In The Days of Martin Luther

Today began with devotions in a small chapel next to the Town Church here in Wittenberg. Then it was time for classes to begin. Our lecturers are Professor Theodor Dieter and Professor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson. They have lead this seminar before and are well-versed in Lutheran history and doctrine. The structure of the seminar for the next two weeks will be mainly on the writing of Martin Luther. We will have three challenges:  
  1. Challenge to understand text
  2. Challenge to understand the setting of the text
  3. Challenge to apply them to our current setting


The first two will be covered each morning, as we will be considered students of Martin Luther. In the afternoon, we will have an opportunity to discuss how these apply to our current settings.  

But today the focus was on an introduction to the Middle Ages and Martin Luther before the Reformation. I will give a brief overview and will save the details for classes when I return!  

In the Middle Ages, the average life expectancy was 30 years. Life was miserable – plagues, famine and death at every turn. So eternal life was the hope and desire of the people, that some day they would be done with this misery, and live forever in paradise. In order to achieve this goal, one needed to be baptized, and forgiven of one’s sinful nature – we are all sinners. But mortal sin – the things we do or leave undone – brought one back down to the level of sin and separation from God. So penance, asking for God’s forgiveness, would bring one back to a level of hope. One would strive to reach the level of righteousness in the eyes of God, but could never achieve it. So when one would die, a time in purgatory to pay off those mortal sins would be required.  

Penance was a major focus of the people in these days. This what much of Luther’s writings focused on – forgiveness and being made right with God.  

In 1505, Luther joined the Augustinian Hermites, became a student of Theology and a teacher of Philosophy. It was not that he was interested in Philosophy, but older students were often required to teach younger students. As a Friar (or Monk), Luther worshipped six times a day, hearing the psalms and scriptures read so that he came to know them inside out.  Luther’s training as a monk instilled in him the focus on the scripture asking the question, “what does this mean for me?” This was instrumental in his teaching approaches.  As someone said, you can take the monk out of the monastery, but you you cannot take the monastery out of the monk. And in Luther’s coat pocket when he died, a piece of paper was found that read, “We are all beggars.”  

Of course, our sessions went into greater detail. But this gives you a small taste.  

In the afternoon, we went to the 1517 Panorama display.  This incredible 360 degree display is a painting/photograph that depicts a day in Wittenberg 500 years ago. Martin Lither appears 14 times in the display. The detail is incredible. No picture does this justice, but I am bringing home a poster. Here are a couple images from the display.

This evening some of us shared about our church settings.  

Paula is from Brazil. She serves three congregations in the southern part of the country. She started studying English five months ago so she could come to this seminar.  The church has an active youth program, including camps and activities. Her church has a strong connection with the Catholic Church in the area.  
Soliette is pastor and a doctor in Nicaragua. There is a terrible political crisis in Nicaragua. She shared several stories about how the government is corrupt, causing many to flee for their lives. Soliette’s Grandmother is the founder of their branch of the Lutheran church, and is now the bishop. The church is focusing on empowering women and gender equality.  
Connie is from Swaziland, which is surrounded by South Africa. The church focuses on health issues, especially The prevalence of HIV on the country. 31% of the population is infected by HIV.  
Tara serves three congregations in the South Dakota synod. Her congregations are far apart in the rural ranch lands of the state. She works with the congregations to focus on justice issues in the community, and to be welcoming to all.  
Finally, I had a chance to share about Epiphany and my setting. I gave everyone in the group Epiphany sunglasses that we have leftover from the youth gathering. They will be seen around the streets of Wittenberg in the next few days.       
Tomorrow we start discussing writings of Luther.    
Pastor Charlie        

One Response to “In The Days of Martin Luther”

  1. Phil Steiger says:

    Thanks Pastor for this posting. I am a Lutheran from another Synod but so enjoy the pictorial and the narrative.

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