Hope you all had a Happy All Hallow’s Eve! Yesterday was the day Luther stuck the 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, unleashing the world’s greatest meme. The Reformation reminds me of many of the social movements happening today—many which are the release of anger at entrenched systems of profit and oppression. This anniversary marks a time of increasing unease and fury, of greater despair and deeper anger than many years we’ve seen in a while. Interesting that Luther’s theses hammered away at for-profit religion: “Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences…Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences, but God’s wrath.” Greta Thunberg turned down an environmental prize this week: “The climate movement does not need any more awards...The gap between what the science says …. (and) the politics that run the Nordic countries is gigantic. And there are still no signs whatsoever of the changes required.”
Look out for indulgences—they were originally meant to augment the merits awarded from the infinite treasury of heaven to cover the debts of sinners on earth. The first of the 95 Theses rejected this idea of faith as a form of banking and accounting, and rather started with the mystery of repentance. Repentance in the New Testament really means turning around or turning away—making a change of life and direction. Sometimes we can’t make that change on our own. The fundamental change, away from the curdling of our selves to growth in God can only be done by God’s grace. So we celebrate that God does come to us to change us.
We call people that God has changed saints. In the Lutheran tradition we do not hold that some people are holier than others—all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we say. There are people whose lives we hold up as exemplary, but we should never believe that any person is flawless or perfect. People are often shocked that their heroes and idols have sides that are not merely bad, but awful. Lutherans would be shocked if people did not have awful sides as well as good ones. Mr. Rogers, for example is a genuinely shocking example of goodness, but even he struggled with worker’s rights and had to evolve on his views of sexual orientation. We work our way toward saintliness throughout our lives, and we don’t get there till after death.
This Sunday we celebrate the saints—All Saints. We remember the people we love who have died, and we lift them up in prayer to God. And we will ask God to help us as we walk toward sainthood. We get to turn and walk towards the cross, and through the gates of death to eternal life. This is a powerful Sunday, when the bonds of the world lose their power over us, and the grace of God takes over. Hope you can make it.