The Humor and Wit of Martin Luther
Editor’s note: Clyde Kieschnick, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, provided the following article. On Reformation Sunday, Oct. 29, Kieschnick delivered his sermon as “Luther.”
These words of Martin Luther were recently posted in the narthex inside an attractive frame in anticipation of the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This was a gift given to Zion Lutheran Church by Lynn Oglesby, former director of All God’s Children child care at Zion Lutheran
As we do look forward to commemorating Martin Luther the man and the Reformation as the event that he inspired, I’d like to take this opportunity to enjoy Martin Luther’s notorious wit and humor. Brother Martin was a pretty funny guy and often used humor to express his theological ideas in all sorts of ways.
Both his humor and wit often proved a great way to both gain attention and to express his passionately held ideas to the people, whether it was a crowd of peasants or scholars.
Perhaps the wit and humor of Martin Luther was often misunderstood, inappropriately used, or frequently misused, but it was one of his ways in recognizing one’s limitations in this life because of our sin, and, to express great joy in the life that is to come.
Luther often used such language in expressing his first line of defense against both Satan and the practices of the Papacy and the church of his time. He faced life’s anxieties and survived troubling times with laughing, smiling, and humor.
For example, known to be a man who loved having a good time and enjoying letting other people know it, he once said before one of his lectures when speaking on Noah, “Tomorrow I have to lecture on the drunkenness of Noah [Genesis 9:20-27], so I should drink enough this evening to be able to talk about that wickedness as one who knows by experience.”
Another example was when he described himself at sixty as being “alt, kalt, und undgestalt” (old, cold, and mutilated).
Following then are some of Luther’s quotes that I think you folks might enjoy, but know that they came from a deep faith in Jesus Christ.
On Marriage and Family: Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in the course of their nine hundred years. Eve would say, “You ate the apple,” and Adam would say, “You gave it to me.”
On Church Practices: A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or cardinal without it.
Farewell to those who want an entirely pure and purified church. This is plainly wanting no church at all.
What lies there are about relics! One claims to have a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel, and the bishop of Mainz has a flame from Moses’ burning bush. And how does it happen that eighteen apostles are buried in Germany when Christ had only twelve?
On Christian Freedom: Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our conscience with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all.
If our Lord is permitted to create nice large pike and good Rhine wine, presumably I may be allowed to eat and drink.
On Music and Worship: The devil should not be allowed to keep all the best tunes for himself. I have no place for cranks who despise music because it is a gift of God. Next after theology, I give music the highest place and the greatest honor. Music drives away the devil and makes people joyful; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like.
On Human Nature: We need to hear the Gospel every day, because we forget it every day.
Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!
On Prayer: Oh, if only I could pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on this piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope.
I have often learned more in one prayer than I have been able to glean from much reading and affliction.
On Himself: Our Lord God must be a pious man to be able to love rascals. I can’t do it, and yet I am a rascal myself. Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set me on what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.
If I rest, I rust.
Others try to make me a fixed star, but I am an irregular planet.
Obviously for Luther, keeping his faith in times of distress often required a sense of wit and humor. Perhaps this was because he knew and believed that God laughs in the face of Satan’s defeat. When one reads the many works of Martin Luther, one sees his plain sinful humanity, his theological brilliance, and his strong defense of his Christian faith. Someone once said about Luther, “I can’t imagine his Christmas cards. I am almost certain there would be an image of someone mooning the devil!”