Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lutheran Pride Day

Just a quick note before I post this last Sunday's sermon. I have been so overwhelmed by the number of comments I have received about my last post "The Letter." I know that no one should be shocked that such things are still said from Christians' mouths/pens but it is still always amazing. Thank you all, friends and strangers, for you comments. May Christ continue to be with you all as you share God's true gospel message with all the world.

So onto the sermon. This sermon was really not based on any of the text for this last Sunday (yes I know I'm bad), though I did allude to those text: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Romans 3:19-28 and John 8: 31-36. And again my disclaimer: this was written for an oral sermon, i.e. there are probably many grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, but just deal with it.

I love being a Lutheran on Reformation Day! It is the day that we wear red (which we don’t get to break out that often) sing the Lutheran fight song (A Mighty Fortress) and celebrate the fact that we are Lutheran. Today, Reformation Day, is kind of like a Lutheran pep rally or Lutheran Pride Day. Maybe to evangelize we should start having parades…think of how many people would claim to be Lutheran on Reformation Day? I mean hundreds of thousands of people claim to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, when they clearly aren’t Irish.

But what are we celebrating today? In 1517 on All Saints Eve, All Hallow’eve (better known as Halloween), Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. These were 95 complaints that he had against the Catholic Church. The main complain that all of these 95 theses had to do with was how the church handled confession, forgiveness and absolution. The Catholic Church was selling forgiveness to anyone who gave money to help build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Now as great of a capital campaign as that was, what makes a human think that they can sell God’s forgiveness?

Well this lead to quite a bit of debate, and it started the Reformation, the re-forming, of the church. And as a result many different groups or denominations broke off from the One, True, Catholic and Apostolic Church in order to follow their own understanding of God, scripture and faith.

So does this bit of history mean that we are celebrating the Lutheran break from the Catholic Church? Well for some people that is true, but really we are celebrating, remembering and reminding ourselves of so much more.

See the real reason Luther wrote these 95 Theses is because he had a different understanding of forgiveness and salvation. For Luther, and for us Lutherans, forgiveness is not something you can buy. You cannot do whatever you want and then be able to buy your way out of sin and death by giving enough money away. First off true stewardship is more than just paying your dues, it is about realizing your money and possessions belongs to God and you are to give generously to God and to those in need. But more importantly, we cannot buy God’s forgiveness because it is not something that we can buy.

God’s forgiveness is not doled out to the highest bidder or the person who does the most good in this world. No God’s forgiveness is freely given, it is grace that is pour out upon us, each and every day, it is a gift that one cannot buy and also that one cannot return. We are saved from sin and death because of God’s grace. We are saved by God’s grace through our faith, and not our works (including our money). We are saved because God loves us, not because God loves how much we time and money we give or because God loves how much we love others. We are saved, we are given God’s grace because God loves us.

Alleluia! Amen! What an amazing message! Who would turn away from that? Who would not want to hear that it is not up to us but solely up to God? I don’t know. It is a message that is almost 500 years old and yet still people do not know it and still people turn away from it.

And at the same time Jesus came 2000 years ago and there are still people who do not believe in him, who do not acknowledge him as the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten not made, of one being with the Father through him all things were made, For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

So if people aren’t going to acknowledge that, I can understand why hearing that God’s grace, forgiveness and salvation are free gifts that require no effort on our own other than faith, can be a little difficult for people to sallow.

But that is the point of the church, that is the point for us as Christians. We are suppose to go out as Christians, as people of the reformed church, and tell other the good news, the good news that God continues to promise us that Christ died for our sins, that Christ has set us free, that Christ has made us no longer a slave to sin and death. We are called to go out and tell others about the new covenant that God has made with us, the covenant that is referred to in our reading from Jeremiah today, the covenant that was started with Christ Jesus, but has yet to be fully realized. The covenant that God has forgiven us of our sins, the covenant that we are saved by God’s grace through faith and not our works. And we are also called as Christians and as a church to tell people that we are still struggling to understand what exactly that means.

See the Reformation is not something that happened 500 years ago that we commemorate today. No the reformation, the re-formation of the church, of our hearts and of our faith, is something that was started long ago but yet continues today. The reforming of the church is something that faith-based people struggled with 500 years ago in the days of Martin Luther, but it something that we have struggled with more recently. 500 years ago, the re-forming issues were about forgiveness, being able to worship in the common language, clergy being able to marry, and the definition of the sacraments. In more recent decades the re-forming issues were about the ordination of women, the merging of church bodies, ecumenical relationships, and the authority of scripture. And today many of those same issues are still at the heart of how the church is re-forming. But other issues have arisen as well, including the ordination and marriage of homosexuals, as was greatly noted by our most recent church-wide assembly, and the church as a whole is dealing with issues about how to adapt, change and remain the same in the constant changing tides that happen in the secular world.

And on a local level, we too are re-forming. We have been reforming as you have seen fit to call me as your pastor; we have been reforming as we understand what it means to be Lutherans in this area of Fairfield County, Connecticut. We have been reforming by telling people that Bethlehem Lutheran Church is not dead but has much life left in it. We have been reforming as we, a small church, do many great things and yet continue to be underestimated. We have been reforming as we grow, change and adapt to new situations, to new life.

We are a reforming church and that is truly what we celebrate on this Reformation Day, not the fact that some dude nailed a piece of paper to a church door almost 500 years ago, but that by God’s grace we are a church today, that is alive, and constantly reforming.

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