Sunday, October 25, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Autumn is my favorite time of year. I’m filled with awe and wonder at the brilliance of the fall colors. Trees ablaze with vibrant red, orange, and yellow hues are the picture from an artist’s canvass. Against a clear blue sky, it’s nothing short of breathtaking. It’s the time of year that we most visibly see the process of regeneration as it moves from one state to another. Change is underway.
The trees begin this reshaping as the lush green leaves of summer come alive with colors from an artist’s pallet, yet these colors don’t last forever. As nature takes its course, the leaves fall to the ground or are blown and scattered. Soon the tree once filled with lush foliage and a refuge and fortress for many of God’s creatures will stand bare amidst the open skies. Change is underway.
It’s during this time when the limbs are exposed to the elements of wind and cold that pruning is most beneficial. The truth of the health of the limbs and the entire tree is now exposed. If any disease is present, it is clearly seen. What was once hidden is now visible to be reshaped, repaired, and reformed.
Truth is at the heart of reformation and this applies to all creation including humans. Truth exposes our imperfections, our sins, our weaknesses. It brings to light those things that cause us to be less than what we were created to be. Truth prepares us to look at the things we don’t wish to see. It can be painful because like the trees, we may be forced to prune, repair and reshape that which is unhealthy and a threat to our survival.
And therefore as humans we often resist change even though as with all the cycles of nature it is inevitable. We want things to stay the same. We want to do things the way we’ve always done them – to look the way we’ve always looked and to live the way we’ve always lived. But nothing in all of God’s creation stays the same. Sometimes the Holy Spirit moves us in directions we would rather not go, but never are we anyplace where God is not already present. Yes, there may be loss – like damaged parts of a tree needing to be cut off – but there will also be new life if we are open to the process. A tree that is damaged and diseased if not pruned and reshaped will die. The same is true for us individually and collectively as the church.
That is why God raises up prophets to speak words of God’s truth in the hopes that people will repent. The prophet Jeremiah preached this message of change and reform, yet like most prophets in the ancient world and even today he was dismissed, rejected, and even worse was often in danger of being killed. Prophets urged people to repent and turn away from their sinful ways and turn toward God. Prophets didn’t sugar coat the truth. They spoke in plain language about how people would be destroyed because of their own selfish and sinful acts. The ministry of a prophet was to speak the truth to people and encourage them to return to God who was waiting to welcome them back with open arms. But power and control are not easily relinquished. People don’t want to give up power and control, not in biblical times and not today. And therefore God -out of God’s great love for us – keeps sending prophets to speak the truth.
Eventually, God sent God’s own son, Jesus to deliver this message of truth personally. Jesus is the truth. Jesus urged people to listen to the truth no matter how hard it was to hear and He urges us to listen to this truth today. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. Jesus came to expose the truth, cut away the broken pieces of our lives so that we would grow into the fullness of God’s grace. But the truth isn’t always easy to hear, or see, or face. The truth leads to change and people often resort to fear when change is underway. And fear leads to a multitude of sins. Fear, greed, and the lust for power led to Jesus’ death. Yet the God of reformation and change is still speaking.
God is speaking through the prophets throughout the ages. Prophets like Martin Luther, a 16th century Catholic monk, who once the Holy Spirit opened his mind and heart to the gospel of truth and freedom, set about to get that word of truth out to as many people as he could. He used the modern technology of his time – the printing press – to get the word out in the everyday language of his time so that every person could read the gospel for themselves. Martin Luther had a passion for reform that catapulted the reformation movement of the 16th century.
He exposed the truth of the sinfulness of the early church. He revealed that the church had become corrupt. Instead of working toward God’s mission they were working toward their own. The church had taken the power and authority that belonged to God and claimed it for themselves. Whatever changes were going to happen would be changes they wanted.
The church today struggles with the same sinfulness that Luther tried to reform. The church continues to pray for God’s will to be done, yet collectively the church really wants our own wills satisfied. We don’t want to give up power, or money, or time for the work of the kingdom of God. The truth of the gospel compels us to look at truths we don’t want to see and so often we turn away. We are afraid that the gospel will imprison us, yet Jesus said that if we continue in His word, then we will truly be his disciples. He said, you will “know the truth and the truth will set you free.” That is a word of hope and promise. How will we obtain this freedom? “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” And the Son has freed us! We are free indeed! For the freedom of a Christian, that has been given to us by Christ’s faithfulness, frees us to be servants of all just as Christ was a servant to all.
This is the great and glorious news of the gospel. It is a gospel of reformation. It is a gospel that echoes through the message of the ELCA – “always being made new.” In Christ, we are always being made new. We are always being called to speak this voice of truth and reform wherever we are and wherever we go. We are disciples of Christ and messengers of the gospel today. We are prophets speaking words of truth even in the midst of those who do not want to hear us. And we are called to open our ears and hearts and listen to the voices of others through whom God is speaking to us. Change is underway. Reformation is ongoing.
When the church as the body of Christ acts to help those stricken by poverty – to feed the hungry – reformation is happening. When the church as the body of Christ speaks out against violence and hatred toward any person or group of people, reformation is happening. When the church as the body of Christ chooses to put Jesus before anything or anyone else and live lives of love toward all people, reformation is happening. Any time a person truly prays for God’s kingdom to come and responds with love, and compassion toward another human being, reformation is happening.
The reformation is not just something that happened in the 16th century. The Holy Spirit continues to reform the church today through each one of us if we allow the Spirit to reform us. As Luther so boldly echoed the words of St. Paul – whom himself was reformed through facing the truth about himself – We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” We are “now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” We don’t need to do anything to earn God’s salvation, because of Christ we are free – free from slavery to sin and death! The Good News – the Great News is that frees us to live lives as grateful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther based the words to A Mighty Fortress on Psalm 46 and the words are a source of great strength: “Were they to take our house, goods honor child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, the kingdom’s ours forever!” It is ours forever because God’s covenant -through our baptism, through this gift of grace – has been written on our hearts. This truth will set us free and is cause to boast – to boast of what Christ has done for us! The words of the reformation still speak out, Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone! Amen!