Across the Pastor’s Desk: The Reformation — set free to love

Published 9:37 pm Thursday, October 26, 2017

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Kenneth Jensen

“So if the Son (Jesus) makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

— John 8:36 (NIV)

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Next Tuesday is a big day for children. Dressed in their favorite costumes, they go door to door, ringing doorbells. Saying “Trick or Treat,” their expectation is a contribution to their bags of candy. It’s Halloween!

Kenneth Jensen

However, Tuesday is a really big day within the Christian community. It marks the 500th anniversary of what many historians consider to be the most important event of the last millennium. Oct. 31, 1517, marked the official beginning of the Protestant Reformation, an event which changed the course of Western history.

A 33-year-old German monk, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses (propositions offered up for the purpose of academic debate) on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was offended by the manner in which the church was raising money to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and its corrupting influence upon the church. His expectation was not to create a schism within the church, but rather to have an open, honest debate concerning the issue. The debate never took place.

Inspired by the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans in the New Testament, Luther directed his attention to writing treatises as to what he believed were the core principles undergirding Christian faith and life. Among them was his treatise, “On the Freedom of the Christian.”

The treatise begins with two seemingly contradictory propositions: “A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all.”

Recognize it or not, we are bonded to our self-interests. The underlying question that governs much of life is, “What’s in it for me?” It determines our political perspectives, influences our economic decisions, plays a role in our occupational choices, and affects our social relationships. Being overly preoccupied with the question can lead to bitterness, envy, jealousy, resentment and anger.

Luther understood freedom through a different lens. Being free to live life at its fullest is to look beyond one’s self-interests. He summarized his argument thusly: “As Christians, we live in Christ through faith and in our neighbor through love. Through faith we are caught up beyond ourselves into God. Likewise, through love we descend beneath ourselves through love to serve our neighbor.”

In the words of Jesus, freedom is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. …(and) love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).

Kenneth Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.