Sermon: 2014 Theses

 

Sunday 26 October 2014, 10:30 am Service
Reformation Sunday

I’ve been worried lately that you all don’t get enough fire-and-brimstone preaching from me. The problem is, I don’t do fire-and-brimstone very well. So instead, I’m going to let you see the master: Johann Tetzel:

So, on October 31st, 1517, Luther posted 95 theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, in what is now Germany. We got to see it in the clip. This moment is widely regarded as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

But Luther was not trying to start the Protestant Reformation. In fact, as you might guess from the portrayal by Joseph Fiennes he wasn’t really trying to upset the church hierarchy. There’s a reason that they’re known as the 95 Theses and not the 95 Complaints or the 95 Protestations. What do you use a thesis statement for? You use a thesis when you are writing a paper for school, right? Luther is a monk, he is priest, but he is also a professor. And when he posts his 95 Theses and sends courtesy copies to the bishop and archbishop, he is trying to start an academic debate.

So, what is a thesis statement? …. A thesis is a statement that you intend to argue. A thesis at the beginning of a paper is the main point of the paper, the thing that you are going to use the rest of the paper to try to prove.

Well, Luther kind of skips the arguing part and he just writes 95 different theses. He expects other scholars and clerics to make arguments for or against them. He wants to start a debate.

Several of the theses are rather technical. “12. In former days, the canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution was pronounced; and were intended to be tests of true contrition.” “20. Therefore the pope, in speaking of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean “all” in the strict sense, but only those imposed by himself.” Those, and many others of the theses have to do with indulgences.

Interestingly, Luther does not come out and say that indulgences are worthless, like he does in the movie. He just wants to put limits on indulgences. He thinks that other forms of repentance are to be preferred. For example, thesis 43: “Christians should be taught that one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy, does a better action than if he purchases indulgences.” Or thesis 44: “Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by indulgences, he does not become a better man, but only escapes certain penalties.” Or thesis 45: “Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person, but passes him by although he gives money for indulgences, gains no benefit from the pope’s pardon, but only incurs the wrath of God.”

Luther also doesn’t want to the poor to be taken advantage of. Thesis 46: “Christians should be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they are bound to retain what is only necessary for the upkeep of their home, and should in no way squander it on indulgences.” Or thesis 50: “Christians should be taught that, if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers, he would rather the church of St. Peter were reduced to ashes than be built with the skin, flesh, and bones of the sheep.”

Luther is very upset at the abuses of indulgence preachers like Tetzel. He takes the position that the pope must not know what these preachers are doing, because if he did, he would certainly stop them. He is concerned that the poor are being squeezed. He’s concerned that the word of God is being neglected in favor of indulgences. He is concerned that indulgences are leading people to neglect the traditional forms of repentance, like confession and pardon.

So he writes these theses. Some are reminders of old truths. Some are counters to the practices of the day. A few are even questions.So, I want to ask you, what is your thesis for the church today? What message is it that you think the church needs to hear and debate? Maybe it’s a reminder of an ancient truth. Maybe it is pointing out the way the church’s current practices have become hurtful. Maybe it is a realignment of our priorities. What is your thesis for the church today?


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  • “Plays nicely with others” should be on the report cards of all churches and religions.
  • To love and serve one another.
  • The church should be an example of a lifestyle that cares about others, reaches out, and teaches about the responsibilities of receiving grace.
  • Love for neighbor means love for every neighbor.
  • Get going, break free, and welcome change!
  • Help all people. God’s Love is for all.
  • What happens inside this building is not as important as what happens outside of it.
  • I propose that music in church uplift–I propose also that said music move the body, mind, and spirit.
  • That the church should reach beyond its walls to embrace other persons who have difficulty understanding God’s Word and not hide behind closed doors or ancient rites that may have lost their ongoing meaning.
  • The church should reveal God’s universal truth so that all can be aware and embrace it, without confusion of inconsistencies, obscurities, and contradictions, and especially the myths that are so difficult for most of us to accept.
  • Total equality among people and churches. No Separation.
  • Don’t apologize for the faith; indeed, proclaim it with conviction in the secular world! “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Triune God.”
  • Worldwide Love to ALL people.
  • Understanding of one another’s needs.
  • The we be happy in Christ this coming new year.
  • Role of the church in election process–recommend local, state, and national?
  • The church is influenced by the culture in which it is located. We are drawn by the grace of our Lord to study and know and act out the grace of God by denouncing: racism, classism, sexism, ageism.
  • The church should encourage works of charity and kindness to help the needy, the poor, the elderly, and those who are struggling to survive.

Reformation is not just about what happened in 1517. The spirit of Reformation must continue today. We must continue to examine ourselves as the church. We must continue to ask in what ways we have been distracted, how we have lost our way, how we have failed to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So as we mark what Martin Luther did 497 years ago, we also take up the gospel call to reflect, to question, to protest, and to repent. May God continue to lead us in the way that we should go.

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