A Reformation Sermon given on October 27, 2019.
A young monk named Martin Luther was tormented and in bondage to his own understanding and knowledge of human existence and sin and God as it was characterized by the church of his time.
His heart and head lived in constant turmoil, contradicting each other sending Luther into a whirlwind of doubt. Coached by the church, Luther’s head told him that he was a wretched sinner – doomed to damnation and hell. There was no room for grace, only a judging God. The hierarchy of the church drew a line between the privileged priests and bishops and princes, and the ordinary worshipers. The only path to God was through the clergy, a corrupt group that used the church and their ambitions to oppress the already poor to make them and the church greater. Indulgences were created to fund their dreams of creating a far superior cathedral and put money in their pockets, while impressing upon the people that they could improve their status before God in the next life by paying their way to heaven.
But his heart, rooted in the Word, told Luther of a God of love who forgave him and took care of his sin once and for all – a God who loved him and all creation no matter what! A God who required nothing of God’s people but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. A God’s whose final act on the cross and victory over death and the grave, was exactly that – FINAL! We were not doomed to damnation and hell. Jesus the Christ took care of everything!
Through all this chaos and doubt, this young tormented monk experienced God’s grace as he continued to pour through the scripture. And here is where he hung his heart:
Ephesians 2: But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ …For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
This is the Truth that set Martin Luther free!
In Luther and others, God paved a way, building up courage and conviction to stand up and say that the church needed to be reformed: to be a place where the Truth was set free for all people to experience the grace of God. Ushered in were dramatic changes in the church and the world.
502 years later, we find ourselves in the midst of another profound shift. As the world has continued to change through time, so my friends must the church continue to be reformed. While many of us yearn to cling on to the church of our youth, many of our youth show up (or don’t) yearning for a church of today. A relevant church. A message that speaks to the struggles of their world today. And I dare say, it’s not only our youth. Look around you. See who’s here….. Now see who’s not. There are those who are a part of our faith community but who have been absent from this sacred space. Where are they? Or maybe the question is better stated plainly, why are they not here? Do we know?
Then think about your friends and families – how many of them show up in a place of worship on a regular basis? Where are they on a Sunday morning?
Then look out into the neighborhood around us. Is this church relevant to our neighbors? Do we know our neighbors?: Where they come from? What they do? By the looks of the many strollers and dogs that stroll by our doors, we can guess that there are a number of young families with pets around. But do we know them? Do we know their needs? Do they have a place to belong? Do they know they are welcome here?
I’ve been asking these questions of folk who are a part of a faith community, perhaps ours, and others who do not belong to a community of faith. While there are different reasons why folks don’t adorn the doors of this church or other churches, I am wondering if the most prevalent reason (if there is one) is that church doesn’t make a difference in this hard world in which we live. In fact, while we’ve always thought (or wanted to think) of the church as that source of refuge (a Mighty fortress is our God), for some, the church can serve as a trigger of unrest and dis-ease. In a world that already manifests great unrest and dis-ease – should the church not be a place of solace – a place of comfort – a place of peace that practices justice? A place of relevance?
Decline in attendance, giving, and affiliation is not news to those of us in church circles.
Yet today, I believe in a certain hope that we can cling to – perhaps the same hope that energized the first reformers. That hope is rooted in the belief that God is at work, ever forming faith by the power of the HS, and transforming the world through the gospel of JC. But this hope needs flesh and blood. It needs us.
Our council has adopted an Adaptive goal
To embrace our small family-sized church community, and be overtly inviting of our neighborhood and welcoming to all who step through our doors. We will do this by moving away from calculated numbers and focusing on relationships in our daily lives – relationships with God, each other, and with our neighbors.
A relevant church is always reforming in order to be relevant.
A relevant church – a reforming church – is only as relevant as the people inside. And the only way to be relevant is to be in relationship: With God, each other, and our neighbors. When we cease to be in relationship with God, each other, and our neighbors, we cease to be church. Through relationship we learn from each other. Through relationship we hold one another accountable. Through relationship we bear each other’s and others burdens and joys. Through relationship we offer support. Through relationship we care. Through relationship we listen. Through relationship we find a place to belong. Through relationship we learn to be relevant.
A story of the church reforming and becoming relevant:
This week I attended the annual meeting of Together Colorado – an interfaith organization that works for justice in our communities. Mission Statement: Many Traditions. One Vision, Engaging our Faith-driven Passion for Justice. I am still processing the day of conversations, testimonials, and presentations about how we work together for justice. I learned much from my Christian leaders, Jewish Rabbi and Islamic Priest friends. We talked about what it means to belong. When we share our stories, and we listen each other into presence, we are building relationships – with God, each other, and our neighbors. And in so doing, we become relevant in the world that is hurting and broken. And as one of our keynote speakers from the national organization Faith in Action said, when we build relationships, we “create a world as it should be, where you are the other me, and I am the other you.”
ML said: We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”
May we friends, be always reforming, listening to our world, sharing in its brokenness and suffering, and engaging in relationship that brings healing and wholeness – that brings grace – Just as those a half a millennium ago bravely led the church.