Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year A – Reformation Sunday
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – October 29, 2017
Throughout school, I studied history and German, so I was bound to learn about the upstart monk who turned Europe on its head! Studying history and Luther introduced me to the ideas of justification by faith and Lutheranism, even as Luther’s diligent study of scripture lead him to the freeing truth that God saves us through God’s grace.
As we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I’ve been reflecting on the church. What does it mean to be Lutheran? What does it mean to be a part of the larger church – the Body of Christ? As Lutherans we have a beautiful emphasis on God’s grace that forgives and sets us free, but this theology doesn’t belong to us alone. Pr. Joe will speak more to that. As the reading from John says, we are called to continue in God’s Word, Jesus, the Word made flesh, abiding in him because that’s where we find true freedom. The freedom of forgiveness, the freedom to learn and grow, and freedom to take risks and live abundantly for the Gospel. Because Christ has already made us free – we need only realize it.
That is incredible news, but it can also be a little nerve-wracking because how we as Lutheran Christians live out this liberating truth of God’s amazing grace can look drastically different depending on our context and culture. It might involve very traditional worship or a contemporary praise band. It might be a social justice-oriented congregation or one that excels at fellowship activities. It could be a Latino congregation or a congregation that has German or Scandinavian roots. All of these differences can make us feel like one way is better or more authentically Lutheran than another.
However, Luther and the Reformers proclaimed that the church is found where the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered. Not where the band is the coolest! The church seeks to proclaim God’s forgiveness and share God’s love with the world – it is called to be about the work of the kingdom of heaven and sharing the Good News unto the ends of the earth. As theologian Carl Braaten explains, “The Church … is the community of hope poised between the times, the time of the initial breakthrough of the kingdom in Jesus and the time of his final advent at the end of history.” That is a high and holy calling for a community of sinner/saints!
But in case we think the church is always to remain the same or somehow be static, we are wise to remember the other motto of the Reformation: “Ecclesia semper reformanda” “The church must always be renewed and reformed.” We are not only looking back on the Reformation of the 16th century to learn about it as some historical artifact. We are examining it to learn where we’ve been, to reclaim important beliefs and practices we may have lost, and to repent of our denomination’s sins and shortcomings. In short, we are looking back in order to look forward and to discover who we are and who we are called to be for the world. To put it another way, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” We have a rich tradition, but if we only celebrate our traditions, we are locked in the past with one foot in the grave. If, instead, we honor our traditions and learn from them and those who have gone before, we can live into the future the Spirit is guiding us into while being deeply rooted in our identity.
The church is always called to examine itself, just as we as individuals are always called to be reformed, renewed, and transformed. So how do we learn from others – Lutherans and other partners? How do we look to the ancient church even as we engage with the modern world?
I’m headed to Wittenberg, Germany on Friday to learn about Luther’s teaching and preaching – not for history’s sake but to think about how they inform what we as a church do today. I’ll be with pastors from around the world: India, Singapore, Jordan, Indonesia, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Angola, Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. The church is universal – united in Christ by his grace, love, and forgiveness, and gathered by the Holy Spirit to worship God. We are sent out to bring the good news of God’s saving love to all people – that is our clarion call.
We have so many opportunities to do this here at Community and I see you all doing it beautifully not only in the congregation, but in your vocations, service, and even the way you bear witness on Facebook! Many people get nervous about changes to the church because it’s “not like it used to be,” but we are called to follow God – to abide in and trust Jesus’s leading in our lives and ministry. And if I know anything about God it’s that God is often at work in the unexpected, the mysterious, and the things that may seem difficult or downright impossible. We are trying new things here – reaching out in the community in new ways, trying new liturgies, partnering with different non-profits and organizations. No one knows quite how it will turn out, but I have faith that as the church must always be reformed and made new, so too must we as individuals and as a congregation. I believe in this so much that Jeff and I are increasing our pledge for the coming year and I would invite you to pray about doing the same. How might we at Community be rooted in our Lutheran heritage even as we boldly experiment in proclaiming the Gospel in new ways?
Rev. Joseph Vought
Reformation Day 500th
Community Lutheran – Oct. 29, 2017
During the building of the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay construction fell behind schedule because several workers accidently fell from the scaffolding to their deaths. Engineers could find no solution to the problem. Finally someone suggested a gigantic net be hung under the bridge to catch any who fell. After it was installed, progress was hardly interrupted. A worker or two fell into the net but were saved. All the time that had been lost was regained by replacing fear with faith in the net.
Martin Luther was very much afraid of life in the late Middle Ages and felt like he was in a battle with sin, death and the devil. In Luther’s day a long life was 40 yrs, half of all children died before age 16, plague was decimating Europe, there was no aspirin, electricity or sewage systems. Luther was taught by the church that God demanded holiness and only those who were in a state of grace would go to heaven. He was so afraid and in such mortal peril that it drove him to the monastery to get on a pathway toward perfection. And when that didn’t work, thank God his wise confessor told him to read the Bible and become a Teacher of Holy Scripture.
What Luther rediscovered in the Bible is the Good News that God’s grace is the net of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. When he read Paul’s words in Romans “But now the righteousness of God has been revealed through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God we are now justified by His grace as a gift.” he felt “as if the gates of heaven had been opened before Him.” It set him free to serve and preach the Good News of Jesus.
For all of our advancements in knowledge, medical progress, computers and the like, we still struggle as a human species. The trilogy of sin, death and the devil these days is famine, natural disasters and the prejudice and bigotry that infect the human family. Sometimes we can become afraid. The Gospel tells us we have a gracious God in Jesus who came into our world of pain and stress and showed us how to be Godly. Because of Jesus life, death and resurrection and our Baptism, our sins are forgiven and we are loved by God with an everlasting love. Keeping faith, living our Baptism is trusting the net of God’s grace is there to catch us. Because of Jesus’ life death and resurrection we don’t have to be afraid of failing or falling. Baptism is the beginning of a lifelong journey and Confirmation is just one more step in a life of faith and ministry to live and serve like Jesus. I love the poet who said, “The reason mountain climbers are tied together is to keep the sane ones from going home. I need you my brothers and sisters to keep me from being afraid, to help me keep the faith.” Luther said, “We must preach, shout, sing, live and tell the Good News of Jesus until we believe again and live.” Because we are safely caught up in the net of God’s love and amazing grace we are free to love, free to serve and free to be partners in bringing healing to the world God loves.
We are free to do Godly work and ministry and build up this Church while we are here. We are no longer afraid and we are free to build bridges, to care for the vulnerable in our community and reach out to our neighbors with kindness and love. On the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation we continue to build bridges of forgiveness and share the faith with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. We no longer condemn each other. We work together for the healing of the Church. In Lund Sweden last year, Pope Francis met with Leaders of the Lutheran World Federation on Reformation Day and said, “It is good to remember the Roman Catholic monk who steadfastly pointed to Christ.” You gotta love Pope Francis, I think he could my pope too. We are free to gather with all the beloved children of Abraham- Jews, Muslims and Christians- and proclaim together that God loves all people and blesses the whole world. In the places where we live, work and serve, because of Jesus love, we are no longer afraid. We can be people of faith, hope and love. We can do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. And because we are no longer afraid, we can open our hearts and sing, “Were they to take our house, goods honor child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, The Kingdom’s Ours Forever.” Amen.