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February 18, 2021

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

Today the church commemorates Martin Luther, renewer of the church. Dr. Luther died on this day 475 years ago. He died in Eisleben, the same town in which he’d been born in 1483. He spent very little time in that town during the intervening sixty-two years, but during those years he was busy changing the church and the world.

An Augustinian monk, the young Luther could not shake the notion that he was irredeemably lost, cut off from God. He was sure that his sin, pedestrian as it was, was unforgivable. He took seriously the teachings of the church, and the church showed him an angry God whose demands could never be met. When Luther discovered the grace of God, he dove headlong into the baptized life of those justified by the free gift of the crucified Christ.

While he never intended to leave people known as “Lutherans” in his wake, he dedicated his life to reforming the church, teaching and translating the Bible, reshaping the liturgy, pastoring the people of Wittenberg, and helping everyday Christians understand and live out their faith in Christ. 475 years later, those of us who are Lutheran continue to rejoice in and witness to the free gift of unmerited grace that flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Luther, of course, was a sinner in need of God’s redemption. Most egregiously, Luther’s views on the Jewish people became reprehensible. His anti-Semitic writings cannot be explained away; those of us who bear his name must continually repudiate his words and lament the damage they have done.

While his sin is part of his legacy, his commitment to the grace that triumphs over sin shapes his legacy. A scrap of paper was found in his pocket on his deathbed. On it were these words: Hoc est verum. Wir sind alle Pettler. “This is true. We are all beggars.” We deserve neither the life we are born into nor forgiveness for the way we have squandered our lives. But for us, the Son of God has given his life. For the sake of Christ we live, in this world and in the next. We are beggars; Christ gives freely. Thanks be to God.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of grace, thank you for your servant, Martin, and for all those who have taught us what it means to live by your grace. As we have received freely from you, so may we live freely for others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Portrait of Luther as Junker Jörg, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1521 (public domain).

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