Last night we waited in our driveway as crowds of kids jumped out of utility trailers made up to look like hay wagons and ran screaming and laughing through the yard to get one more piece of candy. Just one, we said. Only one, some people are giving out two apiece. Ok, thank you, happy Halloween. We must of heard it over a hundred times last night, happy Halloween. We were happy and the kids were happy to dress up and get some treats. Apparently lost on this day was the fact that it was a day to remember Reformation Day, too. Most of the churches in this Southern Baptist churched (with a smattering of independents, charismatics and Catholics) town held their own "trunk or treat" celebrations where people decorate their car trunks and trucks for Halloween and fill them with candy. Kids went from trunk to trunk gathering the candy while listening to Christian music or a Halloween themed devotion, perhaps. It's a big night down here in our little town in Florida. Nearly every church has to have their own harvest party in the weeks leading up to Halloween. There is food, and of course fellowship and a short sermon (shorter than Sunday's anyway).
No where did I pick up a hint of the Reformation. It could be because Baptists are not big on the Reformation and proudly are a non - creedal people. So, what Martin Luther nailed to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany on that October 31 in 1517 is forgotten much as Luther himself except, of course, among Lutherans. Sadly, the current state of Christianity in our culture is seen in the way Halloween is celebrated in the churches and the Reformation is forgotten.
Luther was born in 1483 ten years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He took early training to be a lawyer and then stunned his parents with his decision to join the Black Friars, an austere Augustinian order of monks. The monks stressed confession of sins, Scripture reading, the desert fathers and the rigorous practice of the spiritual disciplines. Luther was deeply impressed and troubled by the picture of God as Divine Judge for he was ever mindful of how far he fell short of God's demand for righteous living. The great discovery of his life - and ours by the way - was justification by grace. Luther never got over God's Grace and he taught we never should either. For many Christians who were raised in mostly graceless church settings the discovery of Luther's discovery is transformational.
Luther's other big contribution to Christian faith was the distinction he made between a theology of the cross and a theology of glory. It basically comes down to who are we trusting for our salvation. While we might say, God, it often, in practice, looks more like our good deeds, i.e., going to church, tithing, regular prayers, etc. What we do for God takes priority over what God has done and is doing for us. We stand before God based on what Christ has done for us, not what we have done or not done was Luther's message.
Luther taught we find Christ through the cross. That is where God is most fully known. There we die to ourselves, our wisdom, pride, and accomplishments, and are made right with God. The cross is a scandal, it is God's judgment against every effort of our own to build a successful life.
Luther was far from perfect - which he would easily admit - and he did not tell us all we need to know about the Gospel but there is no better place to learn of Grace than Luther and the teachers who have followed in his tradition.
In honor of Reformation Day think on God's gifts of grace and offer grateful prayers. Make a practice of humility which was a big deal to the Reformers, Luther and John Calvin. Seek in your daily life to put others before you - in the lines you are in during the week, driving, eating, etc. Take a look at some of Luther's hymns which are not sung much any more, i.e., A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
Luther's last recorded words: We are beggars that is the truth but I do not despair for I have seen that because of the cross God hears the beggars cry.
Happy Reformation Day!