Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
The Martin Luther love fest has reached its apex and across the country Lutheran Churches of all varieties are celebrating the beginning of the protestant reformation begun by Luther when he posted his 95 theses on October 31st, 1517. Which by the way you can read on the poster right outside the office door.
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit to a lot of excitement about this anniversary. Some of that has to do with the fact I was able to go to Germany this past summer and see for myself the Luther sites with a group of people from Augustana. It was a very meaningful trip.
I’m also a big Luther fan because when I was in seminary I discovered in Luther a bit of a kindred spirit. What I mean by that is Luther helped me to understand God loved and accepted me just the way I was and I didn’t need to be anyone other than the person God made me to be.
That was a big deal for me. I discovered, much to my relief that I didn’t need to lead a religiously ascetic life in order to serve God. Luther helped me understand that the ordinary, day to day joys and sorrows of life are all part of what God intends and wants for His people.
Luther was down to earth. He could use salty language. He spoke out for maybe the first time saying that God is present and blesses the farmer, the shoemaker, the businessperson, the homemaker and God is present at the table when we eat and drink and in the raising of children and in whatever you are doing in your daily life at work and home.
Luther, together with his wife Katie, embraced all aspects of life and called them good at a time when the main message of the church was one of fear and you better watch out cause if you don’t do the right thing God is going to body slam you straight down into hell and damnation.
Maybe some of you were raised in a church like that and have tried to live out your faith like that.
The spiritual lightbulb went on for Luther when he finally understood by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are put into a right and saving relationship with God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and God gives us the faith to believe in this promise.
Jesus is God’s answer to the salvation question.
For you and me, as one of my favorite professors at seminary use to say; the question is not what do I have to do, the question is now that I don’t have to do anything, what am I going to do?
Or, where does faith meet life for you?
Or, how are you serving God in your daily life? As a spouse, a parent, in your daily work whatever that might be, as a student or a friend?
You are saved by Jesus, not by what you do or don’t do. You have been formed, reformed and transformed in order to serve God and your neighbor in any and all circumstance to which God places you.
Today is a lovefest of Luther and what he started but I’m also wondering what else he would say as the reformation begins year 501 on November 1st.
The word reformation means the action or process of reforming an institution or practice.
The phrase I heard in German while I was in worship at the St. Thomas church in Leipzig, Germany was, a permanent reformation.
It was June 4th, Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Christian Church. I was sitting in the same church where the most famous Lutheran Church musician, JS Bach, was organist and choirmaster. The music was amazing and it was a special morning to experience the renewing power of the Holy Spirit in German and in a German church.
I asked our guide, what did the preacher have to say? He said the preacher spoke about a permanent reformation.
What Luther started is ongoing. The church needs to always be looking at itself and discerning what needs reformation. Individual Christians need reformation. The church needs reformation.
Which begs the question for today. What needs to change in our churches, 500 years after Luther rocked his world, in order for us to keep effectively sharing the good news of Jesus with a world and a culture that seems to be less and less interested in the church?
If we hide behind the walls of the fortress of the institutional church we are not much use to God or to the world.
If we refuse to see the world around us as it actually is instead of how it used to be or how we think it should be, we as Christians or the church are not much use to God.
These lovely banners say formed, reformed, transformed. You see all this red. Red is symbolic of the fire of the Holy Spirit that burns away that which is old and unnecessary and creates something new in God’s people and the church. It takes trust to do these things. It takes faith that God is in control.
Our text for today is a psalm of trust.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
Luther based the hymn, a might fortress on Psalm 46.
Luther took on the mightiest powers of his day, the Holy Roman Empire and the Holy Catholic Church, all by himself. He said there needs to be change.
How did he do it? By placing his faith in the God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.
A very present help in trouble. This is the God who has formed, reformed and transformed us.
Yes, the mountains shake. The waters roar. The fires burn. The nations are in an uproar.
That never changes from age to age. The question to ask is this; where do you put your trust? How do you face change or even understand the need for it.
If your faith can’t handle change then what kind of faith is it?
If your faith can’t handle trouble then what kind of faith is it?
When was the last time something changed for you in your relationship with Jesus?
When was the last time you reformed something in your life that brought what you do and who you are into greater alignment with Jesus and his commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves?
If the church and individual Christians are not willing to keep asking the questions of what needs reforming in our life and practices, then what does that say about our faith.
Reformation is possible because the Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Transformation is possible because the fire of the Holy Spirit still burns in God’s people and makes the church alive for the sake of serving the world.
When Martin Luther heard for the first time the sweet, sweet music of the good news of Jesus that his relationship with God was based solely on faith in Jesus and what Jesus had done on the cross for him, he was liberated. He was set free. He was transformed.
As we remember and celebrate brother Martin today, may the reforming and transforming fire of the Holy Spirit burn in our churches and in our lives, changing us and using us to be God’s people in this world and to do God’s work of love, mercy and justice.
We can do no other. Here we must stand.