A month ago, I was walking through the Stamps Theological Library at Azusa Pacific with my daughter Carly. We were strolling along beautiful rows of commentaries, theological dictionaries and word studies. Suddenly, Carly looked at me and smiled, “Dad, look. Luther’s complete works!” I was stunned. For perhaps it would contain, could it, a compilation of his unvarnished thoughts in the book entitled “Table Talk”. I’d purchased it in a used bookstore when I was newly arrived in seminary in 1981. The book fascinated me. It gave me an understanding of the Reformation and gave candid insight of how people thought about God issues I was just now asking. I probably read it through more than a dozen times. It was full of off-the-cuff observations culled from conversations around his dinner table, with students, friends and visiting theologians.
I loaned the book to someone long ago, never to be returned. I thought I’d never see it again. I’ve referenced it hundreds of times. But never thought that I might be able to find it again.
And there, at the end of this collection at Azusa Pacific, it stared back at me. Table Talk. Carly and I both laughed and jumped around, whispering like we’d found a secret treasure of antiquity. For she had heard me reference the book so many times. I joked that I would now travel from Arizona to Azusa if only to sit and pour through the book I’d missed for so long.
Carly noted the moment. And on Christmas Day I opened what she had procured for me on Amazon. A slightly used and wonderfully intact, Table Talk. And that is why Carly will receive all of my inheritance when I pass on…
But as I’ve been pouring over it, the last few days, I’m struck with how little Luther had learned to live out of the grace he so powerfully and wonderfully fought for. He’s often arrogant, petulant, overbearing, short-tempered and rude. Granted, he’d been ex-communicated four times, by four different groups and his life was always in grave danger for the enemies he created in high places. But throughout his conversations it appears he appeals to the flesh to convince others to not come under the Law.
…It reminds me of two things at least at this moment. One, reformations are often started by people you’d rather not spend a week with in a car. God appears to disproportionately employ people who are a lot of work, just to get the ball rolling. Love song-writers and botanists simply do not have the anger or the grouchiness to wage long battles against injustice and untruth. I have never been at ease with carrying this message of the reformation of sanctification by grace. I’d rather have all men and women and animals throughout the entire world enjoy me and laugh at my humor. Maybe its Bill or Bruce who have issues allowing them to willingly step into such battle. We imagine the chapter “Two Gods” in “The Cure” may bring at least a bit of the scorn and attack Luther received for his message of the reformation of justification by grace.
Two-it makes me keenly aware that none of us live this life we promise with precision. I’m an absolute wreck, Bruce can get quietly over-bearing and Bill is annoying when playing behind a slow foursome. The message of our actual righteousness is so true it’s from God. But the ones being asked to carry it, well we’re maturing into the righteousness we already possess.
So, I think I’ll cut Luther some slack today…and maybe myself also.
John-One of the three amigos, part of the ever-growing tribe of grace.