In his formal lectures on the Psalms at Wittenberg University Martin Luther reflected on the thankful heart as he taught his favorite psalm, Psalm 118, “Thankfulness is a virtue and practice unique to real Christianity. It is the Christian’s worship of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, at its highest. Christians thank God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. This is a value and virtue unattainable by any other creation on earth … To thank God with all the heart is a gift and a treasure – a gift which the Holy Spirit teaches.” … “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good … and His steadfast love endures forever.” “These words (repeated often in Old Testament Scriptures) teach us our highest sacrifice and what pleases our God most; for we cannot offer Him a richer service than a heart and a tongue filled with thanksgiving.”
Luther’s reflections on the Psalm represent the simplest and the highest expression of the Christian’s (most especially the Lutheran Christian’s response) to 500 years of both the gifts of the Reformation and to the Spirit’s preservation of these gifts to us in this our day. Regardless of denominational identity and regardless of personal awareness, recognition or gratitude, the foundational graces of the Reformation – “Sola Gratia! … Grace Alone, “Sola Fide!” … Faith Alone, “Sola Scriptura!”… Scripture Alone – have shaped and continue to shape, have inspired and continue to inspire, have blessed and continue to bless the whole Christian church on earth.
As a final and fitting close to our 500th Reformation Anniversary observances at Zion we will – God willing – devote six Sundays, October 15 – November 19, to liturgies of thanksgivings for the Grace and Gifts of the Reformation; Graces and Gifts that, without the Reformation, Western Christianity today would be either little more than an empty tradition or at best only a pale imitation of Jesus Christ’s Church; a religion empty of both the presence and the power of His Gospel.
This anniversary year at Zion …
We remembered Luther’s death in Christ and his final words, “We are beggars that is sure” Sunday, February 19, with “Brats, Beer and Luther” and a showing of the “Luther” film;
We celebrated A 6 week Lenten Sunday Service, Sermon and study series on Luther’s “Small Catechism”;
We studied in a Summer Adult Bible series Luther’s favorite Epistle, the Letter to the Romans;
We viewed and discussed the 2017 “Luther” documentary in Tuesday evening Central Bible Study;
We gathered throughout the year Sunday mornings for continuing presentations of “Luther the Man” documentary;
We will gather for lunch after the Reformation Sunday Eucharist, October 29, for
the introduction of a new documentary/movie “Luther” followed by the viewing sections of the movie and having discussion the following 3 Sundays in the morning education hour at 9:15 am.
Each Fall at Zion we have set aside 4-6 weeks to focus particularly on our heavenly Father’s gifts to us, especially the Gift “inexpressible” as Paul loves to speak of his Savior, Jesus. As we lift up and share God’s gifts to us we also examine together our daily thanksgivings, gratitudes and sacrifices to Him for His mission throughout the world, His ministry to our community and one another and the support for the pastoral and communal life of Zion. Without the sacrificial giving of our family members Zion ceases to serve, to praise, to pray, to live.
In the lives of God’s people there are the common thanksgivings that grow from a grateful heart for the countless gifts that sustain our daily lives and loves. There is also, however, in these weeks of a stewardship emphasis the more intentional value and love from the grateful hearts we share together for the quiet sustaining gifts our heavenly Father gives through His Church. What is the eternal value you would place on the grace of your Baptism – on the grace of the sacred Liturgy – on the privilege of prayer – on the gift of the Holy Scriptures – on the faith-sustaining feast of the Holy Supper – on the power of your Priesthood?
This year as we conclude a “once in 500 year” remembrance and celebration we renew our thanksgivings for what? … another 500 years? … another year of Zion? (2018 marks 120 years of prayer and praise as Zion congregation and 95 years of worship in a simple beautiful sanctuary) … an eternal life with the “Giver of every good and perfect gift? All this and much, much more. But in this “Bi-Millenial” year as in every year we thank our giving God in Christ first and always, as Luther reminds us, for the Holy Spirit’s Gift of a grateful heart!
-Pastor Howard Patten