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500 years later, Luther’s legacy offers tricky lessons | Worship


Last updated 10/4/2017 at Noon

It’s a tricky thing to be Lutheran as the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

You may remember that in the last days of October 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses onto the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It proved to be a revolutionary spark that ignited protest, renewal and profound changes in religion, politics, economics and the practice of the Christian faith.

But it’s tricky. For all that Martin Luther got right, there were some things he got terribly wrong.

We rejoice that his critique of the corruptions of the Church of his time led to new interest and devotion to the Bible, to new music in worship, to new attention to the poor, to new understanding of the importance of daily life, to children’s education and to new appreciation of the amazing grace of God.

Still, it’s tricky. Along with all the truly great consequences of the reformer’s work and witness, there’s a dark and ugly side to confess.

Late in Martin Luther’s life, he wrote ghastly things about Jews. Perhaps it was shaped by the cultural context of his time; perhaps he was emotionally exhausted by the painful death of his youngest child; and perhaps he was just angry about his failing health and what may have been an undiagnosed mental distress.

Whatever the motivation, Martin’s shocking language about Jews found its way into his writings. There’s no excuse for that.

So, it’s both joy and sorrow, both thanksgiving and grief that many of us feel in these days.

Members of our congregational council were concerned enough that they decided to explore ways to reach out to other local communities of faith. They wanted to voice their rejection of those particular writings by Luther and to reassert their commitment to care and advocacy for the wellbeing of all religious minorities.

It seems right that in our own time, in our own community, we need to publicly renounce modern anti-Semitism, white supremacy and the kind of bigotry that plays out so frequently in our culture.

Looking back at the miserable record of so many that have gone before us, we knew we couldn’t remain silent. Honestly facing the difficult chapters in our own story has galvanized a fresh resolve to resist the scapegoating, racist and xenophobic impulses so evident in our times.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, began at sundown on Friday, Sept. 29. During this season of reflection, contrition and repentance, I am mindful that it is by God’s grace that we have a chance to begin the next 500 years with humility, determination and new relationships with all our neighbors in faith.

David Parks is the lead pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Everett. The Lutheran church is at 215 Mukilteo Blvd. For more information, go to


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