I have been a Christian living out that faith journey in the Lutheran context since 1989-1990. I have spent about 26 years worshiping in Lutheran churches and Episcopal churches. You may wonder, “Why Lutheran?” or, “Why Episcopal?”
Easy answer…in neither of those Christian bodies do I feel that I must check my brain at the door. Both seem to celebrate that faith is really often more about doubt than it is about certainty, more about being people-together-experiencing-Jesus than about being an individual-alone-experiencing-Jesus. It’s a together with Jesus journey, not a me and my Jesus journey.
And right there is why I, Pr. John David Bryant, confess that I do not like preaching on Reformation Sunday. In all candor, I do not like Reformation Sunday. I do not see it pointing to Jesus through being a people-together-experiencing-Jesus opportunity. I see it pointing to an ugly mark on the body of Christ, a long, wavy, scar spreading over the torso of God’s human family. I cannot see much worthy of celebration….people burned at stakes by Roman Catholic groups, Lutherans demonizing other Lutherans, and then we have the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Roman Catholic groups uniting to target the Anabaptists–drowning ’em in droves. Let’s not forget the thousands of peasants killed one afternoon when peasants rose up near Frankhausen in 1525—-when these poor people were actually radical enough perhaps to believe the Lutheran idea that all belongs to God, and so then all things should be shared, and maybe that includes the sharing of essential stuff—like food. Let’s not forget that 500 hundred years later God’s family still cannot sit at God’s Table together as one holy band. Let’s not forget that still we accuse each other of not being Christians, projecting on to God our own narrow, sectarian, gobblety-goop. Let’s not forget our current fixation on human sexuality that turns our gaze to human gratification, and human matters, and thereby pulls our attention from Christ.
Reformation Day—indeed! I call it, Brokenness Amplification Day….and that seems BAD.
Stints in the Episcopal side of the house have taught me a few things. One of which is that we Lutherans are way more invested in Reformation Day than our Anglican/Episcopal kin. I think in this regard that they might render unto God deep and hearty thanks for a body of water known as the English Channel—a natural barrier that did well to keep Charles V’s 16th Century Imperial Roman armies at bay. But in any case, our cousins across the channel—for the most part—will not be frantically dragging out “Reformation Red” clothing, and are not highly likely to catch flack if none sing Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, come Sunday.
And I think we might consider this difference, perhaps explore it. We Lutherans love to see ourselves as the guardians of doctrinal accuracy. We are the children of Dr.Martin Luther—the protectors of all things dogmatic and theological. We even consider ourselves to be the most keen on knowing that which is essential and retaining it over and against that which is adiaphora. And adiaphora is anything that is not requisite to a lively faith, or even something that might obscure a lively faith……………like a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Some Lutheran parishes have a statue of the Virgin Mary. Some Episcopal parishes have a statue of the Virgin Mary. Some Roman Catholic parishes have a statue of the Virgin Mary. We all honor her in our own ways. But should we? We are Lutherans! Before reading further—-ask yourself a question—–this question, “What do I actually know of what Luther taught about the Virgin Mary?” Now follow that question with this one, “Is this even essential?”
Consider the following statement made by a Roman Catholic monk:
“We see here how Christ, as it were, takes our birth from us and absorbs it in his birth, and grants us his, that in it we might become pure and holy, as if it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth as much as if he had himself been born of Mary as was Christ. Whoever does not believe this, or doubts, is no Christian.”
And further in the same document,
“This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, he can boast of the treasure that Mary is his rightful mother, Christ his brother, and God his father.”
The former Roman Catholic monk, saying this traditional Roman Catholic teaching, is Dr. Martin Luther. He preached this on Christmas Day in a sermon built on the text Luke 2:1-14. Doubt it? Go look it up. I don’t write this blog to give answers. I write it to make folks think. But I will give you a hint—- Lutherans in All Lands Press, Minneapolis, MN.
Wow, all that Marian stuff, huh? Something to consider…Mary as our mom…mother of all Christians. Perhaps that’s something better to consider on this Reformation Sunday when we will hear stuff like:
-set free from bondage, we’re free to believe this, that, or the other (doesn’t sound like the love of Jesus, sounds more like set free of a dogmatic pattern of people, but okay, whatev!)
-the free gift of grace is now freed and unfettered (was God’s grace ever otherwise? Please! Grace was free, humans were petty—and none of our pettiness has ever bounded grace.)
-we’re happy we are not like those Catholics with their statues of, and prayers to, Mary (after all we think we have Jesus in our God box right there with all our dogmatic kin…we might want to pause for a moment and thank God that the opposite is more likely true—that, in fact, it is Jesus who has us, and all of God’s kin, and even Mary in Jesus’ figurative God box—and this might happen even apart from dogmatics.)
Truly, truly….is any of that stuff central?
Perhaps we (rather than me, myself, and I, off in obscurity) should think a bit more about matters such as these. After all, isn’t this Christian business an us-together-experiencing-Jesus-journey?
Or are we now part of a fractured, scattered, individualistic journey in God’s split-apart, isolated family celebrating our voluntary ostracism?
Shouldn’t we think a bit more about how we’ve split God’s family over such silliness as whether or not we honor Jesus’ mom, or whether or not that it matters if some others, either do or do not, honor her similarly or differently than we ourselves.We have split God’s family over more pitiable matters: color of communion wine, whether wine or juice at the Table, leavened or unleavened bread, ad nauseum.
Perhaps we might recall the dead peasants near Frankhausen, and any others who’ve been cast aside in our efforts to reform dogmas into our own image rather than that of Jesus. Who else has our reform cast aside? Isn’t it true that we seek comfort in knowing that others own the views we claim as ours—it’s often our source of comfort, isn’t it? Even sometimes more comforting to us than Jesus, true?
Shouldn’t we pause for a moment to ask ourselves—–“Just what are we celebrating on Reformation Day? Is it reform, or is it brokenness?”
Friends, let’s give some thought to this sort of stuff—we must not check our brains at the door.
Let’s hear anew the words of Jeremiah—reformation words—-“… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” God is doing all the work of setting humanity to rights. God puts the law into people. God writes it on hearts. God will be God of people on God’s own terms.This is God’s reform…and it looks one heaven of, and one hell of, a lot bigger better and more inclusive than any other celebration we’ll have goin’ on next Sunday.
Perhaps our preaching might center on our ever dependent need of God forgiving our iniquities and remembering our sin no more—even the sins that gave rise to this day, maybe still give rise to this day. Haven’t we spent enough time saying to one another, “Know the Lord?” Perhaps the truth of the matter is this…all reform belongs to God. And make no bones about it—-God’s in the business of reform, and God is doing it God’s way…and it will never be Brokenness Amplification Day for God says, “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”