Ecclesia Semper Reformanda!

Sermon by Pastor Jay on Reformation Sunday 2015

For the audio of this sermon click here: Reformation Sunday Audio

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36

But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ…But now, apart from the law…But now…But now.

Happy Reformation Sunday! 498 years ago, so the story says, Martin Luther a professor of Bible and an Augustinian monk, walked to the Castle Church at Wittenberg and nailed a long list of grievances upon the door. It was a long list. 95 points in all. And in this document, Lutheran challenged the sale of indulgences—the idea that a certain donation of money could pay off the debts of sin and time spent waiting for heaven—and the authority of the pope. Thus began the Protestant Reformation. 498 years later here we are, Lutherans, proud of our heritage and history, proud of our liturgy and hymnody, damn proud of our theology, and proud of our story standing in the shadow of our illustrious founder.

Wait a minute. That seems like far too brief of a history. 498 years in about five sentences. So, then, what is today all about? What do we celebrate this day? Well, certainly, we remember with thanksgiving Luther and his witness to the gospel in his time. And yes, we celebrate on the Sunday before October 31 in remembrance of that legendary day. And yes, we sing hymns from our history, for our greatest poets and musicians. And yes, we wear red to claim our place in that long history of witnesses to God’s good news in the world. Is that it? Is that all we celebrate this day—a historical place some 498 years ago and the founders of our denomination?

But now, says Paul. But now. But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed. That is what we celebrate today. Now, in our own day, right now, the righteousness of God has been disclosed.

But now, even today, we see the righteousness of God. Even today we are called to attest—as the prophets and apostles and church mothers and fathers have for centuries—to the righteousness, the love, the mercy, the peace, the wholeness of God in our world. Because isn’t that what we claim every time we gather together? That here, in this place, at this time, we see God at work showing forth love and mercy and righteousness even here, even though we least expect it, even though we least deserve it?

And, arguably, that is what Luther was trying to get across in all those theses: the love of God, the good news that God is still at work in the world, is not something for some later date or time or place, it is not something that anyone can dole out in proportion to wealth or deservedness. Rather, the good news of God still at work in the world is precisely for this moment, for the next moment, for every moment when someone somewhere is desperate to know that even in the worst of their circumstances, even when it seems least likely, even when it seems impossible, there is God at work. The righteousness of God, the work of God, the love and mercy and wholeness of God, are for the “but now” of life. Because the “but now” is where we live.

As we look around us, as we look at the news, as we look at our own lives, we cannot help but feel the burden of life, the weariness of our wounded world, the needs of life weighing us down. But now! But now, God is at work. Even in the burdens and weariness and needs.

Almost half-a-year ago, we celebrated the birthday of the Church on Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out upon the Church and then called, inspired, empowered, and sent those gathered out with the amazing news of God’s love for and work in the world. We wore red, we claimed our place in that call, we celebrated some of the most ancient rites of the Church following our founders.

But now, even now, especially now we again have gathered in red, claiming our place in the church semper reformanda, the church ever reforming. We celebrate today that the Spirit continues to be poured out upon the church, continues to draw us out of our locked rooms, continues to call, inspire, empower, and send us out with the amazing news of God’s love for and work in the world.

That is not always an easy call to claim. It is not always easy to celebrate the ever-reforming church. Because the ever reforming church is just that, ever-reforming, ever changing, always growing in ministry, always adapting to the needs of the world and the community of the faithful and not so faithful, always trying and striving and struggling and wondering and dreaming and hoping and pleading. There are endings in the ever reforming church. The end of outdated ideas, the end of the used-to-be, the end of that which does not work, the end of that which does not benefit the work of God’s Kingdom. But there are beginnings and life, too. And how glorious is that Spirit filled life! It is not always clear the places the Spirit sends us; we do not always know how we are being called upon to serve God; we do not always know just what the future holds for us. But we hope, we trust, we know that through it all there is God, still at work, still reforming us, still inspiring and sending us to witness to God’s work in the world. How amazing that God is still at work, still using us, still sending us out with a desperately needed message that the love and mercy and hope and wholeness of God is for even now. Even when it doesn’t seem like it, even when it doesn’t seem worth it. Even now.

That is what has been happening in the Church of Jesus Christ for 2000 years! Long before an Augustinian monk is said to have nailed his disagreements on a church door; long before the turmoil, the protest, the persecution, the death, the fear, the spread of new thinking in the church; long before the great poets and musicians we will sing today; long before language change and structure change and institution change and name change; long before immigration and proselytizing; long before growth and shrinking; long before today–the love and mercy and hope and wholeness of God has been. And long after us; long after our trials and tribulations; long after our struggles and doubts; long after buildings have obsolete; long after congregations and denominations have dissolved; long after the sun burns out; long after the earth turns cold; long after today–the love and mercy and hope and wholeness of God will be.

That is what we claim and celebrate today. We claim our place in the long story of God’s love for creation; our place in the long story of God’s love and mercy and hope and wholeness. We celebrate that in every time, in every place, in every form, in every circumstance, in the good and the healthy, in the bad and discouraging, in the sun and in the rain, in the abundance and in the scarcity; there is God showing for righteousness. There is God. Here is God. Even now. But now.

And that is fantastic news! And thanks be to God that we are called to witness to that good news even now.