‘Responsible Freedom’: Sermon John 8:31-36; Reformation Day – October 31st, 2021


This is not a sermon as usual, but a monologue by ‘Katie Luther’, Martin Luther’s wife.

Greetings, dear People!

Ah, it is so good to see all of you again, now that the worst of the recent plague is over. Pestilence, wars, famine, violence, natural disasters – what toils we have to deal with during our life here on earth! But no matter what befalls us, we never fall out of God’s good hands, thanks be to God!

But I haven’t introduced myself – I am Katherine Luther, also known as Katie, born von Bora. I was married to the man whose accomplishments you commemorate today – the great Martin Luther.

Now I can tell you a thing or two about a tumultuous life! My mother died when I was but a little girl. My father, an impoverished noble man, remarried – but I did not find motherly love in that new wife of his. I was a girl, a useless mouth to be fed. I had no good prospects for a politically favorable marriage, so I was sent to a nunnery at the age of 5. Oh, how I suffered under those rigid nuns! If it had not been for some girls my age, who became my friends, and my steadfast faith in God, I don’t know how I would have fared, locked away behind convent walls.

Ora et labora, pray and work, that was my life. But I have to admit that I also benefitted greatly from being raised in a convent – I received an education. I learned how to read and write, even a little Latin, then some calculus and bookkeeping. I learned about the everyday operations of an enterprise – for that’s what our convent was. And I know how privileged I was to receive this education – the cast majority of children, and especially girls, didn’t receive any schooling in my days.

Nevertheless, I felt trapped. Trapped by rules and fear, trapped by a rigid routine, trapped in a life that had been chosen for me. I felt like a bird in a cage. But I am speaking for myself here – many of my sisters were content with their lives behind convent walls and couldn’t imagine anything else.

And then there were rumors about a rogue monk who dared to challenge the church in Rome and its customs. This man was writing about Christian freedom – and it was so unlike what had been said before. Some of his pamphlets were smuggled into our convents, and some of my fellow nuns and I read those pamphlets ravenously. Thankfully this monk, Martin Luther, wrote in German, a language we could understand, and not in the language of the church, which, of course, was Latin.

Luther even talked about dissolving monasteries and convents and freeing nuns and monks from the sacred vows they had taken. How scandalous!

Ah, how some of us longed for the freedom of a Christian Luther talked about so eloquently!

So we took the initiative and wrote Dr. Luther a letter, asking him to help us escape our convent. That was risky business, since our convent was in Saxon territory that was ruled by a staunch supporter of the Roman Church. We could have been put to death had we been caught, anyone aiding us in our attempt to escape in fact could have been put to death if caught – but Luther found a brave and faithful man, the merchant Koppe, who spirited us away on Easter Eve in the year of our Lord 1523, hiding us on his cart between empty herring barrels.

Let me tell you, it was not a pleasant journey, but we made it to Wittenberg safe and sound. Ah, freedom, sweet freedom!

Now our benefactor, Luther, obviously hadn’t thought the whole plan through. He didn’t know what to do with us when we showed up on his doorstep. He tried to send us back to our families, but they didn’t dare get in trouble with the church – and the law.

So Luther found eligible husbands for most of us, most of them priests following the Reformation who now had the freedom to marry. I didn’t much like the idea of marriage at first. Why escape one captivity to enter straight into another?

I was quite happy living with prominent families in town, working as a governess to their children. I could go about town – always with a chaperone, of course! – and even though I noticed how some folks sneered at me, the runaway nun, I enjoyed life in this bustling little town. That there were many handsome young students roaming the streets didn’t hurt either.

I caught the eye of one of them – and we fell for each other. His name was Hieronymus Baumgartner. Ah, Hieronymus! We even got secretly betrothed. But, alas, as he traveled home to Nuremberg to announce our engagement to his family, they didn’t let him return to Wittenberg.

Martin Luther tried his best to convince Hieronymus to come back and fulfill the promises he had made to me – to no avail. I was heartbroken. Luther thought the best remedy would be to find me another man to marry. There was a suitor, an aging pastor, bald and bitter. I refused. Doesn’t freedom mean the freedom to choose?

Then it dawned on me that Luther, who was such a proponent of priests, nuns and monks getting married, shied away from matrimony himself. And I resolved: if I gave myself away in marriage, it would be to him. I respected him enough, and I was sure that, in his presence and in his house, I’d find some intellectual and spiritual stimulation. I would be able to think for myself. And so, indirectly through a common friend, I proposed to him.

Now much could be said about what followed – Martin was agonizing over this. Should he get married? Why? Why not? To make a long story short, in the end he accepted, and we were married in June of 1525. Not that everyone rejoiced with us – Martin’s best friend, Philip Melanchthon, stayed away from the wedding in protest. He thought our marriage would taint Martin’s reputation even more – and endanger the entire Reformation. And he was not alone in that assessment.

Now through my marriage to Martin, I was bound once more – but I had entered the matrimonial state freely. And I was right in my element as Martin’s wife: taking care of him in any sense, tending to our children, running and managing our small estate, feeding and giving some motherly care to the students who had found room and board in our house, serving the poor in town through charity. Paradoxically: in service to all those around me, I found true freedom. Because I loved what I did.

And I started to understand what Martin meant by his famous, but also quite confusing, words from his treatise, ‘On the Freedom of a Christian’: ‘A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.’

We are free to think and have a free conscience. But that doesn’t mean we are free to do whatever we wish. No, we are still bound by our love to God and neighbor. And wouldn’t it be hell on earth if freedom meant the freedom to do whatever we feel like? If no one heeded the needs of the other?

Freedom without responsibility, freedom without love is a burden: for the weak, the powerless, and also for God’s good creation. Because in a world without love and responsibility, the freedom of those who are stronger or are more powerful than others will always prevail. God gives us freedom, yes – but God also gives us a much more precious gift: love. And love for God and neighbor causes us to serve God and neighbor freely and joyfully.

This is how Martin described Christian freedom. This is how I experiences Christian freedom in my life.

And, dear people, YOUR freedom is in God and from God. God greatest commandment for you, as Christ said himself, is to love. Once you are liberated from worrying about your salvation, you are free to turn to your neighbor and serve them, with whatever gifts you have received from God.

So serve one another in humility and love. And you will find true freedom in God. Amen


This post is also available in: German