University Congregational Church
Oct. 29, 2017
Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life: Word
500 years ago this week, on Oct. 31, 1517, a young monk and professor of moral theology nailed a list of arguments against corruption to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. This list – better known as the 95 theses – was also printed and distributed far and wide. The monk was Martin Luther, and historians point to the day he posted the 95 theses as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
It may be impossible to over-estimate the changes brought about by the Reformation. This was the 16th century’s religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe and set into motion the beliefs that define western civilization even to today.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry VIII, and others challenged the authority and practices of the church’s ability to define Christian practices. They argued for a religious and political redistribution of power. This brought about wars, persecutions and a counter-reformation.
This moment in history created the possibility for who we are today as Christians, and it continues to define and separate us in belief and practice.
There were 3 main points in the 95 theses:
1. Selling indulgences to finance the building of St. Peter’s is wrong. How many of you have been to the grand St. Peter’s bascilica at the Vatican in Rome? Did you know that it was financed by indulgences – the pardon of sin by paying a fee for the priest to absolve you from guilt? Martin Luther was adamant that this sale of forgiveness was out of line. He wrote, “Why doesn’t the pope build the basilica of St. Peter’s out of his own money? He is richer than Croesus. He would do better to sell St. Peter’s and give the money to the poor folk who are being fleeced by the hawkers of indulgences.”
2. The pope has no power over purgatory. Purgatory is that place souls go inbetween death and their final destination – hopefully heaven! Luther wrote, “I claim that the pope has no jurisdiction over Purgatory …. If the pope does have the power to release anyone from Purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish Purgatory by letting everyone out? If for the sake of miserable money he released uncounted souls, why should he not for the sake of most holy love empty the place? To say that souls are liberated from Purgatory is audacious. To say they are released as soon as the coffer rings is to incite avarice. The pope would do better to give everything away without charge.”
3. Buying indulgences gives people a false sense of security and endangers their salvation. Martin Luther believed that this sale of forgiveness, or indulgences, provided a false sense of security to the people. Humans needed to understand the gravity of their sin instead of being able to pay their way into heaven. “When a man believes himself to be utterly lost, light breaks,” wrote Luther. “He who does not have this is lost even though he be absolved a million times by the pope, and he who does have it may not wish to be released… for true contrition seeks penalty.”
Martin Luther and other reformers helped the western word redefine salvation, grace, and the role of laity in the church. Until Luther, there was little insentive to have a personal relationship with God. Instead, an intermediary – usually a priest – was required to pray, worship, read scripture, and offer forgiveness. People had to come to the church and pay for these services.
The Reformation led to the idea that people are responsible for themselves and their faith. It is actually a seedbed for democracy itself, because everyone became equal in the church. Faith wasn’t controlled by the powerful people in the church – it was freely available to all.
As we consider how to re-enchant our lives with everyday things, Thomas Moore reminds us that words matter. The words of the 95 theses show this in dramatic form. The words of poetry, of story, of myth and of love, shape and change our lives. Words give texture to human life. They help us understand love, death, family, friendship, loss, and community. Psalm 119:160 reminds us: “The sum or your word is truth, and every one of your righteous ordinances endures forever.”
Moore writes about words in terms of myth, story, books, and sense. He notes that all religious traditions pay special attention to the symbolic meaning of letters and numbers.
In Islam, even the calligrapher who translates and writes the Qur’an will go to heaven because of their beautiful writing of the word of God.
For the Sufi, a dot in the calligraphy is equivalent to the primordial dot from which everything that has been created unfolds.
Tibetans preserve their holy words on long, oblong blocks.
The Chinese preserve their holy words on silk scrolls.
In China and Japan, writing beautifully is actually a spiritual exercise.
Have you ever finished a book with a long sigh? It is as if reading the words have been an alternative reality where you are able to let loose and just be. Have you ever finished a series of books and longed for the author to pen another book in the series so that you could continue to escape into that reality? Have you ever held a book in your hand and remembered where it took you in your thought for a time? Words have the power to inform and transform us. I will admit that I love to work each day literally surrounded by the words and books that have challenged and inspired me for many years.
Thomas Moore tells the story about a time when he was the speaker at a bookstore lecture. Afterward, he was asked for suggestions of books to read. His recommendation was to spend a year or two just looking at books, surrounding yourself with beautiful books, and only after a year, to start actually reading them!
It is more than books that have the power to re-enchant. There is something holy and sacred about letters and letter writing. A few years ago, my mom discovered a notebook my grandma made out of the letters she exchanged with my uncle Don, who served in the military in Korea and Japan. The scrapbook had letters from Don written to his parents, and vice versa. It had letters he wrote to his sisters and his girlfriend. I knew all of the writers and recipients of these letters – but from the perspective of 30 years later… in a time of peace. Uncle Don’s letters were not only a picture of what military life looked like in Korea and Japan. They were a journey into his relationships and into his soul. I laughed outloud and then cried with equal abandon. I am so grateful I was able to take a journey into his thoughts and experiences because it gave insight and information I could not have had otherwise.
In our home office, Eric has saved every letter he received from his mom during his college days at KU. I have never read any of those letters, and I haven’t seen Eric read them in the 35 years since. Someday, however, those letters will be read by our children and perhaps even our grandchildren. And they will know Eric and his mom through a new lens.
Thomas Moore says that the magic of books and words may be the bypassing of the mind altogether because they affect the soul, whose interests focus more around eros and mystery.
Take a moment to think about a favorite word…
• Is it the name your children or grandchildren use to call you?
• Is it a delicious sounding word, like “smores”?
• Is it a delightful or playful word, like “supercalafragalisticexpealadotius”?
• Is it rich with meaning?
Why is it a favorite word? What texture does it add to your life?
Now, take a moment to think about a word that has power over you in a negative way…
• A name of someone that sounds in your ears like an assault.
• A word or phrase used by someone close to you and it presses your buttons
• A word you were taught was a bad word
• A word that evokes negative memories
Why is it a negative word? What hurt does it reveal?
Poets, lyricists, writers and speakers know that language has magic and power. They have conversation with the soul. Words have power in our lives. What we say and what we read change us. They can evoke feelings of warmth or feelings of intense pain.
Words hung on a church door 500 years ago started social, religious, and political upheaval and the world has never been the same. Words spoken to children have the capacity to create or destroy their self-worth. Words spoken aloud to friends and family have the power to build up or crush relationships. Words have souls and can be used to re-enchant our very lives.
Moore, Thomas. Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life. HarperCollins. 1996.
Howard, Ben. 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Ministry Matters