Reformation C—October 27, 2013
Preached at Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
The Revised Common Lectionary offers two options for today’s readings: those you just heard, appointed for Reformation Sunday, and those appointed for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. There are two options because some communities, even some Lutheran ones, forgo celebrating the festival of Reformation Sunday.
– Some do so because their denominations are not seen as directly connected to the happenings at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on that fateful day.
– Some see celebrating Reformation Day as us Protestants celebrating some kind of victory and rubbing Catholics’ noses in the fact that we think we are better than them, or at least a little closer to the true gospel.
– Some use Reformation as an excuse to sing “Mighty Fortress” as if it were “Sweet Caroline”—a Luther fight song, instead of a faithful paraphrase and reflection on Psalm 46, speaking to how God is active in our lives.
– Some think that Reformation Day is too focused on Martin Luther, and that an observance would run the risk of putting Luther in the place of God or at least overshadow the true purpose of our worship.
If I thought any of those things were going to happen to any great extent this morning in worship, I would agree, I too would choose to skip the festival and preach on the lectionary texts meant for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. Because to do any of that would un-do the Reformation all together!
As David Lose, a professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota puts it: “the whole Reformation—was and is an attempt to shift our attention from ourselves—our piety or our passions, our faith or our failure, our glory or our shame—to God, the God who delights in justifying the ungodly, welcoming the outcast, and healing all who are in need.”
This is why the color of the day is Red. If we were celebrating Martin Luther, we might use white for a Saint, but instead we use Red, just like on Pentecost, to represent the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that was at the center of the Reformation, not Martin Luther.
For the same reason, we do not celebrate a single action today, not just the nailing of the 95 theses, but we use that date in a symbolic way to represent the constant reforming that happens in our lives, that the Holy Spirit inspires in the church and throughout the world, not just in the 1500s, but in every age, way back when, today, and on into the future.
The church is not a static institution. God is, the gospel is, but human society is not, and therefore neither can the church be. Contexts change: the first emperor is baptized, people stop speaking Latin, our world-view widens, Sunday morning attendance stops being a given, Blue Laws end, Twitter and Facebook come into existence, and the church must constantly reform in order to make sure it stays focused mainly on God and continues living out its mission—to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. But all of that happens only with the inspiration of the Spirit.
At Pentecost, the gospel was preached in many languages, so everyone could understand. During the Reformation, the scriptures were translated into the language of the people, so that all might hear, read, and study God’s word for themselves. Today, the Spirit continues to work through us, the church, to find the language by which we, and all, might know of experience the love and power of God—
the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, even though they continually broke the covenant,
the God who claims before our first breath and forgives us our sins even before we can ask even though we could never be earn justification,
the God who is our mighty fortress, our refuge and strength, a very present help in danger,
the God who speaks and life is created,
the God who speaks again and the storm is calmed,
the God who works through the flawed Catholic church and the flawed Lutheran church alike.
the God who blesses us with an abundance—time, talents, treasures,
the God who frees all and makes us free indeed.
There is no distinction between any of us, we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” but there is a distinction between us and God—the one who makes us “justified by grace as a gift.”
We are “justified by faith apart from works,” and so we have nothing to boast about. The reformers, with the help of God, refocused the church on that message, and we must continue in the same vain. Reformation does not mean necessarily changing everything or doing everything a new way, but always checking to make sure God is at the center of our worship, our lives, our message, our actions. Everyday we are renamed and reclaimed forgiven children of God—we are reformed to focus less on ourselves and more on God, on God’s creation, on God’s people in need.
– Everyday we fall short.
– Everyday we mess up.
– Everyday we give up.
– Everyday we are too self centered
– Everyday we squander the abundance that God gives us.
– Everyday God remains faithful, steadfast, righteous, loving, forgiving, and creating—forming and reforming us until all have heard the good news.
This is why today we celebrate the festival of Reformation Sunday, not as a pat on the back or a Lutheran pride cheer, but as a reminder that we have been reformed and are still being reformed by our creator, our redeemer, our sustainer, the one and only God, who was and is and ever shall be. Amen.