Preface to today’s message:
Today is Reformation Sunday. This is a day we usually celebrate in the Lutheran Church as we remember how Martin Luther brought something new to the table and emphasized God’s amazing grace for all creation. Today, a little later in this service, the message is going to be rather playful and lighthearted.
In the light of yesterday’s murders at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I would like to say at this point that Martin Luther is not just some hero we can put on a pedestal, not a man whose teachings we should adopt without criticism, but that he was a flawed human being, like the rest of us – saint and sinner at the same time, as he himself said.
Luther, especially in his later life, was a ranting anti-Semite, and unfortunately his strong words against the Jews were used consequently to justify violence against and the murder of millions of Jews.
So this is not only a day of celebration, but also a day for us as the church in the tradition of Luther to take honest stock of our heritage. This is a day to confess the sins committed in the name of the Lutheran Church. And this is a day for us, who we believe in the amazing grace and mercy of God, to boldly reject all hate and terror committed against any of God’s children, no matter, what religion they follow, and to stand with victims of violence.
I invite you to observe a moment of silence for the victims of yesterday’s assault on Tree of Life Synagogue. And since it is part Jewish tradition to place a rock on a grave stone to express one’s remembrance and grief, I will place a rock on our altar as an expression of our respect and our grief.
Katharine Luther’s Monologue loosely based on Romans 3:19-28
October 28th, 2018
Katherina Luther enters and shakes her head in exasperation. She holds a little money purse.
Men! Can’t live without them, but can’t live with them either. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dear husband, the o so learned Doctor Martin Luther, dearly, but there are times when I just want to wring his neck!
I’m running this place – I see that the dear doctor has his meals and his beloved beer, I see to it that the kids are fed and educated, I take care of our landholdings and servants, I also take care of the students who live under our roof for room and board. I’m the first one up and the last one down in this house.
I spare Martin most concerns about the estate, so that he can focus on his teaching and reforming the church. But sometimes I need him.
Like today. Today is pay day at the university, and I told Martin to be here by late morning to give me the money. I needed it to pay for a delivery of hops and malt, which I need to brew Martin’s favorite beer.
Merchant Koppe, our good friend – you know, the one who risked his own life by spiriting me and my fellow nuns out of the convent – Koppe has been so patient in the past. I don’t know how many times I was able to chalk up what he was owed, just because I didn’t have the money at hand. But you can only take advantage of someone’s benevolence for so long. I promised him to pay for his delivery and all our debts today, and I intended to keep my promise.
So Koppe comes and delivers – and there’s no Martin. I was furious, let me tell you! I sent our oldest boy to fetch him at the university, but he had already left.
What else could I do but to appease merchant Koppe and to ask him to come back later to collect his money?
And then, in time for our midday supper, Martin walks in as if there wasn’t a care in the world.
Where in the world were you, I shouted at him. He looked genuinely surprised. My dear Katie, I don’t know what you are talking about.
You were supposed to be here 2 hours ago, I said.
Oh, Martin! Of course he had forgotten all about it. My dear doctor has memorized the Bible backward and forward, even in Greek, but when it comes to remembering simple things, his brain is like a sieve.
Alright, I said, it’s good you’re here now. Koppe will be back later to collect his money; just hand me your purse now, lest you forget – again.
I knew something was up when he hesitated before handing me his purse. When he put it in my hand, I could tell it was lighter than it was supposed to be. (Opens purse and lets a few coins fall in her hand.)
And sure enough – most of the pay he should have received today was not there.
Now this is nothing unusual. There barely is a pay day when all of the money makes it home.
Not only is Martin’s brain a sieve, but his purse as well.
So I just sighed and asked, what happened on the way home today?
I have to give it to Martin: at least he looked guilty as he gave me his report.
Well, he said, you know the young Roper widow. You probably have heard that her goat died – collapsed and was dead, just like that. She needs the goat to provide milk for her 5 children, and she doesn’t have the money to buy milk every day. So…
So you gave her money to buy a new goat, I sighed. How can you stay angry when you live with someone who has such a big heart?
I counted the coins and said, but, well, even a prized goat doesn’t fetch 4 Thalers. What happened to the rest of the money?
And Martin went on to tell me that he ran into August, the blind beggar, in the marketplace. You have to know one thing about Martin, besides that he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church and started this firestorm known as the Reformation: he can’t pass by a beggar without giving them something. His compassion and benevolence knows no bounds.
Let me tell you, it is a blessing that his salary only is part of the income we have in this house! If we had to rely on that solely, we’d be begging in the street!
After running into August, Martin happened on John Bugenhagen, our pastor, who officiated at our wedding and baptized all our children. Bugenhagen shared with him that part of the roof of our town church had just collapsed, and that repairs were imperative.
Take a guess what Martin did upon hearing the news: he gave Bugenhagen some money for the repairs. (Sighs deeply and shows coins in her hand.)
And that’s why his purse is so lean today.
Now why is Martin so generous in giving his money – our money – away? Dear people, it is the consequence of his deep faith and understanding of God’s grace.
‘Katie, he says, we are well off. We’ve been given so much. This house, our lands, the students who pay for room and board – we are lucky people. And every day I thank the Lord that he has given me such an industrious and clever wife. What would I do without you?
God has given me all these gifts – and I have done nothing, nothing, to deserve them. God has given me – us – so many things in abundance. Worldly goods, health, children, friends – but even more so, his own life and his amazing grace. What a gift!
Dear Katie, isn’t it a mystery why God loves us and all humanity so much, even though we are not worthy of such grace and goodwill?’
Who am I to resist this amazing truth? Love is a strange and wonderful thing: it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, as the Apostle Paul says. And forgives much (sighs).
But you may ask how Martin’s generosity is a consequence of his belief in a gracious God.
Well, we have to give thanks for all God grants us so freely. And how do we give thanks? Just by using our words? Ha – the tongue is a crafty serpent and can promise much.
No, Martin believes that GIVING thanks means just that: giving back to God. And how do we give thanks to God? By giving something to those whom God created in God’s image: our neighbors in need.
(Puts money back in purse and lifts it up.)
How can I hold a grudge against my dear husband? Deep in my heart, I know he is doing the right thing.
(Pauses for a moment.)
But all goodwill won’t pay our friend Koppe. He will be back soon, and I intend to keep my promise to pay what we owe him.
(Looks around, grabs a golden chalice.)
God will provide. This is one of the trinkets Martin received as a gift from one of his princely benefactors – I don’t even remember which one. It’s been collecting dust for quite a while here. Pretty but useless. I guess Martin won’t even miss it when it’s gone. Sometimes it’s to my advantage that his brain is like a sieve.
(Resolutely) Well, that’s another trip to the pawn shop then.
(Turns to leave, but turns around one more time.)
I thank you for listening to my plight. And may God bless you good people. Amen.
This post is also available in: German