St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Meditation for Ash Wednesday (February 10, 2016)

Liturgical Color: Purple

Reverend Colleen Montgomery


Katharina von Bora Luther

Lent is a time of personal reflection on our individual spirituality. We begin these 40 days of solemnity tonight with confession. We begin with the imposition of ashes. We begin with readings that remind us of our hearts tendencies' to wander and urge us to repentance, reconciliation, and renewed commitment or our faith.

In addition to our annual season of individual reflection, this year we are adding a parallel journey of corporate reflection on our church's history through the experience of women leaders of the Reformation. Seeing where we have been and what challenges, mistakes, and misunderstandings we have overcome as a people of faith can give us courage and conviction to continue to feel God's grace for us and seek to spread God's justice and mercy throughout the world today and into the future.

The introduction to our main source Women and the Reformation by Kirsi Stjerna says this: "Just as women's perspectives through the centuries are more than a footnote, so too the women of this period are part of the main text of our history." Our aim this Lent is to move the lives, voices, successes, and challenges of these women to center stage. As both Pastor Lyle and I have begun to dig into the lives of these fascinating women, we have found some of our understandings challenged and our hearts moved by the faith of these saints. We are excited to reflect together.

The first woman on our list is Katharina von Bora Luther. She is most well known for being the wife of Martin Luther. As you may know, Katharina spent twenty of her almost 53 years of life in two different convents. Though she was born to a family of some nobility in 1499,she was sent to a Benedictine cloister around age 5 or 6 to receive an education and to be taken care of after her mother died. She moved to a Cistercian convent at age 9 or 10 to be with two of her aunts, and took her vows of obedience, poverty, chastity, and humility at age 16. Now we cannot be sure if Katharina felt a full calling to this monastic life. Though she never spoke ill of her time of religious devotion, she did not seek to move to another Catholic cloistered community in a different geographic location as other nuns did when German convents and monasteries closed. Katharina seemed to fully embrace both of her major vocations in life as she lived them, being a nun and being a wife, mother, and pastor's spouse.

On Easter Saturday in 1523, Katharina fled her convent with 11 other nuns in the back of a fish wagon. They did not know what life awaited them, as they would have no social standing as ex-nuns. Their near exclusive option was to find husbands and marry. Unlike monks leaving their monasteries, there was no option for women to enter formal religious life. American Lutheran women could not be ordained until 1970, and many Lutheran churches across the world still prohibit women from becoming pastors.

In addition to having no standing in society, women who left the convents likely experienced significant losses such as access to higher education and self expression. Universities were replacing monastic communities as centers for education and women weren't allowed. They also experienced the loss of all-female community. As you might expect, women had mixed reactions to these losses. Some gleefully left the cloistered life behind, but others felt they were being forced out of a life they felt called to and intentionally chose and being forced into a marriage that they had sought to avoid. However, I think it vitally important to point out the only reason we know their mixed feelings is because they had learned to write at the convents. Most women alive at the time did not know how to write, so we don't have access to their stories, their voices in the same way.

Though writing was a skill that Katharina possessed, very few of her likely many letters to her husband Martin survive today. I could spend a lot of time sharing with you delightful details of her life as first begrudging wife and later beloved wife to Martin. Her life as mother to 6 biological children, 6/7 nieces nephews, and 4 orphans. And her life master of the Luther home, hostel, dinner table, and estate. I instead want to focus on two tenets historians know were from her voice, two sayings that can profoundly shape our Lenten devotions.

The first is something she wrote to Martin in a letter. He was pestering her about reading the Bible more. He went so far as to offer to pay her to spend more time with the Holy Scriptures. She retorted that she had spent enough time reading the bible and praying during her years in the convent. Now her focus was to live out her faith, to live her theology, to live the sacred stories and sung prayers that marked her years as a nun. Now before you go and say, "That's great! I'm going to give up reading the bible and structured prayer for Lent and be like Katie and live my faith!" let's look at the amount of time she would have spent rooting herself in scripture and corporate prayer.

Conservative estimates: Hours spent studying scripture - 3 hours a day for 365 days for 20 years = 21,900 hours Bible - 3 hours a week for 52 weeks for 20 years= 3,120 hours Corporate prayer - 5 times a day for 365 days for 20 years= 36,500 times Us: 50 Sundays a year, plus 15 extras for midweeks, Holy Week, Christmas Eve, ecumenical events, funerals, and weddings for 20 years = 1,100 times

Not that it is a competition, but Katharina has us beat there. So you should keep reading your bible and coming to worship during Lent. Instead of continuing her studies, she was instead focused on how she might live out the grace, hospitality, love, and feeding miracles (she fed lots and lots and lots of people on a regular basis) she read about for those 20 years.

So I ask you: Just as Katharina lived our her faith, in what way could God be calling you to more fully live out your faith this Lenten season? Or to live out actions of Jesus in our daily rhythms?

What intentional actions and choices might you make this Lent to show this in your life? What approaches to your daily life might you shift, redirect, or turn utterly upside down to more accurately represent who God is to you?

Finally, I want to conclude with the words that Katharina closed her life with. On her deathbed she said, "I will stick to Christ as a burr to a topcoat." Let me repeat that "I will stick to Christ as a burr to a topcoat." I'm so taken with Katharina's grace-filled, slightly snarky, and earthy metaphor for thinking about our relationship to Jesus. I love how the image of being a burr develops.

First, a burr doesn't chose to whom or to what it sticks, just as we cannot choose God without the gift of faith and grace received through the Holy Spirit and Christ. God is already with you, for you, in you. So then led by the Spirit, we are able to put ourselves in the places where Christ can be found. We can find Christ in creation, in the sacraments, in community, and we can attach to his top coat in these places.

However, a burr is pesky, bothersome, and catches the person unawares. At some point, Jesus would have to interrupt his activity, and pay attention to the burrs. This idea of stopping Jesus in his tracks to focus on me is both invigorating and unnerving. How amazing to be held in Christ's hand, but yet at the same time how unsettling to be seen for what I am, a broken seed, covered in spikes, unable to realize my possibility alone. But Jesus says to me, to you his strength can be shown through our weakness.

Finally, Jesus flings us into the world to bring new life to all people and all of creation. We are seeds that grow in love and truth in our communities. The Spirit gifts us with what we need to share the nourishment of God's forgiveness and justice with everything around us. I pray Katharina's desire to stick to Christ is a desire that grows in us as well.

During this season of Lent, let us be pesky, pokey burr-like Christians. Let us draw close to Christ and nestle in on his top coat right next to his heart. Let us re-learn his grace, his ways, his call to justice and find new ways to live this faith out in our lives. Let us learn from Katharina and other strong women of the Reformation and be energized by their witness to continue to reform our church and our society. And as burrs eventually must die to the earth to raise up new life, let us remember that we too must die to the earth, become ash again, to be raised to new life in Christ. AMEN

 

 

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