Reformation Sunday. The Color is Red. 1517 – 2017: 500 Years Focusing on Grace

Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546, Augustinian Monk, Professor of Theology, and Reformer – chose October 31, the evening before All Saint’s Day – on November 1, to post on the church door a list of things that he thought needed reforming in the church.  He chose the day, so they say because he knew that the church would be packed on All Saint’s Day and many would see his list.  That list which came to be known as the Ninety-Five Theses has caused much uproar, turbulence, and wonder these last five hundred years. It isn’t for ordinary folks like me to explain what theologians, pastors, priests, and professors have written about, argued about, and preached about throughout the last 500 years — however, that hasn’t stopped me before.

So, allow me to offer some simple thoughts. I am a Lutheran by birth, parental nurture, education, association, church but most assuredly by scripture’s promise.

My mother and father were Lutherans who believed and taught that there are no good works, good intentions, anything under the heavens that we can do that will help us attain heaven. We have all sinned and fall short of the Law.  In other words, we cannot save ourselves. Period. End of statement.

Today in worship, the paraments for Reformation Day were red. Should you want to look up the lessons we heard in church this morning, I list them here: the first lesson was  Revelation 14:6-7; the Epistle was Romans 3:19-28; the Gospel was John 8:31-36 where Jesus talks to the Jews who had believed in him.

Romans 3:(23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

(27) Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. (28)For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

I attach a picture of Martin Luther’s Rose surrounded by the Latin word VIVIT which means: He Lives. The black cross is in the center of a red heart set on a white rose. The rose is surrounded by blue, and the whole is surrounded by a circle of Gold. Luther said that this was a good summation of his theology – and he explains it in a letter which I have appended. Luther wrote to Lazarus Spengler and interpreted his seal:

 

“From the wilderness of Koburg Castle
8 July 1530

Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend!

Grace and Peace in Christ!

Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly, I shall answer most amiably and tell you of those thoughts which now come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology. There is first to be a cross, black, and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color (red), to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saved us. For if one believes from the heart, he will be justified. [“For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” –Romans 10:10] Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature…that is, the cross does not kill, but keeps man alive. For the just shall live by faith, by faith in the Savior. [“This Good News tells us how God makes us right in His sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.'” –Romans 1:17]

Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In a word, it places the believer into a white joyful rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy as the world gives. [“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” –John 14:27] Therefore, the rose is to be white, not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all angels. [“..an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it. His face shone like lightening, and his clothing was as white as snow.” –Matthew 28:2b-3 and “She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.” –John 20:12]

This rose, moreover, is fixed in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy. It is already a part of faith, and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest.

And around this field is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is endless, and more precious than all joys and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.

May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come. Amen.”

[Luther’s Works – American Edition – Volume 49, pp. 356-359]

 

For five hundred years the words of Martin Luther

still resound throughout the land

pointing us – to the Lord of Life

the Risen Lord who saves us through his death and resurrection.

VIVIT

He Lives!  Alleluia!

Thanks be to God!

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