Freedom of a Christian: Part 1

Today’s First Reading is the opening of Martin Luther’s “On Christian Freedom.” Written in 1520, this short writing is one of Luther’s most poetic works. After Luther posted his “95 Theses” on a church door in October, 1517, a split grew within the church. On one side was Luther, a monk and theology professor, who felt compelled to speak out about abuses in the church. On the other side was the Pope, Roman Catholic Church, and the Holy Roman Emperor. Luther’s sermons and writings were widely published, making him one of the first best selling authors. As the debate about abuses grew into a wider conversation about faith and Jesus, different people tried to reconcile the opposing sides. During one of these attempts, Luther was asked to write a “reconciliation-minded letter” to the Pope. Luther wrote the letter and attached a short writing describing the heart of his beliefs. That short writing is “On Christian Freedom.”

The core subject of Luther’s writing is faith itself. Using the standard writing devices of his day, he begins by talking about his experience of faith. He asserts himself as a learned authority on the subject and invites us into his writing. Luther firmly believes that faith matters and he wants to show us why it should matter to us too. But faith isn’t merely abstract thoughts located in the brain. Faith is something we live out loud. Luther moves from his invitation into his themes or how he will structure his writing. He will explore faith in two sections focused on freedom and service. And those two sections appear to be at odds with each other. In Christ, we are subject to no other person. We are as free as we can be. Yet at the same time, we are subject and bound to everyone. That everyone includes more than just our family and friends. It includes neighbors and strangers too. Luther’s writing begins by making the claim that the Christian life is a paradox we get to live out.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for First Sunday in Lent, 2/18/2018.