Sermon for Reformation Sunday, October 25, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Jeremiah 31:31–34 | Romans 3:19–28 | John 8:31–36
This past week with two days of meetings for the RMSynod Council; figuring out compensation guidelines as the chair; studying up to lead a seminar next week; pouring over the most recent in-person covid gathering guidelines, taking care of communications and logistics—and add to that the pressure we are all feeling with the election—and I feel weary. Not tired so much as worn out. I think of this word that Jeremiah in the OT uses—“Hearts”—which everyone in those days knew involved not just feelings—although those as well—but also our discernment and will: And so we struggle when our hearts are heavy and the way forward is hard to see for the chaos both inside and out.
I don’t know if you know this; but the Reformation that we commemorate today with Martin Luther as one of the principle characters, didn’t work in terms of reforming The Church. That is, Luther wanted the church in those days to get back to the center—to the essence a relationship with Jesus that didn’t add burdens to lives already plagued by difficulty and despair, but that lightened this heavy load of living. This was his whole business of the righteousness of God that he began to see as gift, not despotic demand. Luther most certainly did not want a future in which there was a distinct group of people walking around who called themselves “Lutherans.”
From some accounts, Luther was for many years a nondescript monk with the Augustinian order in one of many states in the area of Germany in the early 1500s. What was so dangerous about Luther was the sheer time he spent as a monk and a seeker, reading scripture (which was not widely available then)—that is, ALL of scripture, not picking and choosing what fit his agenda—and seeking with all his heart to know God. (I get that most of us don’t have this luxury of time and space), but what came of this was a work of the Holy Spirit that lit him up with slowly, yet surely, with the vision of what God does for our healing and freedom even now. That is, we might say, this potent thing inside him that sees beyond the boundaries of “what is”— we might call it imagination—was sparked. And so this upstart monk spoke in ways that were really not new, but that sparked a new imagination at large: everyone is both saint and sinner; grace really was actually all gift and not something we can earn or merit.
The church did not change, as Luther had hoped. His writings were burned and outlawed: HE was outlawed. The top-down structure of the church that had fully entwined itself in politics meant there was much to protect; and in fact, benefited from the chaos and fear of the common people; and so was not about to change. That’s not to say that many people did not know and Jesus in those days—or that the churches did not provide joy and consolation in God’s presence—but the Church with a capital “C” was not changed. At least at first. There was a counter-reformation in response. But what happened with those who saw a different way was a cutting off and a breaking apart. The monastery where Luther later was teaching and serving literally ceased to exist as such. There were battles fought and chaos, out of which arose, simply, worshipping organizations with new names.
But these got eventually got stuck in their own ways: Re-forming never comes easy because it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable. Old habits persist. New ones develop. In ANY institution. Re-forming is a lifelong, epoch-long process: Where we can’t see the ending, only where we are right now. And we have our share of chaos right now to be sure. We recently watched the Lord of the Rings extended version: JRR Tolkien lived during a chaotic time: In England during a time of war And you can see this them in the characters: We play our part and then let go. The uncle kind says to Eowyn as he’s dying: “You need to let me go.” This time is for you. Or Frodo leaving at the end: “How to pick up the threads of a life after… ” so much has happened. There is this passing of the torch; a time for seeing other’s God-filled imagination light up. In Jeremiah, so much change needed to happen: Early in the book, we hear much about their “hearts” and how these embody their guilt of not caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan. Hence the need for "new hearts.” Then God uses Babylon to literally take away everything so that they can have these new hearts. In the stark reality of exile, they have no choice but to open now to this newness of heart and vision; of what CAN BE.
Weariness, discomfort, heavy hearts can remind us that we need to attend to our physical selves—and maybe it’s also a time to shift: That is, to turn toward God and God’s word. To re-focus and seek to really KNOW God. To know where we end and God begins. This takes a lot of humility—really—because when we are stressed, we’d much rather put our energy into pitting ourselves against something or someone. Luther was in this place a lot, too, as he defended his ideas and condemned others. But when we keeping putting ourselves in the gaze of that grace, the layers are peeled back once again. Something new is revealed. Our compulsions: grasping for safety, power and esteem—which we thought would free us, but does the opposite—are revealed as false. The “slave” language of the gospel-writer John uses, starkly reminds us how powerful the hold of sin- like a master—that elevates everything in place of God; but also holds out the possibility of freedom. If you see yourself as a “descendent” who just inherits everything—expecting and taking for granted, expecting—it’s really hard to separate from the parent. But being set free can happen for the one who knows she or he is bound- and who can also be released from the system of unexamined allegiance to the “the man/father.” Being freed as our gaze also fixes on Jesus, it now all makes sense: Loving our neighbors. Forgiving them and ourselves, too. Seeing everything as gift. This is a vision that can really spark our imaginations—filling our minds and hearts and world ever more. We play our part with God’s kingdom in mind and then we let it go. And that IS freedom. Thanks be to God. Amen.