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500 Years Later: Yes, the Reformation Still Matters

 

“Reacquaint yourself with the Reformation so that you might point out and name some things for your congregation along the way.”

 

 

The Power of a Name
As we wove our way through the hills of Geneva, our college pastor and tour guide, Pastor Bruce Benson felt compelled to introduce us to the individual trees on our route, calling each of his ancient friends by name in a voice like Tolkien’s Ents. I couldn’t help wondering, wasn’t it a little overboard to learn their titles? After all, the pattern of their starry leaves and chiseled bark would remain the same without the proper appellation. So I asked, “Why did you take the time to learn all those names?” Pastor Benson turned his gaze from the forest to my face and his great grey beard shook as he shared the ancient wisdom: “Thomas, I find that when I know something’s name, I end up caring a whole lot more about it.”

How true that is. An anonymous tree cut down in Geneva would be a shame, but cutting down the 200 year-old Lebanese Cedar or the 300 year-old Plane Trees would be a tragedy. When we know something or someone, we are capable of caring so much more about them. When we know their story, we learn more about ourselves.

Knowing the Reformation
The Reformation matters because it is more than high-drama church history. Even though indulgences are no longer indulged, even though we no longer suffer anxiety-induced ulcers from a fear of hell, even though we have embraced forgiveness, redemption, and love as a gift, the Reformation still matters.

The Reformation was more than just a showdown between two hot-headed holy men. The Reformation rediscovered the Bible. The Reformation elevated the place of preaching. The Reformation invited all God’s people to participate in worship. The Reformation brought discipleship into the home.

499 Years and Counting
There is no better time to get reacquainted with the movement! This Sunday inaugurates a year of anticipation and celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when on October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther infuriated his church with ink, paper, and faithful and fiery rhetoric.

In the upcoming year, let the 500 years of the Reformation take root. As you weave your way through the church year ahead, remember that the trees have names. Reacquaint yourself with the Reformation so that you might point out and name some things for your congregation along the way. Remember, knowledge yields regard.

Ideas for the Year Ahead

• Order a copy of Reformation 500 Sourcebook from Augsburg Fortress (2016). The sourcebook contains a variety of worship planning tools, ideas for educational events, music festivals and ways to connect with Christians around the world.

• Visit www.elca500.org to learn more about the Reformation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and for events and resources from a wide spectrum of sources.

• For books, check out Roland Bainton’s popular biography of Here I Stand, A Life of Martin Luther (1950).

• See also the brand new graphic novel from Augsburg Fortress, Papa Luther (2016). The leader guide includes background information about the 16th c., as well as scripture sources, questions and activities.

• Dress up as Martin Luther, or his wife Katie for Sunday School.

• Plan an Oktoberfest for the fall 2017 as a fundraiser for a local or global non-profit and an outreach to your community.

• Host a viewing of the 2003 major motion picture Luther, staring Joseph Fiennes.

“Here I Stand”
A word about “Here I stand”: While pastors and educators may know this as the words Luther spoke at the Diet of Worms, most of the younger members of your congregation will hear the voice of Elsa from the wildly popular Disney movie “Frozen.” So when it comes to re-enacting scenes from Luther’s life during worship, liturgical scholar Gail Ramshaw’s writes the following cautionary essay. She also includes ideas for worshiping God as we are, in our time and place, as Luther himself wished to do.

 

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Thomas Rusert serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He holds degrees from three institutions owing their existence to the Reformation. Thomas is the founder of the “Free Prayer Ministry.” Learn more at www.1freeprayer.org or contact Thomas at trusert@doylestownlutheran.org

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