Maybe you’re like me and when you hear about Halloween you then by extension recall the occasion of the same date: Reformation Day. So there we line up our traditions and never the two shall meet. Christmas, Easter, even to an extent Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day we have some good coping skills of blending the occasions of society and church together, but this one is a toughy. Halloween and Reformation Day- the birthday of our Lutheran church. So I thought we would mix up our compartments for this occasion just a bit. “Boo!” There you go. Now “Boo!” This is really quite a word. “Boo!” The most popular of sayings for trick or treaters and those who enjoy fall themed Halloween activities. Many people, I would guess in the millions will utter this phrase in a few days until it’s good and annoying and then we’ll put it back in the drawer until next year. Or will we? What about when we meet a fussy newborn? Then the eternal game of hide and seek lite comes out and we crouch down out of site of the infant and pop up and say, “Boo” often it seems to work, the child is surprised and smiles, giggles, or at least thinks things through a bit, so the game goes on. Crouch down, “Boo!” Then repeat a few hundred times. That’s how it works. Completely different connotations but significant, powerful, impactful, the word “Boo!”
What we do know for sure is that one little word can carry a lot of weight in every avenue of life. Stop! Pass. Pay! Graduate. Look! Congratulations. Duck! Jerk! Words are so powerful. There is almost nothing that can't be broken or fixed or caused to become with words. Words on a page. Words spoken. Power. Words are so powerful that even one word can create an action or reaction in another person.
In the anthem of Reformation Day, A Mighty Fortress is our God, one of the stanzas speaks about the Devil. This world’s prince may still scoul fierce as he wills, he can harm us none, he’s judged the deed is done. One little word can fell him. Luther is writing here that just one little word can dismantle and defeat the Devil! This is pretty powerful stuff! So what is that word, that one word that can defeat the power of the Devil in the world? Well he didn’t tell us. We don’t know.
Let’s look at the context of the world in which this hymn was written to figure it out. To start with, the only little words from God anyone ever heard. Sinner- Hell- Anger. End. The Catholic Church in the 16th century was in bad shape. It existed first to preserve pomp and tradition and second to nurture the faith of the people. In order to preserve tradition, all church services were conducted entirely in Latin while the people spoke German, or English, or Italian etc. The priests taught the people that God was very angry with them. That he was an angry judge that would send them all to hell for any sin. The people went to church out of fear and because everyone was there.
We know exactly the feeling of being beat down by our sin. The truth is the world is really efficient at labeling us with a word. Words like broken. Addicted. Embarrassment. Failure. Disappointment. Words like these can plague our lives for far too long.
The church furthered this mindset by offering forgiveness for sale. This way the people finally had a chance at forgiveness if they could scrape some money together and the church got limitless funds to build bigger and more impressive churches in Rome. Martin Luther after becoming very advanced in his studies was finally allowed to study the Bible on his own! The Bible was so rare and so valuable that it had to be chained in place. As he read, he came across things like our Gospel lesson which says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” He crossed what he read in God’s Word with the things that he had been taught in school they did not match up. He had been taught that God was angry and wrathful and he was reading that God was loving and forgiving for the sake of his Son.
Then single words trickled out to God’s people everywhere and words like sinner. Hell. anger. Shame. Were all of the sudden replaced by words like forgiven. Free. loved. Jesus. And on that little word “Jesus” everything changed for Luther, for the Christian world and for every single one of us.
In every single one of these cases the story of our life completely changes every single time we bring our brokenness to Lord the only word that truly matters is Jesus. Jesus is the name placed on us in our baptism. Jesus is the name that forgives our sins. Jesus is the word that empowers us to love God, love our neighbor, and live in the glow of forgiveness today and everyday.
With this word sin is defeated. Evil loses. The devil is powerless. Sin is forgiven. Faith is planted. Hope and love win and Heaven stands open. One little word- Jesus. Amen.