Luther has come back from isolation in Wartburg to a congregation and city that has in many ways revolted against the Roman Church but they have done the right thing, in the wrong way. Luther continues his first sermon, ‘And here, dear friends, one must not insist upon his rights, but must see what may be useful and helpful to his brother…Therefore we must not look upon ourselves, or our strength, or our prestige, but upon our neighbor, for God has said through Moses: I have borne and reared you, as a mother does her child [Deut. 1:31]. What does a mother do to her child? First she gives it milk, then gruel, then eggs and soft food, whereas if she turned about and gave it solid food, the child would never thrive [cf. 1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12–13]. So we should also deal with our brother, have patience with him for a time, have patience with his weakness and help him bear it; we should also give him milk-food, too [1 Pet. 2:2; of. Rom. 14:1–3], as was done with us, until he, too, grows strong…If all mothers were to abandon their children, where would we have been? Dear brother, if you have suckled long enough, do not at once cut off the breast, but let your brother be suckled as you were suckled. I would not have gone so far as you have done, if I had been here. The cause is good, but there has been too much haste. For there are still brothers and sisters on the other side who belong to us and must still be won.’
How then shall we reform? (noting that we do live in a different context to what Luther found himself) Luther writes, ‘Let us, therefore, let us act with fear and humility, cast ourselves at one another’s feet, join hands with each other, and help one another. I will do my part, which is no more than my duty, for I love you even as I love my own soul. For here we battle not against pope or bishop, but against the devil…Therefore all those have erred who have helped and consented to abolish the mass; not that it was not a good thing, but that it was not done in an orderly way. You say it was right according to the Scriptures. I agree, but what becomes of order? For it was done in wantonness, with no regard for proper order and with offense to your neighbor. If, beforehand, you had called upon God in earnest prayer, and had obtained the aid of the authorities, one could be certain that it had come from God. I, too, would have taken steps toward the same end if it had been a good thing to do; and if the mass were not so evil a thing, I would introduce it again. For I cannot defend your action, as I have just said. To the papists and blockheads I could defend it, for I could say: How do you know whether it was done with good or bad intention, since the work in itself was really a good work?…you [the Wittenberg congregation] could have consulted me about the matter.’
Luther is treading a fine line here. He will not defend the unloving actions of his congregation, but he might be willing to defend these very same actions to the ‘papists and blockheads‘ on the basis that the mass is fundamentally idolatry, and that the Roman church did not know the motives of those who carried out the ‘right thing’ in the wrong way.
What is important to Luther at this very early stage of the reformation? Reforming the church in truth – through love. And this is still as challenging to us today. Oh, and he did not say we needed to be nice, but loving…some will need the law, others will need the gospel.