Predigt in der Liverpool Cathedral/Lady Chapel, Lutheran Vesper zum Europäischen Stationenweg zum Reformationsjubiläum

Dr. Hans Ulrich Anke, Präsident des Kirchenamtes der EKD

“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”


Sisters and brothers, we’ve just heard this teaching from Matthew in Norwegian[1]:

“….Give to everyone who begs from you. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. Love your enemies… “.

Jesus himself points out these duties about how to live a good Christian life.

So do we follow him?

I don’t know much about how Christian life is in Liverpool. But I can tell you something about our life in Hannover – and it’s far from being perfect: As many others, I don’t want to be hit, nor once nor even twice, I want to resist evildoers if I can...

So Jesus’ words according to Matthew make me dream of a perfect Christian life full of love and gratitude. And they make me feel guilty at the same time – If I only read them: “Be perfect …as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

This dilemma brings us to a central issue of the protestant reformation. And it leads us to the story of Martin Luther, a German monk from the beginning of the 16th century: Like many other clergy people at this time, Martin Luther, studied the Holy Bible day by day. He tried so hard to live out his Christian duties so he would be accepted by God.

But, he felt that he never could satisfy those biblical guidelines. As much as he tried to do so, he never could be as perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect. Neither penitence nor even indulgences and tithes could help him.

Therefore, he became more and more frustrated about how he would ever be able to reach God’s grace.

After all, he learnt from the Bible, or - better to say - he really discovered, that it is not his job to obtain God’s grace. God by himself has already done everything necessary to save our souls by Christ’s death and resurrection - if only we trust him by heart.

What a wonderful cognition. The teaching of The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians mentioned it, also[2]:

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid: that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

Luther and his colleagues based their theology on this foundation. And they focused it on some famous exclusive descriptions to reach God’s grace[3]:

“solus Christus, sola gratia, solo verbo, sola scriptura, sola fide” which means in English: in Christ alone because of grace alone through the Word alone, based on that which is written alone and: by faith alone.

[If you want to know more about Luther, the German reformation - then and now - and about European patterns of protestant faith: come to Wittenberg and see where the protestant Reformation started. Or if you prefer an easier way: join us at the Reformation story truck. We will be at the Williamson Square in front of the Playhouse Theatre. There we will be waiting for your stories about your belief in God and about what your expressions of faith are today.]

As we are celebrating the 500 years of Reformation, in Germany we still have one more problem: Today, generally we don’t care so much about how to save our souls. The main topic today is, how to get a happy life, prosperity, high social networking and what we call a good “work-life balance”?

Most people couldn’t explain what words like “grace” and “beatitude” mean, if you ask them in the streets of Hannover. So the religious question today has to be asked from a more fundamental standpoint:

What does it mean today to trust in God, to be loved by him, just because you belong to God?

To help us to find an answer, we can look to this year’s ecumenical motto in Germany, which was chosen by a group of Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theologians. I bring it to you with warm greetings from our church. It is from the Prophetic Book of Ezekiel[4]:

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you.”

This sounds quite radical – new heart and new spirit. At the same time this is a serious diagnosis and a great promise. Ezekiel makes the necessity of the operation clear:

“I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh…I will clean you from all your uncleanliness and from all your idols I will cleanse you”[5].

We understand clearly that “new heart and new spirit” means changing the personality totally, including body, mind and soul. It was obvious also for the people in the old-oriental contexts of the old Testament: the heart was the organic place for the whole person, so everything that you think, feel and believe has to be changed.

What is the background for such a decisive promise?

Ezekiel mentions a time when the House of Israel was saved from the Babylonian Exile, 6 centuries before Christ. The Israelites had forgotten their God and his ordinances. They adored false idols, followed evil ways and profaned what should have been holy.

Into this disaster Ezekiel figures out God’s fidelity with the House of Israel as a great promise of a total renewal:

  • new heart, new spirit, cleanliness,
  • abundant fruit and grain,
  • destruction restored and rebuilt,
  • and that the desolate land will become like “the garden of Eden”[6] 
  •   - by God’s will alone and for his own sake to show his holiness!

