Saturday, December 21, 2019

Always Reforming--Reformation Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019

Reformation Sunday, SMHP, Oct. 27, 2019
Jeremiah 31:31-34
          31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.
          33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: 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. 34No 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; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us your Holy Spirit who writes the preached Word into our hearts. May we receive and believe it and be cheered and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify your Word in our hearts and make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, through your Holy Spirit think what is right, and by your power fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
          In every age, particular expressions of God’s faithful people—known mostly to us as The Church, but going by many names—each expression has thought, “Oh, we got this.  We are the one true faith.  Those others, well, they try…but we are the true witness, the chosen ones.
          When God first dropped a covenant on God’s people—the covenant with…Noah [slide]—those people, pretty much Noah’s family at that point…they were sure they were God’s favorite, and they had earned God’s particular favor.  Then there was the covenant with Abraham [slide] and then the faithful remnant who inherited the covenant with Moses. [slide] Each time, the people felt that they had curried special favor with God, and thus God had established a “new covenant” with them.
          Christians have been super sure through the ages that we got the brass ring of God’s favor, because our new covenant is…
          Jesus.  [slide]
          We win!
          Incarnation.  When God cares enough to send the very best.
          For a long time, the Christian Church kept itself together, and managed to make that claim with one, and then two voices.
          But then along came Luther.
          No, not Idris Elba…
          …Joseph Fienes!
          Luther believed that the Holy Catholic Church of Rome was indeed the “one true faith,” but that it had been corrupted by a few bad actors who were operating out in areas like Saxony, where John Tetzel was selling indulgences to build new cathedrals and such.
          So Luther pointed out that indulgences, the idea that we could buy our way into better favor with God…well, that was out of line with scripture, which said that Jesus had bought our way into eternal favor with his faithfulness and his sacrifice.  Romans 3.  Just heard it.
          And furthermore, Luther said, the whole point of incarnation was for God to establish, once and for all, a direct relationship with human beings.  One that didn’t need mediation from The Church [slide].  People should hear the scripture in the language that they speak.  They should learn to pray and maybe even read the scriptures for themselves.
          The purpose of the church was to support them in doing all of that; not to prevent it.
          And Luther was right…right?
          So we are the winners!  Yay Lutherans!

          Reformation Sunday is an interesting day.  Along with Holy Trinity Sunday, it celebrates an identity that isn’t entirely scriptural.  The Trinity is doctrinal.  The Reformation is historical.
          Or so we seem to think, if we make the day all about standing up to the Pope in 1517 and celebrating that “our side” was “right.”
          But honestly, isn’t that a great way to kill a good reformation?
          The Reformation didn’t happen in 1517.
          The Reformation started when God established that covenant with Abraham, and said, okay, we’re gonna do things a little differently.  And there was reformation when Moses freed the people and there was a whole lot of reformation out in the wilderness when God was about to let those people go back to Egypt with their whiny selves and Moses intervened.
          And there was reformation when the prophets began to teach people that God had a plan for them which they could know. 
          In Chapter twenty-nine of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet reads a letter from the Lord to the people, in which God says this:
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me;

          Sixth century, BCE. “When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me.”
          Then in Jeremiah 31, God declares through Jeremiah: 
          These are texts of reformation!  Throughout history, God has found new ways, and recovered old ways, to be in relationship with us.  The prophets among us—Moses, Jeremiah, Augustine, Aquinas, Wyclif, Calvin, Luther, Dorothy Day—their job has been to remind us that God’s law, God’s word are written onto our hearts. 
          No one church owns this fact.  Though we celebrate today the ways that Luther preached a prophetic word about it.  We can be proud to be part of a church founded on relationship with God and our neighbors.  That we belong to a communion which emphasizes grace, not works.
          We can celebrate that!  We can lean in to relationship with God, and rejoice that the word is written on our hearts.  God is an active participant in our lives.
          And we need God’s active participation, because we are called to be the prophets for the future. 
          This word of love and grace has survived because it has been declared by the prophets of each generation.  We are the prophets of this generation!  We are the new reformers, declaring to those who do not yet know it that God loves them and wants to be in relationship with them.  That through the faith of Jesus Christ, God has established a covenant with every one of us, and we are all chosen.  God chose you.  And loves you.  And you.  And you.
          Do you know anyone who could use this word?
          Do you know anyone who is hearing a different word?
          Are you ready to be a prophet?
          There is an assignment in your bulletin.  Yeah, homework.  Two questions.  Two questions for a Reformation church and a reformation people.
Reformation Question One:  What is the word of God that is written on my heart?

Reformation Question Two:  Who needs to hear a word of God’s love?  With whom can I share what is on my heart?

          We are chosen, people of God, but not to be some special set-apart people.  We have been chosen to carry into the world a word of love, grace, and hope which God has been declaring since God said it to Abraham and Sarah.  We will find it written on our hearts.  Let it also be falling from our lips.

Amen.  #861:  “When Long Before Time”

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