Martin Luther monument, Dresden, Germany
(…continued) Did Martin Luther find peace with God by becoming a monk? Not at all. Luther was an intense man, giving himself completely to his studies. What he saw in the church’s teaching and in his own reading of the Bible was an angry, and punishing God, who was never satisfied no matter what anyone did or how holy they became. Luther feared this God, feared death, feared hell, and fell into deep despair. He said to another monk, “I know we are supposed to love God, but how can I? I do not love this God of wrath. I hate him, and so I stand condemned and fear the fires of hell even more.”
Luther was sent from his monastery in Germany to Rome with a message. This unexpected opportunity that Luther hoped might inspire him, only deepened his despair. There he saw first-hand the awful corruption of the church. This Holy City had become a place of immorality worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, and the church had become obsessed with making money. Priests were selling Christ’s precious forgiveness of sins to the common people, who had no idea what the Bible said about anything. Prostitutes were everywhere, and bishops and cardinals were openly living in sin, fathering illegitimate children all over the place. Luther left Rome disgusted, angered, and even more depressed.
Imagine how disappointed Luther must have been. This twenty-something, intense, and deeply religious young man sacrificed everything to serve God and the Holy Church. If it hadn’t been for that thunderstorm, by this time Luther could have been living a wonderful life of wealth, honor, and prestige, with friends and family around him. But he sacrificed all that, only to find a God that he could not love and a church that made him sick. What a devastating disappointment!
Have you ever been disappointed by the church? We have recently surveyed our congregation, and we learned that there is a high level of satisfaction in our church at this time, and what a blessing that is. We all know that it is not always that way in the church. The survey also revealed that many people say our congregation feels to them like a family—and that is a great blessing. But we all also know that families fight sometimes. And that has happened here– and at every other church that has ever existed. Church can be a blessing and church can be an affliction— there is that mixture here just like in every other aspect of life in this world.
Martin Luther was disappointed by the church in some dramatic ways. Our disappointments may come in less dramatic ways. If you get involved in serving God in the church, as a pastor or as lay person, you may, at times, find yourself being overworked, underappreciated, and misunderstood. You might also be unfairly criticized, accused by some as being too strict and judgmental, and by others as being to wishy-washy and unable to tell it like it is. And you will also find that even the best people in the church often have very different agendas, are not always on the same page, and sometimes not even in the same book.
For some unknown reason, God has given people like us the task of getting his Word out to the world. And sinners that we are, we will frustrate and disappoint each other. What should we do then? What did Luther do?
I’ll return to that in a moment, but first another question. Have you, like Luther, ever been disappointed by God? Luther left everything, and then, the more he learned about God, the more he hated God. Have you ever really dug into the Bible to get all your questions answered,only to end up with more questions than you started with? Have you ever been faced with a situation that made you pray like you never prayed in your life; and you did not get what you asked for? Have you ever wondered what God is up to in your life and why things happen the way they do? Do you have that all figured out yet? And if not, do you get disappointed with God? And what do you do then? What did Luther do?
This is one of the lessons of the Reformation and Martin Luther’s life. It is important to see what Luther did with his disappointment in the church and in God. This is important because so many people react to this inevitable disappointment by giving up— giving up on God, giving up on faith, giving up on each other, and giving up on the church. Luther did not do that. He took a different path. (continued…)
Jeremiah 20:7-9 (Jeremiah expresses his disappointment with God) — You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
Jeremiah 15:18 — (again expressing his frustration with God) Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.
II Corinthians 1:8-10 — (Paul describes his hardships serving the church) We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.
Lord, what you do not do remains undone. If you will not help, I will gladly give it up. The cause is not mine. Therefore, I seek no glory in it. I will cheerfully be your mask and disguise if only you will do the work. Amen.