Reformation Sunday 2009
There’s part of me that LOVES Reformation Sunday. It is an amazing celebration. We get to commemorate Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. The images of this tonsured monk, in his monastic robe, taking a hammer, nail and sheets of paper to pound into the door of the church are incredible. They’re inspiring.
We too should do that. We should find some place where there is injustice, where the hierarchy is suppressing good people, where wrongs are being perpetrated and we should right them.
Maybe we could use more modern tools than a hammer, nail and paper. Maybe we should use the internet, set up blogs, send out tweets announcing our blog updates, encourage people to post their own comments, and start the ground swell of really making change in this world.
Oh wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be glorious? That would certainly get us noticed as a congregation on the move—one that is dynamic and growing—and obviously full of the spirit. I can’t wait. Now all we have to do is find some cause to champion.
Hmmm ... that might be a bit more difficult for us actually. See ... in order to do that, one of two things would have to happen:
-- Either we would need to have a charismatic leader develop who we could all rally behind, or
-- We would need to have meetings that would produce the plan that we could bring to a congregational meeting to vote upon.
Those two things would certainly bog us down. I doubt we could find the leader that we would all agree upon, and I really doubt we’d find the plan that we would all agree upon either.
Neither one should be a problem. We could just appeal to our faith and scriptures, find God’s grace, it should be simple. So let’s try that. What do our readings today involve?
Let’s start with the Gospel. It’s a strange little snippet from John’s version of the Gospel. Jesus is confronting those who are following him—not comforting—confronting—this group of believers who have just started to follow him. Luther writes that Jesus is doubting that they really do have faith to follow him. He further wonders if they are even sincere in their desire to follow him. Those are harsh words. Ones that we don’t want to even think about being true for ourselves. Do we really have faith in Jesus ourselves? Is our faith really sincere, or are we just in this to get something from it—like escaping the fiery furnace of Hell?
Well if the Gospel’s going to be problematic for us, let’s look at the Epistle, maybe we can find some hope there. Well here we find something different. Here’s the passage that Luther used to base his famous doctrine of salvation on. There’s nothing we can do to merit God’s love for us, that we are saved by grace alone and not by works. Really this is what prompted Luther to start the process of wanting to reform the church. People don’t need to buy their way into heaven, or even their family and friends’ way there. So I guess there is some hope there.
But now we’ve got another problem. It seems as if Jesus wants certain things done, or at least a certain way of approaching things, and Paul is saying that works are not necessary. So which charismatic leader are we willing to follow? The Jesus who says: You need to truly believe and do what I want, OR the Paul who says: You are a child of God and therefore saved nothing else is required.
It can’t be both can it? We can’t be subject to some rules and subject to none at the same time can we?
Luther would probably argue that we could. It does seems to be reminiscent of his famous statement:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
Here’s where the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures comes in. God establishes a new covenant. This isn’t the old Mosaic Covenant—the law given at Sinai—the Ten Commandments. This also isn’t the Deuteronomic Covenant—all those laws in Deuteronomy. It also isn’t the Abrahamic, Priestly, or Davidic covenants. It is the sixth covenant—a new covenant—a new beginning—a new starting point for the relationship between God and God’s people.
In it God promises to be God, and to provide God’s law to God’s people in such a way that they don’t need to learn it—there’s no classes—they won’t need to even teach each other about God—for all will know God.
So if this is the way God set things up tens of thousands of years ago, then why do we still have Education classes? Why do we feel a need to witness to people? Why even baptise and make people members of the household of God? For they already are. God has already put God’s law in our hearts, we know it and know God intimately.
I guess ultimately it comes down to our freewill. That point where we get to choose between doing what we know is right, and doing what will benefit us the most.
This is how we are bound and free at the same time. We are free to choose our actions—but God calls us to be bound to one another in our choices. See the greatest gift in the Trinity is that we are in relationship with each other—that is the essence of a covenant—a relationship—where people are there to support and care for each other.
The relationship we have with God is not one of two equals though. If we believe that God is omnipotent then we are powerless in front of God. If God’s wisdom is greater than ours then we are inferior in front of God. For some reason though, God still wants to be with us, and be our God. God still wants to protect us, care for us, and love us.
If we took that reality into all our relationships in the world how would we be different? Could we begin to trust that there are people out there who are more powerful than us who are willing to care for us? Could we find leaders who we would be willing to stand behind knowing that they would protect us? Could we agree on a cause for being that would show love for all of God’s creation?
I think we could.
And I think we could live it out without the dramatic moment of nailing things to doors, and taking stands, and dividing things. Then again wasn’t that Luther’s intent. My understanding is that he didn’t want to start a new church—he didn’t want to break away from Rome—he wanted to change some things that were clearly unfair but not start all this.
As things played out, it became difficult, if not impossible not to take a stand. But imagine how things would have been different if all involved were open to being reformed by God.
For me that is truly the great gift of the Reformation. It is the reminder that God acted by putting God’s law into our hearts.
Reformation Sunday isn’t about celebrating how Luther was right, and the pope was wrong—and how we (his spiritual descendents) are right and Roman Catholics today are wrong. It is about reminding ourselves for our own need to be reformed in God’s image.
It is also an opportunity to examine what we believe and be open to the Spirit working in us. There are people that we exclude, that we demand unjust things from—today is the day that we re-commit ourselves to ending that exclusion and injustice.
That thought is even more inspiring—that we can make the world a place of inclusion and justice for all. That is more powerful than a hammer and nail will ever be. It is more dramatic than a statement of belief—for it is living out our belief in the world. For that we give thanks today. Amen.
Editor, T. F. L., & Second Edition Editor, W. R. R. (2005; 2005). Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings. Fortress Press.