Today we honor Martin Luther. Born in 1483, Luther’s intellectual abilities were evident at an early age. Though his father wanted him to go into law, Luther at age 22 entered a monastery and was ordained a priest two years later. After five years, Luther became professor of biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg. His academic work led him to question the selling of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. On October 31, 1517, he posted on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg the notice of an academic debate on indulgences, listing 95 theses for discussion. The Pope and Luther went back and forth, but Luther refused to recant. Three years later, Martin was excommunicated. When Luther was threatened with arrest, his own prince put him in a castle for safekeeping. There Luther translated the New Testament into German and began to translate the Old Testament. He also worked on worship and education for the church. He introduced congregational singing of hymns, composed hymns, and put together liturgies. He also assembled catechisms for education. He wrote prodigiously and died more than 20 years later.
A lot of us think of Luther today and remember him as being victorious. Luther was a key leader of the Reformation and we think of him only as a winner. But we forget that much of his life was lived under threat. Though excommunication might seem like no big deal to us today, Luther’s very life was in danger because he stood up to the corrupt church. And even though he evaded the authorities, the only “life” he had was while being hidden away in a castle – basically an imprisoned life without the ill treatment. We remember Luther as being the victorious reformer, but that work was not without some suffering.
What Luther learned was that life is a constant time of pruning. Jesus says in our gospel lesson, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it a bear more fruit.” Branches that are not bearing fruit, God removes. But even those branches that are producing are trimmed back. No branch is free from the cutting process – all will be affected.
In many ways, that is what Lent invites us into today: a time of clearing and pruning. There are certainly things in our lives that are not bearing fruit. Though it may feel painful, those parts of our lives need to be cut off. But even where we see hints of growth, we need to do some uncomfortable trimming to get to real productivity. We many not write songs, produce liturgies or write education catechisms like Luther did in his pruning time in the castle. But if we can endure the clearing and trimming, imagine how much greater our flourishing can be! Amen.