First Lesson: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22: 34-46
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The Russian novelist Dostoyevsky tells the following story. Once upon a time a woman was residing in hell. The woman longed to escape her suffering. She began to cry out to God in response. God heard this woman’s cries and was deeply moved. God calls down to the ask the woman “Why should I save you?” The woman begins recalls one time that she gave a starving neighbor an onion. God sensing the woman’s faith then produced an onion with stem for the woman to grab onto. The woman grabbed, and God began to pull her out of hell. The others residing in hell saw this scene and began clutching at the woman hoping to escape also. Here’s the thing about the onion stem, it was strong. The stem was in fact so strong that it would have been able to support not only the weight of the woman but every single resident of hell. The woman though didn’t like all these people grasping at “her” onion stem, so she began kicking and screaming for them to let go. Finally, the onion stem snaps sending everyone including the woman back into the depths of hell.
Think of the tale of the Onion Stem as this morning we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. The big event associated with this anniversary is Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses at the Wittenberg Castle Church. This morning to understand this historic event, it would be helpful to look at what the 95 Theses were and weren’t.
The legacy of the Reformation is that Luther studied for years and years as to why Christ shall need to die. Christ appeared to have committed no sin. Luther’s awakening happened when he came to believe that Christ upon the cross-claimed our sins as his sin.
The Lutheran Reformation is known for its five solas. Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and cross alone. When we speak of these things they are not things that can merely grasp by Luther scholars, both Luther and Paul understood all these believes being centered in faith as trust alone. A belief that God’s presence shall never leave us no matter what obstacles the Devil places before us in this lifetime.
Bill Butters was a hockey-playing Defenseman for White Bear Lake and then the Gophers. Bill as a pro would go on to play for the Minnesota Fighting Saints and eventually the North Stars. Bill Butters was a small guy, only about 5’10. Bill Butters though looked to be the last guy who should confidently start a fight on the ice. Bill Butters though was never going to back down from anyone regardless of his size. Bill Butters had a bad tendency to start fights on the ice. Bill Butters never lost a fight. Bill had a best friend as a pro hockey player named Jack Carlson of Virgina. Jack Carlson was Bill Butters opposite in every way; Jack was 6’3 and regarded as one of the toughest hockey players ever. Anyone who ever crossed Bill Butters would be dealing with Jack Carlson instead. So Butters’ potential enemies would always back down from him.
Luther fought his own battles for years of life. Luther’s foes though were not hockey players, but rather spiritual enemies in Sin, death, and the Devil. The meaning of the Reformation is Luther believed that in the face of all his enemies believed that he had a personal protector named Jesus Christ. All battles through which Luther would be called to engage, Christ promised to stand in his place even until the cross. Like Bill Butters, Luther came to believe that his protector named Jesus Christ would never abandon him even in the toughest of situations.
Bill Butters eventually gets on the straight and narrow. Butters like Martin Luther knew what it was like to know someone was always on your side. Today, Bill Butters is a minister at Eaglebrook Church down in the Twin Cities. Bill Butters through his experiences playing hockey came to understand the meaning of the Gospel just like Luther.
One last story to drive home the central teaching of the Reformation, when I was down in Lamberton, I had a seminary classmate who was from the area fill in for me when I was on vacation. The task was given to the young seminarian on this morning to deliver a children’s sermon. The seminarian had not given many children’s sermons. The seminarian knew that he needed props and to ask questions. The seminarian was struggling though on this morning. The problem on this morning was that none of the children knew the answer to any of his questions. To which the seminarian whispered to the kids “Just say Jesus, the correct answer is always Jesus.” Jesus being at the center of our faith is the true legacy of the Reformation.
You see the Reformation is not about differences in belief between Lutherans and Catholics; the Reformation is not about the proper role of the pope within the church, the Reformation is not even about whose interpretation of scripture is the “best.” The Reformation is about finding certainty in the midst of uncertainty. Luther struggled for years of whether God could save a vulgar, temperamental, even depressed monk like him from the fires of hell. Luther’s came to believe that God’s grace was more powerful than any sin he could commit. Jesus promises the onion stem sent to rescue us will not snap. You see the onion stem is in the shape of a cross.
Today, we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. We are unlikely to see the 600th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, yet the Lutheran Church shall still stand regardless the faith of any individual believer or congregation. God’s promises shall indeed endure forever regardless of what the devil or the world throws at any of us.
I close this morning with Luther’s words from A Mighty Fortress
“Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us. We tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpower us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle, we’ll engage his might is doomed to fail, God’s judgment must prevail. ..His Kingdom shall be ours forever. “ Amen
 Zingale, Tim. “Smile.” Sermon Central. 24. Oct.2005. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Taylor, Justin. “Looking at Wittenberg in the Time of Martin Luther.” Gospel Coalition: Evangelical History. 31.Oct.2016. Web. Oct.24.2017. Taylor’s article contains an interview with Reformation historian Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary.
 “Johann Tetzel.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 19.Oct.2017. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Taylor, Justin. “Looking at Wittenberg in the Time of Martin Luther.”
 Tranvik, Mark. “Commentary on Romans 3:19-28”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. 28.Oct.2012. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Tranvik, Mark. “Commentary on Romans 3:19-28”.
 “Bill Butters.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 20.Sept.2017. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Molin, Steve. “The Roman Road.” Sermon Writer. 2005. Web. Oct.24.2017
 Molin, Steve. “The Roman Road.”
 Molin, Steve. “Everybody Needs an Advocate.” Our Saviors Lutheran Church. Stillwater, MN. 9.May.2010. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Strand, Bruce. “Butters reflects on hockey, ministry.” White Bear Press. 29.Nov.2016. Web. Oct.24.2017.