October 29, 2023
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who is at the center of our story. Amen
It’s Reformation Sunday!
Yes that day where we take time to commemorate
the movement kicked off by Martin Luther
when he posted his 95 Theses
questioning the practice of selling indulgences
in exchange for the forgiveness of sins.
Now of course others had raised similar questions before
but at the time Luther brought up his questions
all the conditions were just right
so that it took off like a spark landing in a pile of dry leaves
and before anyone really knew what was going on
the whole church and even society was on fire,
and while it wasn’t his original intention,
a new movement emerged
that eventually became another church,
who gathered under the name “Lutheran”,
even though Luther strongly protested against it.
And now here we are over 500 years later,
calling ourselves Lutherans
and telling the story of our beginnings.
Now stories are an important part
in helping us understand who we are,
and how we tell these stories
influences who we will be
as we move into the future,
so it’s important to consider
what we emphasize when we tell these stories.
will we tell the story and highlight the bravery of Luther
and the other reformers (remember it wasn’t just Luther)
in standing up to question the powers of the day?
And will this way of telling the story
lead us to be brave
and question the powers of our day?
Or will we emphasize
how wrong the Roman Church was to sell indulgences
and tell a story of how we are right and they are wrong,
continuing to live the division of all those years.
When we tell the story,
will we make humans the heroes,
or will we tell tales of what God has done through humans?
Will we focus on ourselves or focus on God?
Because that’s the danger,
as important as it is to tell the stories
that tell us who we are,
who we might be,
we humans are self-centered
and tend to make ourselves the main characters,
taking credit that is not ours
and placing responsibility on ourselves that is also not ours.
This too is at the heart of the reformation.
Luther’s struggle with faith is famous,
his excessive confessing,
his attempt to do all the things he could think of
to make himself right with God
and his despair when none of these things seemed to work.
Luther’s great insight came reading the book of Romans,
the passage we have as our second reading
where Paul proclaims “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…
and Luther realized
that it was not about what he did,
but what God did.
Luther’s perspective changed
when he started to focus on what God was doing
rather than what he was doing.
And with that change in perspective,
when he returned to the scriptures,
(the stories that tell us who God is),
again and again he found God to be a God of grace
rather than the demanding tyrant he’d experienced before,
the story told to him by those in power that he trusted.
What Lutheran wanted,
in starting a discussion,
was to shift how the story of God was told,
to tell the story by focusing on what God had done,
what God was still doing.
This is something we still struggle with today,
even with Luther’s insight to guide us,
we are human after all.
As part of our Vitality Initiative
we have been learning about asking God centered questions
rather than church centered questions.
Church centered questions
place the focus on what we are doing or what we need,
like “How can we get more young people to come to church?”
or “How can we survive”
or even “How can we serve God?”
Whereas God centered questions
place the focus on what God is doing,
what God needs,
for example “How has God been present in difficult times?”
or “Where is God already at work in our community?”
or “How is God at work through us?”
Different sets of questions
that will yield different sets of answers,
the idea is that if we want to change our story
we might start with the questions we’re asking.
Part of why we’re doing the Vitality initiative
is that we’ve lost the thread of our story a bit,
we’re wondering who we are
and who God is calling us to be.
To help us recapture our story
we’re putting together a timeline of Grace,
you see it as you walk in the East doors,
and because the congregation is made up of all of us,
we need your help in telling our story.
Included in your bulletin is a bright card,
this is for you to add to the timeline,
we’re going to take a few minutes right now,
and I invite you to write down a moment you experienced God with this congregation,
or met someone who influenced your faith,
or anything else that leaps to your mind
when you think of how you tell the story of Grace in your life.
Go on take a couple minutes.
(feel free to add your reflections in the comments section)
Now I know these aren’t theses,
and we’re using painter’s tape rather than nails,
but in the spirit of Reformation Sunday,
after worship I invite you to boldly add your story
to help shape our story,
the story that God is even now at work in and through.
At its core the Reformation
is about returning to a God centered perspective,
a faith that tells stories of God,
a people who know who they are
because of who they know God to be.
We know who we are
because of who God is,
and who God is,
is one who self-sacrifices for the sake of the world,
one who continually forgives and offers forgiveness
because God would rather be in relationship with humanity
than estranged from creation.
Our God is one who longs to be known so well
that it’s as simple as our heart beating “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
and all this God offers as a gift,
a gift we receive through faith,
trusting that God will do
what God has promised.
Of course this is difficult at times
because we are always tempted
to make ourselves the main character in our story
rather than play a supporting role in God’s,
so it’s a good thing
that in addition to everything else,
God is patient,
and again and again God brings us back to the table,
telling us the story of what God has done,
offering body and blood for the forgiveness of sins,
reorienting us to God’s way of life,
God sends us back out into the world
with renewed faith
to tell that story. Amen