Reformation Day
October 30, 2011
 (or Pentecost 20A below)

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 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.
Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Be still, and know that I am God!
Romans 3:19-28 – For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
John 8:31-36 – True disciples continue in my word. If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
OR
Gracious Father, we pray for your holy catholic church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. If you continue in my word, you are truly | my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will | make you free. Alleluia. (John 8:31-32)

Color: Red

Pentecost 20A (or Reformation above)
October 23, 2011

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 – The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob , saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command.
OR
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 – The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 – Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
OR
Psalm 1 – Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 – For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Matthew 22:34-46 – The Great Commandment and the question about David’s son

Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, you are the holy lawgiver, you are the salvation of your people. By your Spirit renew us in your covenant of love, and train us to care tenderly for all our neighbors, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Beloved, since God loved | us so much,
we also ought to love | one another. Alleluia. (1 John 4:11)

Reform and Unity

Isn’t it tempting to tell the dramatic story of the Reformation from our one-sided viewpoint? The exploits of Pope Leo X provide so much luscious material: church offices for sale to the highest bidder, the lavish expenditures and crushing debt, the brothels, his sons made cardinals, one son becoming pope… The Late Medieval and Early Renaissance popes provide lectures of material.

But would that be a sermon? Is it instead a history lesson? Would it inspire the faithful to live and breathe the gospel, or would it just teach them to be suspicious of Catholics?

Could our Catholic brothers and sisters not have sermons focusing on Luther’s harsh rhetoric, his anti-Semitic remarks, and his supposed desire to have sex and divide the church? (See my upcoming LEAD article “Where Luther Got It Wrong” for more Reformation missteps.) Would that be an edifying sermon for the faithful? Would it just be polemics? And how would such a sermon proclaim the gospel?

Newsflash. We have a new pope. It’s no longer 1513. Giovanni de Medici is no longer at the helm. No one has been burned at the stake for several hundred years. The mass is being spoken and sung in the vernacular all over the world. The Vatican has signed on to the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Heck, “A Mighty Fortress” is even in the Catholic Hymnal.

I’m not saying we don’t have our differences. I’m saying perhaps the appropriate posture for this conversation is humility. It is a value that Jesus promotes frequently.

From Conflict to Communion,” presented by the Vatican and The Lutheran World Federation, is a 93-page report prepared by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity. It points out:

“Relatively early, 31 October 1517 became a symbol of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Still today, many Lutheran churches remember each year on 31 October the event known as the Reformation. The centennial celebrations of the Reformation have been lavish and festive. The opposing viewpoints of the different confessional groups have been especially visible at these events. For Lutherans, these commemorative days and centennials were occasions for telling once again the story of the beginning of the characteristic – evangelical – form of their church in order to justify their distinctive existence. This was naturally tied to a critique of the Roman Catholic Church. On the other side, Catholics took such commemorative events as opportunities to accuse Lutherans of an unjustifiable division from the true church and a rejection of the gospel of Christ.”

I spent a significant portion of my sabbatical reading books on the Reformation. It became eminently clear that the Reformation was absolutely necessary. If our message is to be more than a 16th century history lesson or a rehashing of old feudal animosities, we had better stop worrying about the speck in our neighbor’s eye and focus on the log in our own eye.

From this standpoint, a true Reformation sermon should focus on the free grace given to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are loved with an everlasting love. God calls even us unrighteous folks to the party. The gospel frees us to love and serve our neighbor. The gospel frees us from all our futile attempts to justify ourselves.

If you’re in the mood for a fiery sermon on reform of church institutions, start with your own: first your congregation, next your synod/diocese/district/conference, then your denomination. But even then, it’s important to ask, is this a position paper or a sermon? Did Jesus need to die for this message to be proclaimed? Does the congregation really need or want to hear about institutional restructuring, or do they need the bread of life to get through another week?

To this end, the gospel text for Pentecost 20A is the Great Commandment: Love God and love neighbor. Jesus says the whole Law and Prophets rest on these two. Paul says this is the fulfillment of the law. The grace of God in Christ frees us to love God and neighbor, not to dogged adherence to an imperfect Law.

The gospel text for Reformation Day is about freedom: “If the Son makes you free you are free indeed.” It is also the freedom of truth: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Reformation Sunday is a time to proclaim the truth of the gospel that we are a broken and imperfect people, and that God, nevertheless, loves us and invites all of us to be a part of the kingdom of God in this world and the next.