Sunday, October 29, 2017 – Reformation
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
This is Reformation Sunday! Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation – as the ELCA tagline proclaims, 500 years of God’s grace in action. 500 years that we celebrate that we are freed and renewed in Christ. 500 years ago the actions of an Augustinian monk in Germany would forever change the course of history. Martin Luther was growing increasingly angry over specific things that the Catholic Church – of which he was a member – was doing. Among them was the sale of indulges – papers and prayers that stated if you paid a certain amount of money your sins would be forgiven. Further, they claimed that when you die you go to a place called purgatory where you would not be allowed to enter heaven until indulgences were paid and your soul could then leave. This and other false teachings or practices of the church – like saying the mass in Latin, which hardly anyone could understand – are what compelled Luther to write the famous 95 Thesis. These were 95 complaints against the church, which he posted to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.
Luther didn’t do this to start a new denomination, but as points of discussion to reform the church and make it better. Luther was acting on the truth that he discovered through the reading of Scripture – in particular, the letter from St. Paul to the Romans that we just heard, “A person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” This was revolutionary to Luther. It opened his eyes. It opened his heart, and freed him from being a slave to the guilt of his own sinfulness, which he struggled with his whole life. He tried so hard to do the right things, but suffered because he couldn’t be perfect. If we’re honest, haven’t we all felt like this way at one time or another? This letter from St. Paul to the Romans showed Luther that it was not Luther’s good actions that would save him, but it was the actions of Christ. Luther was set free! He felt like an new person – set free from guilt, fear, worry, and shame. As a result he was set free to live a life of gratitude for God’s amazing gift of grace, and this motivated him to tell others so they could experience this life-changing truth themselves.
It’s the same truth that Jesus spoke about in John’s gospel. He said, “The truth will make you free,” and “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” What wonderful life-giving words! What a gift of hope and promise! Jesus spoke these words to the people whose descendants were slaves in Egypt, and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until they reached the promised land only to be conquered by other lands over and over again. You’d expect they would have received these words of truth from Jesus with enthusiasm and joy, yet the truth that Jesus spoke caused them to feel uncomfortable and even angry. They responded with, “What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?” They were on the defensive because they didn’t want to hear what Jesus had to say. They wanted to remember the past as if it was “the good old days” rather than the hardships that they endured. They certainly didn’t want to hear they were slaves to anyone.
Jesus’ words of truth are hard for people to hear today as well. It’s hard to hear the truth sometimes, especially if it points out our own sinful behaviors. It’s hard to hear that we are by our human nature enslaved to sin. Jesus reminds us that “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That includes all of us. We are a slave because we can’t free ourselves from sin’s hold on us. Like a mouse lured into a trap who once in can’t get free, so we too can’t free ourselves. Someone else has to set us free, no matter how much we think we can do things on our own. Only Jesus can release us. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus has set us free from being trapped by sin and death.
Because of this truth, today we don’t just celebrate 500 years of God’s grace in action; we celebrate an eternity of God’s grace in action. Since the beginning of creation God’s grace has always been active. Since the first humans decided to disobey God and brought sin into the world, God was working on a way to set them and us free. God made covenants or sacred promises to God’s people over and over again despite them breaking those covenants. We hear God’s covenant language throughout the Old Testament whenever we read, “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God continued to be faithful to this covenant throughout the generations until God spoke this covenant into being through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. God’s covenant continued to be realized through reformers like Martin Luther who despite threats to his own life was compelled by the power of the Holy Spirit to make the truth of Christ’s saving power known to all people. God continues to speak these covenant words to us in our baptism sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. God’s covenant is made known to us through the sacrament of Holy Communion when we receive the real presence of the living Christ. God speaks these covenant words to us when we affirm our baptism – through confirmation, and today as Mark Pisco becomes a member of this congregation. God says, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” This is God’s promise to us. This is reformation – being re-formed in Christ’s image.
God’s life-giving words of saving grace began from the moment God breathed life into us and that promise, that covenant, will remain forever. This is the gift we celebrate today. This is the truth we lift up each and every time we continue God’s grace in action through living lives of faith and commitment to the truth of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. This is Reformation! We have the gift and responsibility to carry on the work of the reformation – the work of God’s grace in action – every day of our lives. We do this when we hear Jesus’ truth, repent, allow him to change our hearts and set us free – free to live, and love like Jesus.
Today we celebrate not just 500 years of the reformation, but an ongoing reformation that begins with each one of us – in our hearts, where God’s covenant is written. One person’s voice and actions can make all the difference in the world. We saw that in the life of Martin Luther and many other reformers, and our best example is Jesus who has set us free! Through our baptism into his life, death, and resurrection we are re-formed into his image. Every time we repent, every time we forgive, every time we show compassion and mercy, every time we choose patience over anger, faith over fear, love over hate, every time we walk the way of peace ….This is reformation! Amen!