It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to guess the country, though the towns may sound strange: Offenbach, Darmstadt, Mannheim, Coburg, Heidelberg, Worms . . . . The land of beer steins, sauerkraut, liverwurst, and black bread; cuckoo clocks and overflowing flower boxes; wide, winding rivers and deep green woods; stone castles on hillsides and quiet, efficient trains; and the greatest music ever written. The beloved homeland of Bach, Mendelssohn, Handel, Beethoven, and Wagner.
Germany is also where some of the severest yet most essential battles for the faith were fought. It was there that the chain that bound the Bible to ornate pulpits of spiritually dead religion was broken. It was there that the Word’s truths were liberated from the secret language of a corrupt clergy and placed into the hands of the common people. And it was there those same people were first given a hymnal from which they could sing their faith. And it was all because a sixteenth-century German monk was willing to take his stand against all odds.
It was in his tiny, stark cell in the Augustinian convent at Erfurt, all alone with a Latin copy of the Word of God, that Martin Luther decided to believe God, to allow Scripture to mean what it says, and then to stand firmly on it, regardless of the consequences. It’s that last part we tend to minimize.
Being officially branded a heretic did not hold him back. Being publicly defrocked, rebuked, and excommunicated merely fueled his fire. From the day he hammered those ninety-five theses onto the door of the Wittenberg church to the day he stood at Worms before the most impressive array of church prelates and political authorities ever gathered in his lifetime, the man remained the embodiment of authentic courage.
I have walked where he stood. Jeers no longer mark his pilgrimage; instead, one finds monuments and plaques and paintings. Time has a way of correcting faulty perspective.
I needed that visit to Luther’s homeland. I needed to hear those guttural sounds he once spoke and to touch the stones he once touched.
I found myself seeing beyond the temporal stuff like steins and sauerkraut, castles and skyscrapers. I heard Luther’s voice in the woodwork, and I felt his fire in the bronze and iron monuments now green with age. It was more powerful than my phrases can possibly describe, making me appreciate again the eloquent words from the sacred text, “He, being dead, yet speaketh.”
When we stand on the shoulders of those saints who have gone before, we gain a strategic vantage point.