Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 8:31-36
Reformation Sunday is a festival Sunday unique to Lutherans. As the last Sunday in October, it’s a celebration of the day Martin Luther called out the church on it’s need to reform. He began a movement that resulted in what we call the Lutheran Church, but is more than that. Martin Luther helped us recognize that the work of the Holy Spirit through the church is ongoing. Reforming isn’t a one-time thing from in the 16th century, but never ends. As long as there is a church, there will be a need for reformation.
That said, I wonder what the Rev. Dr. Luther would think of the Lutheran Church today? Personally, I think he’d be somewhat confused. There’d be a few things he’d think were pretty stellar, e.g., our emphasis on grace, our understanding of scripture both in terms of law and gospel, our acceptance of the priesthood of all believers. But I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be so happy about some other things. I think he’d be sorely disappointed with the role the Lutheran Church plays in our culture. Or rather, the lack of the church’s role.
I think he’d be annoyed at the casual attitude we have around Christian and Biblical education—for adults, primarily.
I think he’d be upset about our general lack of effort regarding supporting the poor and most vulnerable among us.
But mostly, I think the fact that the Lutheran church just can’t seem to share the gospel effectively would absolutely shock him. Granted, he lived in a different time, culture, and political system. But one thing he never had to worry about was the Church’s message being communicated. That’s part of why his protests mattered so much. The church DID communicate with the rest of the world, and, in his biblical opinion, was communicating the wrong things. That was a problem because the world actually heard the message of the church. We had to get it right, because the gospel of Christ was at stake.
How offensive it would be to him today that really bad, harmful, even dangerous theology is being proclaimed in Jesus’ name in our world, and we Lutherans remain pretty quiet about it. It’s as if we don’t think it matters all that much, which Luther would never accept nor understand. Christ’s message is one of hope, of forgiveness, of grace, of life itself. Luther almost lost his life proclaiming that. On the one hand, this gospel is being dangerously distorted by those on the religious right for power and for personal gain. And on the other hand the gospel of life is being casually taken for granted by those on the religious left.
If Martin Luther understood the state of the church today, I’m pretty sure he’d call for another Reformation.
And I think he’d get it.
Not because Luther would be outraged, but because it’s what the Holy Spirit already seems to be doing. The church that came after the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century looked way different than the church that preceded it.
And it will be so in the Reformation we are already in the midst of today.
Reformation itself isn’t a new thing, nor is it a one-time thing. About 2600 years ago, Jeremiah wrote in our OT text today, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors . . . says the Lord.”
In the gospel of John today, Jesus talks about the truth setting us free. Apparently, there was a denial of the truth about Jesus that would change everything. That’s reformation talk. Jesus brought reformation. The funny thing is, the Judeans who heard this Reformation talk didn’t like it because they disagreed with it. Jesus says that not being set free by truth is bondage to the lie. It’s that important. We’ve gotten into a bad habit of deciding that if we don’t like something, it isn’t true. That’s what Jesus is calling out here.
The truth is, the church that’s coming will not look like the church that currently exists. The sooner we accept this reformation, the sooner we’ll be set free to be part of it. Although I’m no expert or futurist, I believe the church that’s coming:
- will be more focused on following Jesus and less on following doctrine.
- will be more about compassion and less about conversion.
- will be more about what we do on Monday and less about what we do on Sunday.
- will be more about loving others and less about labeling them.
- will be more about celebrating diversity of beliefs and less about policing uniformity of them.
And the truth is, here at LCM we are making every effort to be part of that future, reforming church. Trusting in the guidance and movement of the Holy Spirit, we want to be part of God’s new reformation.
The truth is that if the changes that are coming in the church are hard, it’s because every reformation is always hard. We will all be challenged in our faith, our spiritual lives, even our daily priorities. If we are hoping for a church that makes us comfortable, we’re hoping for a dying church. If we’re hoping for a church that affirms what we already think and believe, we’re hoping for a dying church. Reformation means that God is up to something new. And how exciting that we get to witness the beginnings of this new thing God is doing!
What would the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther say to us about the Lutheran church today? I think he’d tell us that as uncomfortable as reformation might be, God is behind it, so it will be fine. And finally, in the midst of upheaval reformation can bring, in the midst of the uncertainty of not knowing what we can cling to in this time of change, I think he’d point to his wife Katie’s last words spoken on her deathbed, “I will cling to Christ as a burr clings to a coat!”
Welcome to the Reformation.