With this text from Ezekiel we could enter into an interesting debate, about

From which idols must we be cleansed?

What may be the heart and the spirit of our nations and societies today?

Is it possible at all to think about collective heart and spirit in times of individuality, secularity and plurality?

What is our vision of a “land of hope and glory” for God’s sake?...

But according to Lutheran traditions, a sermon is not a place to use extraction from a Biblical Lecture to elaborate about how to build society.

So let us share some of the lessons we can learn from Ezekiel for ourselves with a regard to the reformation jubilee and towards fresh expressions of faith today:

Trust in God and his promises, even when it seems hopeless. He will give as he has promised.

Remember that the renewal of heart and spirit comes from God’s own will. You do not need to be exhausted. You can not force it on your own.

God wants to renew us for his sake - as we heard it in the reading of the First Letter to the Corinthians[7]:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you? …. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Therefore, our job is to be prepared to receive God’s gifts, to use them to find out, how a new spirit inspires us, how we can express it and how a renewed heart enables us to follow God’s statutes, to find a cheerful faith and a confident hope.

I don’t know about your experiences, but I can tell you about some of mine. Sometimes doubts and ignorance can be obstacles that are standing in the way of our belief in God. I had such an experience when I was a junior teacher at Martin-Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg.

I was writing my thesis about the judiciary character of contracts between state and church. I lost myself in sophisticated debates about theoretical problems. I was so absorbed by those problems, as well as my inability to reach convincing solutions, that I was on my way to losing my confidence and contact to reality, family and friends [- “homo incurvatus in se ipso” - distorted in myself as Lutheran theology perhaps would describe it.]

During this time, as well as in other difficult times, praying regularly, even when often I didn’t feel much contact to God, was a stabilizing power and it has always helped me to refocus.

In the end it was so relieving and encouraging, to truly discover, that there was no necessity for me, for my life, or for science to solve those academic problems. God’s grace accepts me just as I am.

This is what I learned from these experiences: keep searching for God, with fidelity through regular prayer and praise, in church and at home.

Since that time, it has meant for me e.g. to sing the traditional carols and hymns to my children as I put them to bed. And now my favorite religious practice has become playing the trumpet with my “church brass band” – which is a very typical form of German protestant church music.

For the reformation jubilee in Germany people are telling their stories about their faith in God, and it becomes so fascinating when you hear stories that you weren’t expecting! So I was really surprised by Jürgen Klopp’s statements, who is now the Premier League coach of the “Reds”, here in Liverpool.

I am an enthusiastic football fan, and I was amazed by his achievements in the German Bundesliga with the football Teams of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. But I did not know, that he is also a very spiritual man, and that one of his most influential sources is his faith in Christ:

For him the Christian faith is like a “fixed star”, like a “rip cord and a guideline”!

Martin Luther serves as model for him because Luther figured out an “absolute positive idea of the loving God” and because Martin Luther was a great fighter for new ways in trusting God, for enabling people to find their own way to Christ.

I don’t know if these statements from Jürgen Klopp translate well into English. If not, that is one reason more to learn German! It is worth it, I can tell you.

In summation, perhaps merely three words are enough to describe how we should celebrate our Reformation jubilee and how we should live our Christian life:

“Vergnügt, erlöst, befreit.”

– That is the Rhinish motto for the jubilee: “Released, liberated and joyful.”

I know that Germans are infamous for their seriousness. At least, for us, the German people, these three words will really be an expression of a new heart and a new spirit, for God’s sake.

Therefore, let us be perfect in this way:

Released, liberated and joyful  - by God’s own will and his grace and for his sake!


And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[8]



[1] Chapter 5, 38 ff.

[2] Chapter 3, V. 11.

[3] Allein Christus- allein aus Gnade - allein im Wort- allein aufgrund der Schrift-allein durch den Glauben.

[4] Chapter 36, V. 26.

[5] Ezekiel 36, V. 25 f.

[6] Ezekiel 36, v. 29 ff.

[7] Chapter 3, V. 16 f.

[8] Philipper 4, V. 7.