Sunday, October 29, 2017
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Jeremiah 31:31-34 I will write my law in their hearts, says the Lord
Romans 3:19-28 Justified by God’s grace as a gift
John 8:31-36 Jesus says, Continue in my word and you will know the truth
Title: Commemorate Today, Live Every day
It’s finally here. 500 years in the making and it has final arrived. (Well, technically it will officially arrive on Tuesday, but we are observing it today) The 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation. 500 years since that hammer of Martin Luther’s drove in the nail that posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church. (Not to diminish the act, but since it was the place for the posting of town messages, it was the equivalent of sticking a protest poster up on a public bulletin board with a push pin.) But he did it. 500 years ago Tuesday, and it started a chain of world changing events, conversations, debates, and actions – both political and ecclesiastical.
All around the world protestant churches, Lutherans especially, are doing their best to mark this significant anniversary. You can almost feel the excitement humming among us Lutherans. (I say humming because shouting and drawing attention to ourselves is just not who we are. As Garrison Keillor is constantly reminding us.) But, how do we do justice to the observation of such a major milestone of such a major event?
Historians among us will be drawing attention to the causes and the effects of the ignition of this theological movement.
Liturgy nerds will be giddy with delight planning and executing masses that reflect the original liturgies of the movement.
Musicians have been gathering and rehearsing the great musical resources that have been proclaiming the Reformation’s message through the 5 centuries. (Janet has been exhausting herself preparing for this afternoon’s recital. 3:30, please come back for it.)
Theologians continue to argue and debate the legacy that is ours and how it informs today’s world, today’s challenges. And the publishing of books about Luther and the others has hit an all-time high this past year.
So many ways to mark this day 500 years in the making: lectures, hymn sings, liturgies, movies, book studies, concerts, plays, pageants. What will do this anniversary justice? How do we make the most of celebrating this theological legacy that is ours? (A legacy that we see is an awaking to a new understanding of God’s grace.) What are the right events to host and attend?
To be frank, none of the ways I have listed will do. Whether you are commemorating or celebrating (a significant debate over which word to use did go on as we prepared for this anniversary), if our tradition tells us anything, it is that the splashy, attention-getting, self-important, self-serving, works that we perform, while they can be fun and entertaining, mean nothing in terms of our relationship with God and the living as Christ’s disciples by the grace that is ours through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The legacy of grace and faith that is ours, not because of Luther, but because of Jesus Christ into whose life and death we are baptized, – this is the truth that Jesus is speaking of, the truth that sets us free – this legacy calls us to live everyday commemorating and celebrating the truth and the good news that Luther felt had been buried by the clouding practices and traditions, and the power-hungry institutional corruption that had built up over 1500 years of Christianity. Like Jeremiah, this movement called people to see that this gracious and merciful God was present in each and every heart, that sins were forgiven, not because of works, but because of God’s loving action in Christ. This movement and its new understandings, as they called them, sought to again shine light on Paul and those first century Christians who taught and lived that justification – to be made right with God – is a gift that comes to us through Jesus Christ. This is our legacy. This is what we celebrate. What event could do it justice?
No, for us, celebrating this legacy of grace and faith is not about what we do today, or Tuesday, or even Wednesday at the big synodical event at St. John the Divine. We celebrate it every day.
Every day, we are raised up, like Lazarus from his tomb, hearing Jesus calling us to new life. What we do with that new life is how we commemorate and celebrate this legacy of grace and faith – not to win salvation, but to give thanks for all that God has done, is doing, and will do. Ours is faith, no need to fear.
Every day, we are assured in the baptism that unites us, naming us cherished children of a loving God who is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The God who delivers us from slavery to sin and death and brings us to a life that will never be separated from God’s perfect love. Ours is life, no need to fear.
Every day, we are comforted and renewed knowing that our sins are forgiven. Not because we have listed them all, made the perfect confession, or even understood the depth of our sinfulness. We are forgiven because God is love and will not allow anything to come in between God’s self and us – even our wrongdoings. Ours is peace, no need to fear.
Every day, we are blessed with the constant presence of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The means of grace, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, proclamation of the gospel and the fellowship of believers, remind us and reassure us of this truth. The cross stands as testimony to this truth. Ours is hope, no need to fear.
This is the truth. This is what sets us free. Free to live in faith and not in fear. This is what is written on our hearts so that we might know God in deepest intimacy.
This is the truth that is not 500 years old, but is the eternal truth. Woven into the fabric of creation. Breathed into us by the Spirit of God. It is the truth that washes us clean at the font and feeds us at the table. It is the truth that calls us to live every day in thanksgiving and live into the fullness of grateful response to God’s love.
For this Reformation is not just an event that happened 500 years ago. This Reformation continues today. The Spirit continues to move among us, through us, and in spite of us. The Spirit calls us to be a reforming church – always and continually reforming our own institution and faith communities: to be more Christ-like in our welcome, to be more courageous in our proclamation, to be bolder in our service to others. But also to be the reforming voice that speaks truth to power:
standing with the victimized and oppressed,
joining our voices with the Black Lives that Matter and the Me Too’s of sexism,
using our power on behalf of the powerless – whether they be refugee or immigrant,
or homeless, hungry, or addicted,
sharing the good news of God’s love with those stand in the shadows of shame and despair.
Make the most of the celebrations, of the music, the liturgies, the books and the movies. It is a most significant anniversary. And let all the attention and the festivities ignite anew this living legacy of grace and faith that is ours. Rejoice that God’s grace and mercy are boldly proclaimed and practiced by this reform movement of which we are living members. Join in the work that Christ calls us to and that the Spirit empowers us for. And be at peace, for regardless of what the world’s powers do – whether they be medieval popes or modern day politicians – we live by faith, not fear. Christ has set us free. We are free indeed.
The Rev. Mark Erson,