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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Reforming Church - 10/28/2018

We hear Good News this 501st commemoration of the Reformation!

Here it is, from our Romans reading: The righteousness of God has been received in the faith of Jesus for all who believe that he is the Messiah – that’s us and people of the Christian variety throughout time and place.

This is Good News because our faith – a gift from God – is not able to come into its wholeness, its full potential in us because we are bound to our sin. “For there is no distinction” in us, Paul writes, “since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22b-23)

Our faith, on its own, is not enough to earn God’s righteousness and so God came among us as Jesus because God saw this shortfall of humanity, and it mattered to God. God loves you very much, remember? We probably cannot hear that enough.

I think we can assume God has heard the prayers of many regarding this reality we all experience of continuing to be sinners, no matter how much we nurture that gift of faith.

Like those times when we’re just so overwhelmed with our own stuff that we avoid a friend who we know probably needs a good ear and a shoulder to lean on.

Times when we make pretty black and white judgments about someone else’s choice only to be reminded of our own choices starring back at us in the mirror later.

I know God has heard prayers about stuff like this from my lips.

And we know Luther offered up prayers like that too – probably enough for all of us here and the rest of humanity. He was so overcome with the impossibility of knowing all the ways he sinned, of sincerely repenting for each and every one of those sins … he was so overcome with the dread that he had forgotten something and that what he didn’t know stood between him and God, that he became rather obsessive about his sinful self, confessing constantly for even the most innocent infractions like belching or passing gas.

So a wise mentor in Luther’s life, who also had the ability to make him do stuff, decided Luther needed a really powerful distraction from this obsession and sent him off to work on his doctorate. It was a wise move. I pray we all have mentors like this in our lives.

Immersion in scripture study and theology was exactly the way God would break through to Luther’s shivering and fearful heart, and that happened to Luther, we’re told, while he was reading this very passage from Romans that brings us our Good News today.

“For we hold that a person is justified (or righteous in God) by faith apart from works prescribed by the law,” Paul wrote.

It was in reading this scripture that Luther came to a foundational part of what would become our Lutheran theology: we Jesus followers are justified, or righteous, in God by grace, through faith, because of the faith of Jesus Christ and apart works … from anything we do or don’t do, anyway we say or don’t say.

We may not know every way that God is at work in this creation to bring salvation to God’s people no matter how they call God or even if they call on God at.

But what we can know, what we can hear from Paul and Luther and the teachings of Jesus himself is that we may live confidently in our salvation through the perfect and whole faith of Jesus. That has already and forever been decided by God in Jesus on the cross and Jesus rising from the dead. So we are freed to go forth in our lives boldly trusting that God is helping us bear the weight of our own crosses; boldly trusting that Jesus’ defeat of death has brought us all to life and sends us home to our creator when our time here is done.

This is Good News and we rejoice and worship God because of it. We bathe ourselves in it at the font and eat of it at the Lord’s Table. Thanks be to God.

***

 

And yet …. God does give us the gift of faith, which seems a little more curious in light of Jesus’ whole and perfect faith that makes up for where our faith falls short, right?

I mean if we can only trust in Jesus’ faith to atone for our sins, to make straight and plain the path of God’s righteousness, then why do we need our faith at all – as little and limited as it is likely to be?

If the gift of faith to us mere mortals is not for the purpose of our own personal salvation, why does God give it to us?

There are probably a million answers to that question we could come up with in this room alone.

The gift of faith can be what serves as a beacon of hope – sometimes in the far off distance – when we are grieving the death of a loved one, a career, a relationship, an idea, or what we thought was truth.

The gift of faith might be what helps us overcome discomfort and fear when we feel called to serve and care for and know our neighbor, but we’re a little nervous about it, especially when that neighbor is someone who we really don’t understand or who lives and loves differently than us.

Despite a week of violence and terrorism, demonizing of vulnerable and desperate refugees, divisive politics that seem to reach new levels everyday – this gift of faith just may be what makes it possible to find words of hope and promise in the music we hear today.

And, I’ll add one more example, marking again our commemoration of the Reformation this weekend.

I wish we would call it something like Commemoration of the Reforming Church, or Red is for Reforming Weekend.

I know, it’s not really as catchy, but “Reformation” sounds too past tense – as if there was a job to be done and stuff to be said. Luther got it done, said it, and “check!” it’s done. Next!

Truly, our tradition is meant to be continually reforming – always being made new … sound familiar? …a reforming church is always moving with the people of God as they move through the ages and adapting to the ways of our lives, changing and evolving as we continually grow our capacity to love all our neighbors, to seek unity, to connect in our similarities and celebrate our diversities.

Our reading from John gives us one picture of why we should let our faith guide us in being more of a reforming church rather than a reformed church.

In John, when we read something like “Then Jesus said to the Jews …” we should understand it more specifically as The Jewish leaders. These faith leaders, probably without really intending it and over a long period of time, started to get between God and God’s people. They had taken righteousness and judgment into their own hands and in their destined-to-fail administration of doing what only God can do, they cannot even see the hypocrisy of what they say – that they are indeed children of Abraham, Moses’ freed Israelites, God’s chosen people, the people of the covenant, who are also seeking to kill Jesus in order to protect their “faith.”

There was a need for reform and Jesus called them on it. This has always been the case for our traditions and churches and always will be, as long as humans are involved, it think it’s fair to say.

We see places that ache for reform today. There is division in many places of our church. We are committed in the ELCA expression of Lutheran Christianity to seek this unification, continually pushing ourselves to healthier relationships within the ELCA itself, and also among other expressions of Lutheranism and in different churches of God’s Christian people. We also strive to nurture positive and fruitful relationships with people of other religions, like our siblings of the Jewish and Islamic faiths.

This reforming way isn’t always easy, of course – we disagree sometimes, we fail a lot …

… but we have that gift of faith …as little and limited as it is …

… and it fuels us and inspires us. It convicts us sometimes and points to where we need reform, particularly where people or ideas, politics, evil or even just plain old habits try to stand between God and God’s people.

… and it reminds us continually, each of us, right now, just as you are in this moment … you have received God’s righteousness through the perfect and whole faith of Jesus … or as Luther might say, even 501 years later: Go forth confidently and sin boldly. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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