforming spark in the week ahead as we approach an important anniversary.
This coming Tuesday, Oct. 31, is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Reformation refers to an era that that began on Oct. 31, 1517, when a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
So why did this devout religious man nail a document to a church door, and why does it matter for our lives today?
Well, Luther sought to provoke debate. Posting writings in public places like Luther did was a fairly common academic practice at the time. It was a way to express one's ideas and start a larger conversation. It's somewhat like the way we use our Facebook walls today. Forms of communication have certainly changed, but a desire to publicly and thoughtfully share one's opinions is nothing new.
Luther believed in the transformative power of dialogue, and he didn't shy away from differences of opinion. He wanted change within a system that he felt had become corrupt and unjust.
Luther wasn't the first person to have these concerns. There were many reformers before him as well. The young monk believed that meaningful debate would motivate leaders of faith to come to new awarenesses about God, faith, and eternity.
The printing press made possible the massive spread of Luther's ideas. He wrote not exclusively in the language of a scholar (Latin) but also began writing in the language of the people with whom he worked and lived (German). This led to the rapid and wide distribution of his writings.
It would be handy to say that everything was peaches and cream after Luther initially posted his theses, but that was not the case. There was violence and war, and Luther went on to say some really awful things about people of other faith traditions. He was not perfect. He inspired a lot of important change, but some of his ideas were bad and even harmful.
Thankfully, the Reformation didn't end with Luther. The spark kept shining. The pot kept stirring. That's the spirit we honor when we celebrate the Reformation. The story keeps going, and now we're part of it! We carry the spark of the Reformation with us as we continue to form and reform our ideas about what it means to follow Jesus into a changing world.
It has taken a lot of time and work, but we can rejoice in the huge strides that are now healing old wounds between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic church. Not only that, there are now many ecumenical and interfaith groups of all traditions working peacefully and lovingly together. This, too, is part of the ongoing spirit of the Reformation!
One of Luther's many contributions to the world was the writing of a vast number of hymns. In "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word," he wrote, "O Comforter of priceless worth, send peace and unity on earth." In "Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord," he reflected, "Come, holy Light, guide divine, now cause the word of life to shine."
The light of peace and unity shines on even after 500 years. Hopefully the provoking, listening, challenging, and healing is just getting started. Shine on, Spirit of God.