After much anticipation, our commemoration of the 500th anniversary is finally here. By the time you read this our planned festivities for this fall will be completed. But in my estimation, our commemoration of the 500th anniversary has only just begun. We have at least another thirteen years of 500th anniversaries of major milestones in the Reformation. We may not observe them all with a banquet or a festival worship service, but I plan to draw your attention to these anniversaries as they come around.
As we enter the month of Thanksgiving, it is good to remember that one important way we respond to the Reformation is with profound thanks – thanks for people like Martin Luther and his colleagues, not the least of whom was his wife, Katie, who gave to the church catholic a renewed appreciation of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. They helped us to see the gospel for the really good news it was intended to be, good news that is meant to shape our lives, give us confidence in God’s love and forgiveness, and open our hearts to one another and the world around us.
One of the important reforms that Luther instituted was related to the medieval understanding of the saints and the practice of looking to them for help. Saints were those who the church decided had lived particularly exemplary lives, whose many good deeds far outweighed any sins they might have committed, and who therefore had special influence with God. People prayed to the saints in the hopes that they might put in a good word on their behalf with God, whom they feared to approach directly. Luther took Paul’s statement that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) to apply to the saints as well. What made the saints the saints, according to Luther, was not the good works they did for God, but the good work that God did for them through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And if that is true, then all of us who understand ourselves to be forgiven by God may also consider ourselves to be saints. God makes us saints by forgiving our sins and claiming us as God’s holy ones (that’s what “saint” means!).
It is true that saints do good works, but this is not how they become saints. It is rather a result of their having become saints. Saints live their lives in thanksgiving for what God has done for them and seek to share the blessings they have received with those they encounter in their daily lives. And saints do that both individually and corporately. In our daily one-on-one interactions with others we are helpful and engaged, kind and considerate, concerned less with our own well-being than with the common good. But we also pool our efforts, supporting our local congregation as well as our synodical and national church structures with our time, our energy, and our financial resources, so that we can we can be intentional and accountable in our lives of faith, gathering together regularly for worship and fellowship, and providing a resource for others who are in search of God’s grace. Together with our fellow congregations across the country we facilitate the training of future pastors to serve the church, we support other Lutheran church bodies around the globe, we work for the unity of the whole Christian Church, and we foster understanding and cooperation among out interfaith partners in areas of mutual concern.
May God make us truly thankful in this month of Thanksgiving, confident in our calling as saints, and generous in sharing our blessings with others.
☩ Pastor Repp