How do you say “Thank You” for 500 years of your heavenly Father’s grace showered upon you as a Lutheran Christian? This question is rhetorical, inviting a variety of appropriate (or inappropriate) answers. But how do YOU say “THANK YOU” to your God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for 500 years of protecting, sustaining, guiding, empowering, forgiving grace to you as a Lutheran Christian? This question is not rhetorical, but deeply personal. How will YOU say “Thank You” … How will YOU offer your praise … express your love … deepen your faith, explore your real understanding, appreciation, joy and wonder at what FIVE HUNDRED YEARS of the Spirit’s daily salvation means to you … to Christianity … to humankind …?
How long? … As long as Abraham to the Exodus … as long as Moses to David … 200 years longer than King Solomon’s Temple stood … more than twice as long as the United States has existed … three times the years since our church body was formed … 500 Years from the quiet tapping on the door of the Fortress Church in Wittenberg to the sometimes quiet, sometimes tumultuous formation and influence of the Lutheran “Theology of the Cross” on every Christian denomination in the 21st Century world … and the creation of cultures of freedom and security for millions who never “darken the door” of a church.
How do YOU say “THANK YOU”? How do you say “THANK YOU” not only for yourself, but for your ancestors and your descendants; for the transformation of humanity through the Biblical, Reformation Gospel and womb to what history knows as the “Enlightenment”?
How do you say Thank You? Adding to those occurring to you, please allow me to make some suggestions. These moments and prayers of gratitude might well cluster around 3 of the most memorable Reformation Headlines, Grace – Faith – Scripture. The suggestion that follows is as immediate as your front door, as close as your congregation, as distant as a foreign land, or an unknown language.
Both Saints Peter and Paul speak of “growing in grace”. This “growth” is not simply human and natural, it is spiritual and intentional. Spiritual growth develops only in connection with the Holy Spirit. There is no moment or space in the entire universe(s) in which the always creating Holy Spirit of God is not present. However, the Holy Spirit is present to us and for us only in those places and spaces where He has promised, “I will be there!” “My Name will be there!” Whether in Old Testament or New Testament the Spirit’s promise is, “Wherever the life-giving Word of My Grace and My Truth are present – Sinai to Bethlehem – Here I Am!” Nowhere is this more powerful than when the saints gather in, around and under the Word of life, Who is Jesus Christ.
Nowhere in all of Holy Scripture does the lifeblood of the Reformation flow more powerfully than in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The Word of Christ is both inspiration and foundation for this letter written to prepare for Paul’s “4th Missionary Journey” to Rome, Spain and beyond . It also became for Luther and the Reformation the bridge from fear to faith, from near despair to triumphant confidence, from brooding anger to transforming love. The Epistle to the Romans might well be called, the “Catechism for the Mature Lutheran”, both because of its depth and difficulty and its breadth and vision.
In a brief, but historic insight into Romans, Luther revealed later in life his struggles with Romans 1:17, ”The righteous shall live by faith”, and the great comfort he experienced when the larger context of this passage in the prophet Habakuk (2:4), “the one who through faith is righteous shall live”, led him to know that righteousness is shaped by the Cross. These introductory words in Romans inspired him to write “I was being altogether born anew; entering Paradise itself through open gates.” Luther also confessed that “I became more skillful in my life, faith and teaching as I studied, prepared and taught at the Wittenberg university and seminary the Epistle to the Romans”.
The Sunday Scripture Lessons for this year – read by virtually all major Christian denominations – provide a most interesting and, I believe, most blessed gift to the Church in 2017, this “500th year”. The 2nd Lesson, usually read from one of the New Testament Epistles, is, this year, a continuous reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. And although not every word of the Epistle is read publicly, virtually the entire Letter is covered in the 14 weeks of Summer; this year June 11 – September 17.
I can offer no better suggestion, encouragement or personally fulfilling way to thank our heavenly Father for His gift of 500 years of Reformation Grace than to invest 14 Sunday mornings, 9:15 – 10:15 immersed in the reading, reflection and vision of St. Paul, Dr. Martin Luther and their “Lord and Giver of Life”, the Holy Spirit.
Your “Thank You” will require the following:
- You will need to reorganize your Sunday morning not around the leisure of 10:30 am. But the discipline of 9:15 am. (The coffee and doughnuts soften the blow.)
- You will need to bring your own Bible for notes, preparation and future reading. (If you do not own a good study Bible I will either loan one to you or direct you to a sound purchase. We can also order for you through Concordia Publishing Company the recently published Concordia Study Bible
- Be prepared for a little hard, but deeply satisfying work. It has been suggested that whereas Jesus played with children and taught adults, in the contemporary church we have completely reversed His process … teaching children and playing with adults. Ages: High School and above
- It is understood that summer vacations may mean absences. Understood and excused. However “makeup work” will be available.
- A college/university course of this importance for a Lutheran Christian … a course in Romans should be not an elective, but a “Core Curriculum Course” … and of this quality would cost hundreds of dollars. The only cost is your smiling face each Sunday, June – September.
- Your prayers … prayers for yourself, for your fellow students, for Zion and for the dynamic of Lutheran Christianity around the world.
- A revisiting of our Lord’s conversations with His dear friends Mary and Martha of Bethany. As Mary sat rapt in the Word of Jesus, Martha gently complained that she was left to prepare dinner by herself … no small challenge. In words that have reordered the Church’s priorities, through the centuries, Jesus responded to an anxious and perhaps irritated Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the best and this can never be taken away from her.”
This summer, the precious gift of 500 Years of Reforming Grace and the treasure of Romans offer both the time, opportunity and courtesy to say, “Thank You” and the time, opportunity and courtesy to choose the “best that can never be taken away from you”.
–Pastor Howard Patten