It is 2017, and it seems that the whole world has descended upon Wittenberg. Luther tours, Luther conferences, small groups with every Lutheran affiliation imaginable, and individual tourists from all over the globe have been traveling to Wittenberg all year. They have been touring the important sites in Luther’s life, and learning about his theology there. It is 2017, and it seems that the whole world has descended upon Wittenberg—with perhaps one important exception, and that is the Lutheran World Federation.
The fact is that still today, all over the world, much is for sale that, in reality, is priceless: human beings, endangered animals, oceans and rivers, mountains and forests.
For their twelfth assembly that took place this May, the LWF did not go to Wittenberg; they went to Africa. Africa, which houses the largest Lutheran Church in the communion, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, with slightly over 9 million members. More specifically, they went to Namibia, a former German colony, where the Lutheran Church played an important role in the struggle against apartheid. This is not your grandma’s German [or Swedish or Finnish] Lutheran Church—and it certainly looks much different than when Luther sowed it five centuries ago.
The tagline of that assembly was “Not for Sale,” and that phrase shows how relevant the core Reformation message of 500 years ago still is today, a continent and a culture away. The fact is that still today, all over the world, much is for sale that, in reality, is priceless: human beings, endangered animals, oceans and rivers, mountains and forests. Consumerism is the god that is worshipped by more people world-wide than any other; and the siren-song consumption sings, which promises happiness, success and self-worth, lures more and more people to the rocks every day.
In such a dangerous, deadly context, the Reformation message of freedom and liberation comes as a welcome island of rest and restoration to those who are weary of striving, those who have no money for purchase, and those who are riddled with shame and guilt. The message is, simply, that you are good enough, just as you are—you don’t need to buy anything, win anything, do anything to be loved, cherished and valued. And you are not for sale.
The Rev. Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen is Editor of Dialog: A Journal of Theology and
Co-Dean & Professor of Systematic Theology at United Lutheran Seminary