There is a tradition in our Lutheran faith known as the priesthood of all believers. This concept was drilled in to me by my minister father Ė every person has a calling and every calling is important to Godís plan. I know that Pastor Robin has mentioned this a few times too. Martin Luther said in his analysis of 1st Peter ďÖto be a priest belongs not to an office that is external, it is only such a service as has to do with God's presence.Ē So if we do something in the Holy Spirit we are a contributor to Godís community Ė just as valuable and important as any priest or minister.That means that everyone in our Lutheran tradition makes and has made contributions that were just as important as Luther himself. Yet we have overlooked some amazing people in our tradition. One of those people is Katharina Von Bora Ė Martinís wife. While Katharina did not write theology like Luther did, she had her own ministry. That is what I am going to share with you today.
Katharina Von Bora was born in 1499 and was sent to a Benedictine convent when she was about five or six after her mother died. She was born to a poor noble family and it was not uncommon for girls in this time and place to be sent to convents. When she was ten her father sent her to a different convent called Marienthron and she would officially become a nun in 1515 - two years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door. We do not really know a lot about what Katharina thought of being sent to a convent at five and then moving to another convent at 10. She had two aunts who lived at the Marienthron convent, one of which was the abbess. Perhaps she was happy to be with family or perhaps she missed her friends from her previous convent. We do not know. We also do not know why she chose to flee her convent with several other nuns and join Martin Luther in Wittenburg. But that is exactly what she did on Easter Eve April 4, 1523.
Katharina and several of her sisters left in the back of a herring wagon. This took a great deal of courage for her to leave the convent. She was stepping into an entirely different world than she had known from the age of five. In addition, women had few rights in this time. Nuns could not just leave a convent and live on their own. They had to have some sort of a male guardian. If she did not have a husband or father, then a male guardian would be chosen for her. The attitude was that women must be taken care of. At the time she left, Katharina had no idea that she would become Martin Lutherís wife. Yet, she left all the same. There must have been something that drew her to Martin Lutherís message.
So the legend is that about 9-12 sisters left the convent in herring barrels but we do not really know if they really left in herring barrels. We also do not know what the actual number of nuns who left was. Whatever the case, these nuns arrived in Wittenberg to meet Martin Luther who had helped them orchestrate this escape. It is actually quite a funny story because Martin found himself in the position of being matchmaker for runaway nuns. He hated this so much that he would eventually write that if a nun chose to leave a convent she should know where she is going. Martin found a suiter for Katharina and they liked each other. But the suiter married someone else leaving Katharina heartbroken. When Luther suggested another man by the name of Kasper Glatz, Katharina refused. She did not like him. She went to a friend of Lutherís, Nikolaus von Amsdorf to ask him to talk to Luther about not setting her up with Glatz. When von Amsdorf asked her why, she said she would marry von Amsdorf or Luther himself but she would not marry Glatz. Luther went over to where Katie was staying and they had a long discussion. We do not know what was said in this conversation but they decided to marry by the end of it. Their union did not start out as a love match but it ended up that way. Lutherís parents were thrilled at the prospect of his marriage because the were excited about grandchildren. And additionally, Martin loved the fact that his marriage would irk the Pope and he would be living his convictions that religious leaders should be married. It was more a risk for Katie because Martin was 25 years her senior and there was still a possibility that he could be burned at the stake. However, marrying Martin would give her the male guardian she needed and the security of a home and family. Katie would change Martin Lutherís life and probably even our own Lutheran tradition.
Katie Lutherís contributions to the Luther household were invaluable. She was a tireless worker and supported Martin so that he could do his ministry. Ruth Tucker, who wrote a biography of Katharina, says Martin was horrible with finances. She says that within months of their marriage the resources were so scant that they were barely surviving. In addition, he had cosigned loans with friends and he pawned some of their wedding presents to pay the debt. It only paid half the debt. Katie on the other hand was a businesswoman who worked hard to keep their family afloat. She made sure that Martin collected payment for his books which he had not been doing. She also talked to him about charging his students because they were taking notes in his classes and selling the notes. Although he refused to take payments from his students. Katie ran a boarding house which provided them an income, except when Martin refused to take payment from boarders. She ran a farm on their land with an orchard, vegetables, and livestock. She herded and milked animals and slaughtered cattle. She made butter and cheese, planted and harvested the farm land. She managed all of the animals and birds from, cows, horses, pigs, chickens, pigeons and geese, and even caught fish. She was also a beermaker and was known for her tasty drink. While they hired some help, Katie did most of this work herself. She took care of the household and kept children, boarders, and anyone else who came through their house well fed. Martin called her the Morning Star of Wittenburg because she arose at 4am every morning. It is not hard to understand why.
Many, many people came through the Luther household. In addition to the boarders who stayed in their home, Katie gave birth to six children, took in relativesí children who had no place to go and brought in orphans. She opened the door to runaway nuns, victims of domestic violence fleeing abusive husbands, and members of the nobility. She was also in charge of the table talks that occurred regularly in the Luther home. Table talks were discussions that occurred over dinner that some participants recorded. Katie managed the number of people who could attend due to limited space. She was also in charge of the food and drink, and she made contributions to the discussions - much to the dismay of some of the attenders of Table Talk. A woman is not supposed to be talking like this! One of the notetakers wrote that he wanted her to stop talking because he suspected the food is getting cold. But Katharina knew enough Latin and Scripture from her time in the abbey that she could hold her own in the discussions. She even argued with Luther at times. The Luther table was always full with people eating and discussing theology. They even had a waiting list!
In addition to all of the other things that she did was also skilled in the art of herbal medicine. Martin had a lot of health problems both mental and physical and Katharina would change his diet or provide herbal remedies for his health issues. She was also available to other people who needed healing. For example there was a noblewoman estranged from her husband because she had become Lutheran. She was living in a castle apart from him. When this woman became ill the Luthers took her in to their home and Katie nursed her back to health. Katie and Martinís son, who became a doctor, acknowledged his motherís talent for working with the ill.
I said that this did not start out as a love match but it did end that way. Unfortunately, we only have seven letters written by Katie, herself, but we have a lot of Martinís writings and can get a sense of their relationship from them. Katie called him Herr Doctor and he had many pet names for her Ė Doctor, brewer, pig farmer, and lady of Zulsdorf, a referral to their farm. His letters to her show how much he loved her. He teased her in his letters and shared everything with her from theological discussions he had to his health issues. A letter that Katharina wrote to her sister-in-law just after Martinís death shows how much she loved him as well. She said:
ďI am in truth so very saddened that I cannot express my great heartache to any person and do not know how I am and feel. I can neither eat nor drink. Nor again sleep. If I had owned a principality or empire I would not have felt as bad had I lost it, as I did when our dear Lord God took from me Ė and not only from me but from the whole world Ė this dear and worthy man. If I think of this, then for woe and tears (as God well knows) I can neither speak nor have others write down my thoughts.Ē
Martin was invaluable to the start of the Lutheran church and yet so was Katie. In our own day, we have the ministers, the priests, and the religious leaders but they are not the only people who make the church. They would not be able to do their work without the people who calculate the finances, keep the church clean, plan the church gatherings, and keep the building running and in working order. Outside of the church walls, we all have a calling as well. I think next Reformation Sunday, when we remember Martinís courage in standing up for his beliefs, we can also remember others, like Katie, who did the same. Martin started the flame but many others helped him to keep it burning. Katie was an integral part in doing that. This coming Reformation Sunday let us remember Katieís ministry as well as our own. Everyone is an important and contributing member of Godís community. Whatever we do to the glory of God, within the church and within the world is valuable to the Christís mission.
In Jesus name, Amen.