The Re-formed Life
October 31, 2009. World Series Game Three, Citizen’s Bank Park. Series tied 1-1. Let’s see, anything else we should know about the day? Oh yeah, Halloween. Porch light off, door locked by 7:57 p.m.
October 31 is also Reformation Day as we remember that All Saints Eve day, October 31, 1517, when the young monk, Martin Luther, posted his list of grievances against the Medieval church on the chapel door at the university in Wittenberg. If there is any date from which to mark the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, October 31, 1517, is that date.
By 1517 Luther had come to see that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way the church presented the gospel. There was no freedom, no joy, no hope in a message encumbered with works of penitence and indulgences sold to the highest bidder. The system was rotten and it smelled of decay. But Luther’s struggle was more than with institutional corruption or theological error. It was a deeply personal struggle. Young man Luther struggled with the lack of freedom, joy and hope in his own life. “But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn't be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God,” he wrote later.
It was not until 1519 that Luther found the joy and confidence he so desired, the peace to calm his troubled heart. Luther tells how he finally found grace through his study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Romans 1:17, to be exact. “I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: "The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: 'The just person lives by faith.'" I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel… All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. I exalted this sweetest word of mine, "the justice of God," with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise.”
Luther’s own life changed dramatically after what has come to be known as his Tower Experience. It was re-formed to soften the hard edges and sharp corners of a life lived under the threat of condemnation.
You and I live in a world of systems, systems that tend to promise much, but return little. Suburbia, the career ladder, learning and teaching to the test, keeping busy to hold despair at bay. Of themselves they cannot deliver. Chronic stress is the mark of our age.
Our lives, like the life of the young German monk, need to be re-formed. The hard edges and sharp corners need to be rounded and the crumbling foundations rebuilt. Rotting timbers and sagging floors must be replaced. Only the gospel has the power to re-form our lives into something beautiful and pleasing to God, something that brings joy, hope and peace into our worlds.
Happy Re-formation Day!