Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reformation 2014

Nearly 500 years ago, if you will remember from your world history classes (or from your confirmation classes if you grew up in the Lutheran tradition), the church ruled over every aspect of a gal’s life.  The church controlled not only your worship life, but it also took charge of your education, your finances, your vocation, and even whether or not you would be granted entrance to heaven.  The church was in bed, if you will, with the politicians and rulers, and as Pastor Susan noted last week, those make strange bedfellows.  The intermingling of these entities led some of the leaders down dark paths of power grabbing toward abuse of the people in the name of God. 
Now, about that time, a university professor looked around and decided that as much as he loved the church, it was time for a few changes.  He had thought he would achieve some conversation and scholarly debate, but he had hoped for some reform.  And so, Martin Luther pounded 95 Theses to the front door of the chapel at Wittenburg, Germany.  Now, when I heard this story as a younger person, I always pictured this as a radical movement.  NAILING demands to the church DOOR?  Was Luther asking for trouble?  But really, it was more like posting something on the bulletin board in the narthex here at Holy Cross.  Remember, the church controlled just about everything in those days, it was the center of community life, and so the front door was often used as a means to disseminate information…kind of a city web page, if you will.  And those 95 Theses we hear so much about were not so much demands for change… serious matters to be sure, but, well, we might think about them as merely suggestions for improvement or things to talk about over lunch or a beer with colleagues.
It was very likely that that fateful day in October started out just as any other day. The day was probably crisp, the leaves were changing colors, and Martin Luther crawled out of his bed roll, spent an hour in prayer, washed his face, remembered his baptism, was probably fascinated with his daily BM (didn’t know that one?...we can after worship), and headed to work to post a little invitation for conversation with the guys.  Little did ol’ Marty know…that invitation, that nailing of theses, that action of posting notice…likely one he had taken several times before…little did he know that that one moment would set the whole world on fire.
Martin Luther’s invitation for conversation regarding change ultimately sparked a revolution, divided the church, and changed the course of history. 
Fascinating.  But what in the world does that have to do with us today? 
Luther’s action sparked the change for the way the church functions in the world.  And by most accounts, it was a very good thing.  The church, the world needed to change.  The corrupt powers, those strange bedfellows, needed to be reminded of their call in the world…a call to first of all love God with everything they had, and second to love their neighbors as children of God.
Things needed to change. 
Whew, that’s’ funny, right?!  Change??  Ironically, in the church and for Lutherans especially, that is a very dirty word, isn’t it?  (“but we’ve always done it that way”)
And yet, our psalmist today reminds us that we shouldn’t worry so much about change.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…”
And change it has.  Not only is our world and the church’s call in  it very different from the world 500 years ago, many of us will argue that the world, and the church, is very different than it was even just 30 years ago. 
When I read Psalm 46 again last night, I wept at the prophecy:  “the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.”
I bet you can think of a few places this prophecy rings true. 
Syria.  Iraq.  Afghanistan.  These are countries where the bloodshed in the name of God is nearly incomprehensible.  There Muslims are killing Muslims in power struggles masquerading as significant difference in religious doctrine.   Insurgents are killing those who come to help.  They are killing those who fight.  They are killing those who cannot or will not fight.  Killing the innocent and the complicit alike.
“the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter”
Guinea.  Liberia.  Sierra Leone.  These are countries which are being ravaged by a virus so potent that the entire world is upon its knees in terror…and then, the fear begets violence.  Not in terms of warfare, but in ways that are even more insidious…in ways that cause us to question the sanctity of life of another person based solely upon privilege of race or nation of birth.  The United States of America.  Where we say things like “keep those West Africans out of my country”…as though we who managed to be here a year ago are somehow more entitled to safety from a biological nightmare…even though all of us are simply longing for a good life, a healthy life, a safe place, a land to lay claim to us, and to grant rest to our weary souls…refuge.
“the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter”
Nigeria.  Where hundreds of girls were kidnapped this spring and sold or traded into slavery.  They are still missing.
“the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter”
Ferguson, Missouri.   Where an unarmed black man was shot dead by police.  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Where a couple was beaten because they are gay.  Because the way those people were understood to be outside of God’s creation.  Made in the image of God and yet declared “not good” by those with social power.
“the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter”
Marysville, Washington.  Right next door.  In our own county.  Where some of you live.  Where a bright and laughing teenage boy brought his father’s gun to school and murdered his friends.  And then, he took his own life.  And for what?  We may never have the answers.  Marysville-Pilchuck High School.  The latest in a long string of devastation in this country.  I learned yesterday that this shooting, this one which claimed the lives of our neighbors is the 50th school shooting in this country THIS YEAR.  and it is the 87th school shooting since the tragedy at Sandy Hook. 
“the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter…the earth melts.”
When are we going to demand change?
When Luther nailed those theses seeking the reform of the church, he got it.  The church became less about institution governing lives and more about the ways in which WE are the church.  The Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians…those are merely titles, factions, ways of interpreting how we read the scripture and how we worship.  But those ways, those factions, those splinters, those institutions and governing bodies and councils and synods and denominations are NOT the church.  WE are the church.  The body of our living Lord. 
I don’t know about you, but I think the world could stand to once again be set afire.  I think we need a little change.  A little REFORM.  Some improvement in the ways we live with one another.  And who is going to do that?  Who is going to be responsible for stepping forward on an average October morning, remembering God’s claim over us in baptism, and saying, “here are some plans, some ideas, some demands for transformation in the church…which is the whole world?”
Hear the Good News:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
God with us.
“He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.”
God through us.
God with us.  God in us.  God through us.  WE are the church.  We are the dynamic, ever-changing body of Christ.  We are the ones called to leave these doors and to do something about the things in the world that need to be changed. 
We are the fire-starters, brothers and sisters.  In the name of God who redeems us…by the strength of God who sustains us…by the call of the God who created us and shelters us in radical love. 
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
WE are the church.
Go, reform once again…  Set the world on fire.

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