Today Martin Luther is commemorated as a renewer of the church.
As part of the tribe that bears Luther’s name, we have a special relationship with his thought and his legend. Our Lutheran Church rests on confessional documents that outline our understanding of Christian doctrine. “Lutheran” at first was a nickname for the reform movement summarized in the Augsburg Confession (which Luther drafted) and other documents.
Still, Martin Luther as a human being casts a long shadow over the whole Christian world, over Western culture for that matter.
Words tumbled out of Martin Luther like a mighty waterfall. His enemies could not ignore him or deny his genius or discredit the importance of his writing, as much as they tried. It was as if Luther somewhat unwittingly smashed a wall in the Church of Rome and created a new wing of the Christian faith, one that did not acknowledge the authority of the priests and their hierarchy and sacramental system.
After Luther’s death the main division he started became a permanent part of the great “house” of the Christian church. Over the centuries Protestant denominations moved in and occupied rooms in the new wing so that now the Christian church is a sprawl, some would say a tragic and confusing splintering.
As Lutherans, how should we regard Martin Luther?
I believe that through the massively brilliant, vulgar, and boorish Martin Luther the spirit of God moved with gentle authority.
Luther was a Christmas Christian. The doctrine of the nativity reminds us of the sacredness of creation among other things.
Luther had special concern for children. At least some of our culture’s keeping of Christmas as a holiday for children could be traced to Martin Luther.
Luther held Mary in high esteem. After Luther, the Protestant churches locked Mary away somewhere and forgot about her.
Luther was a musician and he loved music. He wrote hymns and raised music to a nearly sacramental level of importance. As water, bread and wine bear Christ in the sacraments, so music is the means by which we best hear the word and testify to our faith. The Lutheran church is a musical church, a singing church. When our children study music and learn to play instruments they are equipping themselves for a life of faith. Music is part of our Lutheran heritage.
Earthy, foul-mouthed Luther was a child of the earth, a sinner through and through, and a child of God forever through his baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ.
A prayer of Martin Luther
Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.I am a sinner; you are upright. With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give. Amen.