“You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” is probably one of the most misquoted lines when detached from the words that precede it, which are “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,”
with the “Author” being Jesus who goes unnamed.
This Sunday which is one day and one year short of celebrating the 500th Anniversary of a movement to “reform” the sixteenth-century church, that called itself “Christian,” we quote all the words as we go back the Author, Jesus, speaking in today’s Gospel.
On today’s Festival of the Reformation, Jesus prompts us, when quoting His words, to recognize three visible signs that are a call to be Christ’s disciples Who continue in His word that sets us free to let Him live His life through us.
One very visible sign is the ROOSTER that sits on the top of our bell tower.
Some would say it is there to keep alive the Good Friday crowing that cut into the heart of Peter as it carried the echo of Jesus’ prediction, (Mark 14: 26-31) “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
But the first Christians let the rooster’s crow at dawn carry them beyond Good Friday and Peter’s shared guilt to the new day that broke forth on that glorious Easter morning when the women found Jesus’ tomb was empty.
Ever since then the rooster’s crow serves not as a sign of our guilt, but of God’s grace.
A few years ago our next-door neighbors turned a playhouse their children had outgrown into a chicken house for their son’s 4-H project. Many of us benefited from fresh, organically raised brown eggs…until neighbors complained that when they walked from their parking lot to their nearby apartment complex, the clucking of the hens annoyed them, and I thought, “A pre-dawn crow of a rooster would raise an outright protest over an intolerable noise in our 21st century community!”
And so, a silent, forged iron rooster stands overlooking us and our town as the sign for us and all who pass, beckoning us to worship the Risen Christ and be His Easter people who are a reflection of His light – the Truth that sets us free.
A second and very visible sign that is beneath the rooster and pre-dating it by 96 years is the BELL resting in the tower that was built in 1898 to house it. It now takes over the rooster’s call as it is rung to suit the schedule of our present-day times of worship and special services like weddings and days we invite others to join us in
observing, such as a remembrance of 9/11 or a nationwide call to prayer or to welcome in a New Year.
But the bell couldn’t be rung if it weren’t for the large wooden wheel attached to spokes mounted to a shaft that turns the bell, and the rope that rides in a groove around the wheel’s circumference. The rope has been replaced several times but the wheel first framed and raised is the same one put in place in 1902, even though pieces have broken off, down to a quarter that remained to cradle the rope.
Today we celebrate and dedicate a newly refurbished bell with a new hand-crafted wheel, a new rope, and a newly greased shaft…after a 114 years!
In a small village near our partner congregation in Germany’s Anhalt District Church, the church building stands empty; a sign of the years when East Germans had to live under the oppression of atheistic Communism and a subsistence economy that, when the wall came down in late Nov. 1989, sent one-third to live in the West.
Through it all the bell in the tower of that small village church rang out the hours of each day until recently when it cracked and turned silent. The logical decision was to tear down the building, bell and all.
But the few villages living there protested. They wanted the bell to be restored; they wanted to hear it ring out the hours of each day and night. They didn’t want to live without that sound.
Pray that the ringing of our bell may resonate into a person’s life and become a beckoning call to come inside a place where Christians still worship around Word and Table, and through God’s Spirit lives are touched, and Christ’s call is an invitation to receive His power that sets us free from sin and guilt and fear and pessimism,
to be – as we sang last week – a people who pray:
Set our feet on lofty places, Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces, in the fight that sets others free. Harry E. Fosdick, 1930
The beckoning call of the bell in our tower!
On this Reformation Sunday we cannot help but hear a third sound of the HAMMER which echoes through 499 years from that small two-street city called Wittenberg, where, on Oct. 31, 1517, a young Augustinian monk serving as professor in a new university in the city, posted a notice on the public bulletin which was the door of the Castle Church. It was a document listing Martin Luther’s challenges to practices of the Church at Rome, the church for all of Europe in that day.
His 95 issues were immediately copied and thanks to Gutenberg’s printing press within two weeks circulated in all of Germany and in two months all of Europe, engaging people everywhere in Luther’s challenge to engage in a theological debate, that would restore the church to being a living witness to Christ’s life and ministry.
That two-street city now called Lutherstadt-Wittenberg is all spruced up for the 500th Anniversary of what has come to be called “the hammer blow heard around the world” that continues to echo through the centuries, challenging Christians at all times and in all places to keep on asking a question represented in a work of art that hangs in our upper church vestibule.
The painting shows the interior of a massive cathedral, with the altar and cross at the far end. In the foreground, in lower left corner, is an easily missed figure of Christ, slightly bent, as though peeking in and asking:
“Will I be welcome here? Will this be My church of ‘my disciples who “continue in my word’?”
Now it’s our time to answer and to invite others to join us with the aid of:
A rooster’s silent call to welcome the Risen Christ,
a bell’s inviting ring to come inside,
where the echoing sound of a hammer holds us to the charge
that the church does not belong to; the church belongs to Christ Who works through us.