Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A New Kind of Reformation

This sermon was delivered at Messiah Lutheran Church on October 29th, 2017, as we commemorated the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on the appointed gospel for the day, Saint John 8: 31 - 36.

Two thousand years ago in the Middle East, things were in pretty rough shape... the people of Israel were oppressed by far off Rome and the religious elite of the day were spreading the Fake News that folks should be happy with their lot in life, all the while serving as puppets of the Emperor. Along though came a poor day laborer from the backwater of Nazareth who healed the sick, cast out demons (or in contemporary understanding deeply cared about mental health issues) and eventually got to point where He was spreading the Good News that God was not just at work in Temple in Jerusalem but rather throughout the world, setting EVERYONE free in liberating love.

Five hundred years ago in what's now Germany, things were in pretty rough shape too in somewhat of a similar way... the plague was still ravaging across Europe while bishops, the masses lived in poverty while bishops and cardinals lived like kings and the religious elite of the day were spreading the Fake News that despite having so much money already, folks had to essentially buy tickets for themselves and their loved ones to get into heaven. Along though came the boorish, likely bipolar son of mining family who while far from perfect, utilized the newly invented printing press to spread the Good News that you didn’t need to buy a golden ticket to get into heaven! That rather, God's love was a freely given gift to set us free! That was Martin Luther by the way.

Nowadays, golly, things seem like they're in pretty rough shape once again... the rich are getting richer while poor and middle class folks are struggling more than ever before in the modern era. The Fake News of hate and division and “the reality tv-ification” of our civic life has pitted well-meaning folks against one another while views and positions we thought we had long grown out of as a people are now dredged back into the public. An epidemic of opiate addiction and mental health problems and violence against women are ravaging our cities and towns and rural areas alike. And so many of the religious elites of our day in America, and especially the ones the media likes to cover the most, spend much of their public time doing one of two things: either transforming Jesus’ message of love into talking about hating gay folks and science and women’s rights, or dumbing down the gospel into a get rich quick scheme that mostly preys on the poor… both types of preaching and being that are pure heresy and need to be called out as such. And far too many other religious leaders, many in our own denomination, while well intended, all too often fail to put forward much of a relevant and engaging message at all to a generation both highly skeptical of organized religion yet absolutely starving for experiences of the sacred and a life lived in community.

Nowadays, golly, things do indeed seem like they're in pretty rough shape, there’s a lot of Fake News out there, but along though, came you. Along though, came you. Along though, came you. Now none of us is certainly as awesome as Jesus and probably none of us will ever rise to Luther's fame, but in our baptism, each and every single one of us has been promised that no matter how worthless or guilty or inadequate or shy or godless or scarred we might consider ourselves, that the Holy Spirit is stirring. In our baptism, we are promised that in each and every single one of us, the Holy Spirit is helping us at least in the smallest of ways to get out there and spread the Good News of Christ, the truth, an eternal truth, that the Divine, the Arc of the Universe or what us Christians call God is at work setting this world and its people free from whatever might ail us. In the crazy world we live in, guided by Christ and despite your imperfections, along came you.

Let’s be honest, so much of the old reformation we commemorate today, on its five-hundredth anniversary, is pretty much over. Unity with our Roman Catholic friends is close at hand... theologically, we’re pretty much in agreement, it’s mostly just on social issues like LGBT and women’s rights and an all-male hierarchy where work is still needed. There was great, Godly genius in the old reformation Luther touched off to be sure… the notion that we’re all both saints and sinners, the notion that God’s love is freely given, the notion that God shows up where we least expect, the notion that the human body is a good gift that shouldn’t be despised. Those are all timeless teachings. Yet it’s also in the Fake News of that old reformation, in Luther’s inability to listen to other opinions and in his catering to government elites and in his rabid anti-Semitism, that indicate where the Holy Spirit is now bearing a new reformation into being, a new reformation that yes, even you, in all your human brokenness, is called to be a part of.

Now gosh, we’ll never get it perfect either, and in Christ we’re not expected to, but in a world with so many problems and in world where so many supposed followers of all the world religions are spewing out hateful Fake News and even sometimes actively killing people of genuine faith, a new type of reformation is needed. A new type of reformation where we live out our lives of faith not grounded in the Fake News of human created, legalistic, nit-picky religion but rather live out our lives in community on the Way of Christ, set free by the universal, everlasting truth of liberating love and spreading the Good News that EVERYONE is already free to do the same. A new type of reformation that pulls us away from the Fake News of human religion towards the Good News, the way Christ showed us, that we can see the Image of God in every human, the Good News, the truth that as he so simply and perfectly put, will make you free. And, as part of that reformation, along came you.

As a species right, we’ve been knocking on heaven’s door for thousands of years, trying to be set free from the Fake News of the day, whether it be that the Roman Emperor was the Son of God as Jesus preached against or whether it be that you needed to pay your way into heaven, the Fake News that Luther preached against, or all the muck and anxiety and fear that is at the heart of our Fake News today.  As we commemorate a previous reformation today, know that a new reformation is brewing, one grounded in the Way of Christ that reminds us and our neighbors and our children and indeed everyone that we can see the Image of God in every person, the Good News, the truth, that as Jesus so simply and perfectly put, will make you free. And, as part of that reformation, along came you. Amen.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit filled church following Jesus Christ in Schenectady, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.