Monday, 20 January 2014

Why Preachers Should Read Luther

Why should preachers, particularly lectionary preachers, read Luther? Of course there are many reasons, one of them being to study and learn from the freshness of his insights as he preaches the same texts year after year:

"Luther's sermons followed the course prescribed by the Christian year and the lessons assigned by long usage to each Sunday. In this area he did not innovate. Because he commonly spoke at the nine o'clock service, his sermons are mostly on the Gospels rather than upon his favorite Pauline epistles...Year after year Luther preached on the same passages and on the same great events: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost. If one now reads through his sermons of thirty years on a single theme, one is amazed at the freshness with which each year he illumined some new aspect. When one has the feeling that there is nothing startling this time, then comes a flash. He is narrating the betrayal of Jesus. Judas returns the thirty pieces of silver with the words, "I have betrayed innocent blood," and the priest answers, "What is that to us?" Luther comments that there is no loneliness like the loneliness of a traitor since even his confederates give him no sympathy. The sermons cover every theme from the sublimity of God to the greed of a sow."

From Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon, 1955), still one of the best popular biographies of Luther, available on-line here. English translations of some of Luther's sermons can be found here. There are also sermons available to the English reader in the American Edition of Luther's Works, which edition is presently being expanded by Concordia Publishing House with the inclusion of three further volumes of sermons. 

Luther preached an estimated 7000 sermons in 36 years of preaching (!), of which about 2300 survive in written form. He followed the traditional one year lectionary, whereas most preachers today have the luxury of a three year lectionary. One must remember too that most of Luther's sermons were delivered to the same town congregation, whereas preachers these days expect several calls in their time of ministry. Nevertheless, most contemporary preachers will have struggled with the need to maintain freshness (which is different from novelty!). In that endeavour Luther can be a valuable teacher. 

The pic is of the pulpit in the town church in Wittenberg; it's a pity the drab, ill-conceived parament detracts from an otherwise impressive scene. 


Recovering Lutheran said...

I would be happy if some American pastors would read the Bible. The ones who are long on political harangues and short on God's holy truth.

Or maybe actually reading the Bible wouldn't make a difference. Many of these "progressive" pastors seem to think the 10 Commandments are the 10 Outdated Intolerant Rules, that Jesus (if She existed) was a gay Marxist revolutionary, and each book in the Bible was written centuries after the fact by a dozen or more anonymous authors.

Acroamaticus said...

Hope you have a decent local preacher, RL.

Recovering Lutheran said...

We do indeed, praise God. We are attending a Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod church with a preacher who takes the Bible seriously.

the Old Adam said...

Our pastor preaches like Luther. No holds barred.

The law…strong…to kill.

The gospel…free…to make alive again.


Recently our pastor told us how Luther would belch, loudly, and on purpose, now and then in his sermons.
So that he could show that he wasn't any different than they were.

What a guy!

Acroamaticus said...

Mmm, I haven't heard that one before, Old Adam, although Luther was certainly an earthy bloke. It strikes me that belching in the pulpit is like telling jokes in the pulpit - only some preachers could hope to get away with it.

the Old Adam said...

I think you have to look at what Luther was trying to accomplish in a time and place where the clergy was viewed as the 'real Christians'…and of a much higher stature than the ordinary folks.
Luther was attempting to right that errant view with his belches.


Acroamaticus said...

Yes, OA, it needed righting at the time. But the problem today is more likely to be at the opposite extreme: a devaluation of the preaching office (and by extension those who hold it, since they are inseparable from the office) and an exaltation of the private views of individual Christians over the authoritative preaching of the Word.