You know you’re a Lutheran if you’re wearing red and Reformation Sunday is a big deal. Whether it be the Reformation of the church in 16th century Europe, the Reformation of the church in 21st century America, or the reformation of Divinity in the next two years - reformation is a big deal! We begin with reformation in the Bible.
For the last two months in adult forum during the Sunday School hour, we’ve been using a study entitled “See Through the Scriptures” by Harry Wendt. Harry is known for his creative illustrations.
One of his banners has been hanging in the hallway outside my office for years. It illustrates the Reformation of the Old Testament with the coming of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Before Jesus, most Jewish people thought that salvation was by works. They viewed the commandments as a merit system rather than a response system. The obvious problem was that we were never good enough to earn salvation.
Though the Jews were waiting for the coming of a Messiah, they were not expecting that Messiah to take the form of a Servant Messiah. They did not expect a Messiah who would serve anyone in need. They did not expect a Messiah who would get down on his knees to wash people’s feet. They did not expect a Messiah who would willingly go to the cross as the Servant without limit. They most certainly did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead.
When you walk by the banner in our hallway, you will Jesus washing feet, Jesus the servant-king kneeling at the cross, on the cross, and the empty tomb with the stone rolled to the side.
You will see Jesus continues among us through His Spirit (dove), creating our faith in Himself as Savior and Lord, and empowering people around the world to live as members of His servant community.
When God’s people study God’s Word, we find that it points beyond itself to a strange King who does feet, and summons us to do the same. Reformation – transformation from old to new.
St. Paul is reformed on the road from persecuting Christians to becoming the evangelist who travels everywhere sharing the reformation message in our Romans text that no human being can be saved by works of the law. We are saved only by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. Reformation in the Bible from Old Testament to New Testament.
Christians are persecuted in the Roman Empire for 300 years until Rome adopts Christianity as the state religion that becomes known as the Roman Catholic Church. As the church expands around the world with the force of the crusades during the Middle Ages, so does the hierarchy of the church grow with the infallible pope at the top. Politics become intermingled with religion. Sound familiar?
Enter Martin Luther, the Roman Catholic priest and Augustinian monk in the 16th century who tries to reform the church from within. He’s really unhappy that the church was ignoring the New Testament reformation that we are saved by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.
Instead, folks were being taught that they needed to pay their way to heaven by purchasing pieces of paper from the church that would earn them points not only for their own salvation but could also buy their dead relatives out of a place called purgatory that is somewhere between here and heaven. The pieces of paper were call indulgences.
When Luther pointed out there is no mention of purgatory in the Bible and Told his fellow Germans to stop buying them, the Pope didn’t like it. Luther responded with a list of 95 other things that needed to be reformed and publicly nailed the list to the church door in Wittenburg. The Reformation was on.
Luther was kicked out of the Catholic Church. I’m sure the Pope was really ticked off when his fellow reformers started calling themselves “Lutherans” and Martin married an ex-nun named Katherina.
Later reformers didn’t think Luther made enough changes, that Lutherans were too Catholic, which resulted in Anabaptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.
The reformation in the Bible from Old to New, the reformation in the 16th century church, and now, 500 years later, the need for another reformation as the line between church and state gets more and more blurry as we approach voting day.
Those of you who have been here a long time have heard me tell our story of how Danette and I were called into foster care after I counseled a 16-year-old not to get a second abortion. She and her newborn son moved in with us from the hospital when Rachel was 3 and Nathan was 6 months. If I was going to be against abortion, I had to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
I’m still against abortion. But we need to understand that there are 3 blocks of voters on this issue. There are the pro-choicers who supported Roe vs. Wade.
The second block are the pro-lifers who use their Christian faith to say any abortion is wrong, thus blurring the lines between church and state, by forcing everyone to choose the way they choose.
Then there’s the third block of voters that I belong to, and a lot of others belong to including many of you. We are personally against abortion but don’t believe in forcing others to believe what we believe. We believe that all of us are created in the image of God, which means God has given us the ability to make our own decisions, to make our own choices. Luther called it “the freedom of the will”.
The blessing of living in a democracy is that each of us has the freedom to make our own decisions. I will not force what I believe onto anyone else. For over 20 years I’ve been sharing with you what I believe, but it’s up to you to decide what you believe. And you should have the freedom to do so. Sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes bad ones, but they are our decisions.
We need to re-separate the church and the state as it was meant to be in our constitution. We need a 21st century reformation.
The reformation in the Bible from Old to New, the Luther led reformation in the 16th century church, the need for an American reformation today, and finally, a Divinity reformation.
Divinity is blessed and I am blessed. By serving together over the past 20½ years, we have a special bond. We have relationships, roles, functions, and responsibilities that we share in making our Divinity ministry strong. Our strength has been and will continue to be what I call “relational ministry”. Ministering to one another. Being present with one another.
Whether it be in the hospital, in your home or nursing home, here in this building, both with one another and with the many groups and ministries who use our building.
Of course, our relational ministry goes far beyond our hospitals, homes, and this building. We are present in 3 different downtown ministries, our Northeast Ohio Synod ministries we help fund, and around the world through Lutheran Hunger Appeal and Disaster Relief. Our relational ministry is an example for other congregations.
Our biggest challenge, as it is for many congregations, is maintaining our 1955 and 1965 building. We will be addressing that challenge shortly.
Other congregations, as did Divinity 22 years ago, go through a two-year interim between pastors. It’s not always a positive, reforming experience. Last July, Pastor Mitch explained at our congregational meeting that there are not enough pastors to fill all the openings nationally, and how “unique” Divinity is in doing an almost two year overlap during our reformation – transition. All of us serving and working together will continue our strengths and reform our weaknesses.
Thanks to all of you, I know I will leave this church in June, 2025, way stronger spiritually than when I arrived in June, 2003.
God sent his son to reform all of us with forgiveness and eternal life. God sent Luther to reform his church. God is about to send a strong reformer to America. If I’m still here, I’ll let you know when he or she arrives. And God has sent Pastor Brad to help lead Divinity into the future along with all of you.
Luther famously wrote, “The church is the priesthood of all believers”.