Text: Jeremiah 31: 33b-34; Ephesians 2: 8-9; John 8: 31-32
Bring on the cake – a huge cake – big enough to hold 500 candles, gather ‘round to sing “A mighty fortress is our God!” then try to extinguish the flames with one, great corporate breathe, and raise a cheer for having just celebrated in advance of the actual date: Oct. 31, 1517, because, for us, that is reserved for Halloween! By then, who will remember the Reformation Summer of 2017 in the quaint German town-like city called Wittenberg where events were staged night and day for all ages, and especially children and youth? Who will pick up the echoed steps of a young professor of the Augustinian order? Who will feel the reverberations of the hammer nailing his notice to the bulletin board on the church door, inviting a discussion of what needed to be done to re-center the church in Jesus and re-form His followers to conform to and continue His work? Who will see what happened 500 years ago is not meant to be an anniversary that we can claim to have celebrated, maybe even with a visit to Wittenberg, and then move on to other things, but a call to the movement that has us joining in as we say, “We’ve only just begun!” “We” – being TODAY’S followers of Jesus who lift up the “five solas”- Sola scriptura: “Scripture alone” - Sola fide: “faith alone” - Sola gratia: “grace alone” - Solo Christo: “Christ alone” - Soli Deo gloria: “to the glory of God alone.” “We” who accept them say with the Apostle Paul: 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. “We” who see how much our 21st century world bears resemblance to 500 years ago in Wittenberg, and the world beyond it, because we know: political powers that oppressed the people then, still do now; conditions that filled people with fear of life cut short by wars, or persecution, prison, execution, or plagues, or poverty, are an ongoing reality for the politically and religiously oppressed, or victims of cancer or epidemics, raging fires, uncontrolled flooding, earth quaking and spitting, the child who fears being bullied, knifed, molested, or abducted, the homeless who sleep on heat vents in a city, the hungry who rummage through trash cans to make a meal from garbage. 500 years ago Luther collected those people off the street and brought them home for his beloved wife Katie to feed – as many as 45 jammed into their small apartment, along with their own children. Today, we have our soup kitchens and shelters, ministries of Christ’s followers carried forward from Katie and Martin’s tables, and we know for us, “we’ve only just begun! 500 years ago Martin Luther accepted his assignment to be a professor who also served as pastor of the local church where his sermons brought the stories of Jesus to life, and princes and peasants felt themselves being changed and called, as Luther said, “to be a little Christ to one another.” Today we have the “nones” and “dones” – a growing number who find religious practices to ring hollow, and everything about the church to be dead, and yet there is a hunger within them. On Reformation Sunday we read God’s promise made to ancient Israel echoing down through the centuries to us: 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… Might those words draw the growing number of “nones” and “dones” to dare to “taste and see that God is good?” The goodness that will resonate into the hurt, maybe angry, certainly disappointed , yet hungry, searching soul? and we know for us, “we’ve only just begun! Yes, “We’ve only just begin” to heed Jesus’ words read as the Gospel for a Reformation service: Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Sadly, the “truth” that hits us in the face and indicts us before the world is that: Martin Luther called “people to discover the wideness of God’s grace in Christ, and see themselves as above all else baptized into Christ. Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and other Reformers helped renew focus on Scripture, faith, grace, Christ, and God’s glory.” But , and here is the indicting truth: It also led to persecution, death, conflict, and perpetual fragmentation among Christ’s body.” (Adapted from https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/10/reformation-day-worship-index.html Some would use this as the condemning evidence against the Reformation. Now is the time for Christians to own up to that indictment and not roll over dead, but receive Jesus’ redeeming word: “…you are truly my disciples; (who) know the truth that makes us free” Freed of our guilt by God love’s in Jesus to be free to love as we are loved; the proof that overturns the charges, and we know for us, “we’ve only just begun! St. Michael’s Church, in Hildesheim, Germany is a cathedral shared by a Roman Catholic and a Protestant congregation since 1542, with a wall separating them into two worship spaces until 2006. The wall came down in the Healing of Memories service that began as worship leaders stood in front of a three-dimensional cross lying on its side, blocking access to the altar. Later, a group of young adults lifted the heavy cross and set it upright. Then everyone sang in German “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful.” The service included Orthodox clergy, bringing down another wall: the Great Schism in 1054 that led to separate Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. (IBID.) In Germany the same service will prevail on Oct. 31, 2017, and we know for us, “we’ve only just begun! “We’ve only just begin to pick up on the Carpenters’ singing: Sharing horizons that are new to us Watching the signs along the way Talkin' it over, just the two of us (the “two” being Jesus and us) Workin' together day to day… Yes, We’ve only just begun to carry the Reformation forward. Amen!
Rev. Dr. Martha B. Kriebel is the pastor of Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ in Collegeville, PA