Reformation Day 2020
Beloveds, grace and peace to you from God who created us, Christ who set us free, and the Holy Spirit, who still moves today. Amen.
If you were in the sanctuary a few weeks ago, you might’ve noticed a hole in the wall behind the pews, by one of the stained-glass windows. The drywall had been pulled off, and two thin wooden beams of the supporting wall were exposed. This hole showed up near the end of the re-painting process we’ve been doing the past couple of months. It was after the ceiling was no longer peeling down in places, the single-tone white/green of the space had been replaced by sky blue and white, with a darker blue in the altar space. The gold accents had been touched up, and clean-up had started.
And yet, under the beautiful work the painters had been doing, there was water damage that came to the surface again, bubbling under the sky-blue paint. In order to repair that damage, some of the work that had happened needed to be ripped out, and the wall dried out. At one point, there were three different standing fans pointing at the hole, including a very loud industrial-sized one. Only after the wall dried out could the painting in that area be re-done, and the space finished.
You might be wondering how this everyday story of construction work connects to our celebration of the Reformation today. For me, this story functions as an example of Reformation – noticing when something isn’t right, undoing as necessary, and repairing, even if it feels like going backwards. Even if it comes at a cost – whether that cost be in money, in time, or in how we live our lives, in letting go of the illusion of linear progress, and holding the feelings that come with that.
Often, when I imagine the arc of history from the Reformation up until now, my first instinct is to imagine linear progress. A line graph always going upwards, at a steady pace. Humanity constantly improving our tools, increasing efficiency, producing more capital, becoming more connected, more tolerant.
Other times, I imagine history as an exponential curve, where the top levels off at a point, because I know we can’t keep going at the pace we have been, with the resource use and exploitation we have been – Creation is groaning, and so many of us are exhausted at trying to keep up.
I wonder if progress, and history, looks more like spirals, and cursive writing. Where collective well-being – taking seriously that all of humanity is created in the image of God, and, I would extend, that all life and growth is in the image of God – where that collective well-being is the driving force, instead of progress.
And I wonder if that’s part of the freedom Christ is discussing with those who believe in him in the Gospel assigned for Reformation.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Jesus’ word is a word of love, justice, accountability, and healing. Jesus’ truth frees us from what is binding and harming us. It frees to care for our neighbor. Frees us to tell the truth about the sins we have experienced, and perpetuated, and which have shaped our institutions. It is daring to dream God’s Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
This freedom comes at a cost.
The cost can come as we let go of linear notions of progress, in favor of collective well-being.
As we acknowledge when we’ve sinned, when our institutions have sinned, and the very real harm that has come from that.
As we change course in our relationships or profession, naming when the path we’re on isn’t right for us anymore, even if other people urge us to keep going as we have been.
As we shape our lives “not to please mortals, but to please God, who tests our hearts” (from 1 Thessalonians).
As we give everything we have, and everything we are, over to the care of God.
This freedom is not easy. It can be painful. It can bring up memories of guilt and shame.
It can remind us of times we had hoped for freedom, hoped for liberation, and it never came, or it came with too many losses, and deaths.
But the freedom that comes from God’s unconditional love and grace? Even though it’s not easy, it’s so powerful, and so revolutionary, that Jesus died at the hands of empire for it. For the sake of Creation. It’s worth hoping for, and worth working towards.
Liberation is worth hoping for, and worth working towards.
And as I think about Reformation, the church reformed and still reforming, this year feels like a year of Reformation. The ideas of freedom, of collective well-being, of Reformation, of works of love, are so intimately woven together for me. Collectively and personally, it feels like a year of ripping out damp wood, exposing the foundation, and repairing the damage.
Vicar Reed Fowler,