It was some time ago when I first traveled to Germany to see the ‘Luther Sites.’ As I recall, on the first day of the journey I was sitting on the tour bus next to a friend who had skidded into that journey exhausted and so as soon as we stowed our luggage underneath and found our way to open seats, she slept. I found I could not, eager as I was to see what was before us next. At one point I nudged her, asking her how it was she could sleep. She opened her eyes, sat up straight for just a moment, and looking out at the lush German countryside she said, “It looks like Iowa,” and promptly went back to sleep. I looked again, and so it did, and yes I thought of that again this past summer on another tour bus traveling from Wittenberg to Wartburg Castle. This time I realized that those rolling hills could be anywhere. Perhaps even in my own back yard.
This surely makes me think of part of the wonder of all we mark on this Reformation Day — particularly as we remember that this movement began five hundred years ago in a small university town and before that, yes, in the heart and in the mind of one in particular whose words and actions led others to see the world and the church in new ways. Ways that would change the world. Ways that would reach even to “Iowa” — even to the cities and towns I would call home and where I would be called, like Luther, to see where God’s Word and the world intersect and what that would mean.
Now if you have any acquaintance with the writings of Luther, you will know that he was prolific. I have often wondered at how much more he could have written if he had access to the tools we have today. I mean, can’t you just imagine his hands flying across the keyboard and the copious files he would have stored away in the ‘cloud?’ And yet, when I pause to I think again, I do wonder if maybe that would not be the case at all. For there are those who question whether our access to ‘so much’ keeps us from going deep. There are those who wonder if the breadth of information available to us with a click at our computers or a swipe on our smartphones keeps our minds from developing and making the sorts of new and creative connections which might still change the world. For it is so that I do know this to be so for me that sometimes the constant bombardment of information overwhelms me and exhausts me and leaves me with little meaningful left to say.
So maybe it is so that in part, the genius of Martin Luther was unleashed in his being confined —- exiled for his own safety even — to a cold dark room in a castle on a bluff where he would have the energy and the focus and the clarity of mission to translate the Bible from Latin to German, making the way for all people everywhere to have access to the power and gift of God’s Word. Indeed, I do not doubt that the fact that the source of his inspiration and hope was found in the 66 books of the Bible. Once this was laid alongside his own powerful intellect and his profound ability to communicate a vision which would change the world, indeed, a movement started which meant the world would never be the same again. A movement which centered around the certainty of God’s powerful love and the wonder and gift of God’s grace.
And so I wonder for us now. If this could be so in the rolling hills of eastern Germany, what for you and me in the landscapes where we are called to live and serve? For if it looks ‘like Iowa,’ perhaps it is. Indeed, people are the same with all their hurts and hopes, their dreams and their broken hearts. Systems which can oppress or be transformed to bring life are the same. And God’s Word still speaks — if only we can make space within the constant onslaught of stimuli which threatens our ability to hear it at all.
So my encouragement for us in the days to come as we mark and celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the day when the movement we call the Reformation began is just this: to stand still in God’s Word which shaped and empowered the work of the Reformers so long ago…
- … to wonder at the new covenant which the prophet Jeremiah promises … to recall what this would have meant so long ago to those who had so broken God’s heart and to wonder at what it means that God keeps reaching out to us today with a promise which will hold — even to you and I who still break God’s heart. Oh, how does the promise come alive when we understand that God’s law will be written on our very hearts? And what might that look like if we lived as if that were so? (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
- …to consider what it means that “God is our refuge and our strength” — knowing that even if the mountains are shifting, God still and always is. What might happen if all of us were to simply ‘be still and know’ that God is God as this powerful Psalm urges us today? (Psalm 46)
- … to explore what it looks like to live with the understanding that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” — and that we are justified by God’s grace as a gift?” How might I, how might we, be changed if, in fact, we actually lived as though it were all gift? (Romans 3:19-28)
- … and to try to define the truth of which Jesus speaks today as he encourages you and me who follow him to ‘continue in his Word…’ Indeed, what does this freedom which is so freely offered now look like, feel like, taste like? And how does this freedom live today? (John 8:31-36)
I do believe that this is what Luther did so long ago. He sat with and slept with and wrestled with these ancient words, these wonderful promises, and in and through all of this emerged a powerful vision for the world. You and I who have so much more to ‘work with’ would likely do well to let the rest go and return to these most precious gifts of God — not only in the words we are offered on this Reformation Day, but also throughout all of scripture. I wonder what will come of that, what might just become of us all if we were to just start there! What might that look like and live like in the landscape you and I call home? Oh, what might that look like in “Iowa?”