OWAAT October 29: Luther’s 95 Theses: When Public Lament Leads to Reformation

With the end of October there are all sorts of interesting things going on: we near the end of Book II of the Psalms, begin a new prayer practice, it’s Halloween, and most theologically important on the same day, it is the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day and the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Chapel. You can see there are a number of opinions about all of these things (and what richness in their bounty!). This mix of things invites us to consider the ways in which discontent can ferment and create renewed, revitalized, and even resurrected life in the midst of our lives and communities.

This week’s Psalms, numbers 65-71, are again a mix of lament, imprecatory, and thanksgiving psalms. Some scholars have related the books to the Pentateuch, book II (Exodus) of which focuses on Israel’s ruin and redemption. This mix reminds me of church as we understand it is, which in Shirley Guthrie’s words is Always Being Reformed, praise be to God! I am impressed that the church both continues on AND continues to change, which it must do to stay healthy, vital, and faithful to Jesus’ ministry.

Think:

Daily Bible readings:

October 29 Psalm 65
October 30 Psalm 66
October 31 Psalm 67
November 1 Psalm 68
November 2 Psalm 69
November 3 Psalm 70
November 4 Psalm 71

With October 31 being the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, what do you know and think about it? Considering Martin Luther in his context, we see this important first, but also humanly flawed reformer. He listened for, heard, and followed God’s call, while also being a victim of loving his own ideas too much. We note his anti-Semitism in that he thought that Jewish people would find his critique of the Church so compelling that they would simply leave their faith and find their salvation in Jesus. He also didn’t agree with all parts of the Bible – and showed his disagreement by simply cutting out those which were disagreeable to him. Like Luther, we can confidently in God take strong positions on important issues. Unlike him it is important to remember that in implementing our great ideas, it is worth humbly considering that what we find brilliant may not work for everyone, and that we can love our ideas and be committed to our cause without condemning those people with whom we disagree.

The Protestant Reformation inspired by Luther’s action provides today’s church with some take-aways. Brueggemann, in The Prophetic Imagination, includes a section of what he terms the concrete practice of prophetic imagination, naming organizations and congregations that take seriously what it means to dream boldly and indeed, prophetically, as Christians. “Watts Street Baptist Church (Durham, North Carolina), where T. Melvin Williams Jr. is the pastor, characteristically begins its worship services not with conventional praise but with lament Psalms, with the ‘public processing of pain'” (p. 83). How might our understanding of the role of pain and lament change if we gave it public hearing? What pain of ours do we hide, and how might sharing it with others transform it?

Theologian Phyllis Tickle notes in Sojourners Magazine, “Rt. Rev. Mark Dyer, an Anglican bishop known for his wit as well as his wisdom, famously observes from time to time that the only way to understand what is currently happening to us as 21st-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every 500 years the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.” Guess what! It’s time! For many of us it is painful to let go of what was and consider the “growing edge” of the new – but doing so eventually is crucial to living. She elaborates on this theme in her book The Great Emergence: “When Christians despair of the upheavals and re-formations that have been the history of our faith when the faithful resist, as so many do just now the presence of another time of reconfiguration with its inevitable pain, we all would do well to remember that, not only are we in the hinge of a five-hundred-year period, but we are also the direct product of one” (p. 24). Dissent, chaos, and uncertainty in the church are therefore nothing new, but are instead normal parts of cycles through which the church has not only lived, and also ultimately been reformed and revived.

Pray:

As we wrap up our Lectio Divina practice throughout this month, and begin praying with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the month of November, using their monthly Prayer Ventures letter for November 2017, we consider what it means to pray beyond ourselves and our churches in ecumenical love and grace. How can different denominations come together to be the church in new ways?

Act:

What are your lamentations? Have you hidden them away or given them public hearing? How do you decide what to share with the broader world versus what to keep to yourself? How might these lamentations serve God? How will you serve and live out your love for God and neighbor this week? If you’re not sure, here are some ideas:

Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for things to do.

Find your local faith- or congregation-based community organizing network/organization and participate in their work and actions. Here are links to the major faith-based community organizing networks and their local affiliate organizations:

DART – Direct Action and Research Training Center

Gamaliel

IAF – Industrial Areas Foundation

IVP – InterValley Project

PICO – People Improving Communities through Organizing

What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.

References:

“500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.” Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, February 3, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2017/02/03/500th-anniversary-protestant-reformation/34420/.

“Martin Luther and the 95 Theses – Facts & Summary.” HISTORY.Com, n.d. http://www.history.com/topics/martin-luther-and-the-95-theses.

“Prayer Ventures.” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, November 2017. http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/PV_1117_letter.pdf?_ga=2.49141926.1614319171.1508875903-252717274.1506625781.

Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001. https://books.google.com/books?id=xkvfyk2313wC.

Guthrie, Shirley C. Always Being Reformed: Faith for a Fragmented World. 2nd ed. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Hollingsworth, Tamara. The Reformation: A Religious Revolution. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, 2013.

Tickle, Phyllis. “The Great Emergence.” Sojourners, August 1, 2008. https://sojo.net/magazine/august-2008/great-emergence.

Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012.

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