“All roads lead to Rome,” so the saying goes that originated in the Middle Ages. There is some truth in the saying as roads radiated out of Rome all through Italy and Europe. Additionally, researchers found that there are ten cities called Rome in the USA and there is a Rome on every continent. That’s a popular city name. The saying, though, is a way of saying that there are many routes to a given goal. Choice permeates our thinking.
We have looked at “scripture alone,” “faith alone,” and “grace alone” during October. This week we will look at “Christ Alone.” A rather generalization would be that at the time of Luther, European Christianity was dominated by the Roman Catholic church and there were not Protestant denominations. People did not “choose” if and where to go to church on Sunday morning. All roads led to Rome as there was only one accepted road. A local priest was called for life’s transitions like birth, weddings, deaths, and illness. So what was the problem? The worldview at the time was hierarchical, meaning that grace was dispensed by the more powerful to the less powerful. There was a system going from the Pope to cardinals to bishops to priests to husbands to wives. One appeased all the layers above oneself to find peace. It is hard for us to imagine today. We live in a world much closer to the pluralistic New Testament world of Paul.
Does it matter, really, as we all live within systems? For Luther, “systemic evil” was as big a reality as that term congers up today. The systemic evil did not involve job inequality, gender bias, ethnic profiling which probably all existed but Luther focused on the control and manipulation of the ordinary person through religious doctrines about eternal life. God was distant, at the top of a long list of authorities. Luther famously struggled with a belief in a distant, angry God who had to be appeased by ritual, by penance, by indulgences. Luther read 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Through relationship with Jesus Christ, the ordinary person could go directly through prayer to God, could himself read and interpret Scripture, and could come to the sacraments without a penance system. It was a revolutionary change in thinking that challenged an existing power system.
As we go to the polls next week, we are aware of all the cries about systemic evil in our world and the swirl of debate about how to deal with the resulting problems. We are reminded that we live in the Kingdom of this World that is corrupt, is powerful, and bias. The Christian faces that systemic evil armed with the belief that there is direct access to a God who cares about all, listens to all, values all and fights for all in the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s hard to grasp with our human minds as our bodies face trials but each of us has a mediator and can call on God in Christ’s name. Thank you. Blessings as you face your challenges today. You are not alone.