Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36; Matthew 22:34-46
Pr. Scott Kramer
(Below in italics is content provided to the congregation as a reference for the sermon following)
Personal faith: God’s love for me and mine
Work: Christian basics of prayer, Bible study, worship, service
Emphasis: Keeping laws and following rules
Goal: Personal salvation
Christian Reformation (RE-formation)
Public faith: God’s love for me and many others
Work: Changing or discarding corrupt, outdated or unjust laws, structures and institutions
Emphasis: Public advocacy and protest, including breaking unjust laws/civil disobedience
Goal: Salvation of church and/or society here and now
Models: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley
Universal faith: God’s love for all people and all creation
Work: Recognizing and learning from Christ’s presence and work in the “other,” even in the “enemy”
Emphasis: True freedom. Driven less by national, political, racial, gender, family loyalties and fears; more by compassion (literally, “suffering with”) and love for all
Goal: Salvation of humanity and the whole creation here and now
Models: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther is said to have publicly posted his 95 Theses, which were a call for reforms in the Roman Catholic Church. Others before him had called for reforms but Luther set in motion a chain of events that changed the world forever.
But reforming the Church is not the goal of Christian faith. The goal of Christian faith is not Reformation but transformation. Martin Luther was not just a monk and a preacher but a teacher, as well. In that spirit, this morning I’d like to review with you what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
One of the great gifts of the Lutheran Reformation is recovery of the deep truth of Christian faith: We all are in the hands of a loving God. (Romans 3:19-28) Neither our beliefs nor our good works do anything to increase God’s love; it is free and unconditional. And yet, many Christians believe that life is a matter of making a good impression on God in hopes of a favorable outcome in the afterlife.
That which is a goal for many Christians is the starting place for Lutherans. Instead of saying, “How can I please God enough to get into heaven?” we say, “My salvation is assured. How now can I live a life of gratitude for what God has already done for me? How do I imitate the life of Jesus, whose goal is the salvation and healing of the whole creation?”
The goal of Christian faith is not Reformation. It is transformation! We are formed in the basics of the faith, constantly reforming through our whole life in the hope of being transformed by God’s unconditional love to practice that unconditional love in the world.
I ask you to find in your bulletin the insert that reads “Christian Formation” at the top. This is the place we start. As we grow in faith we see more clearly how God’s circle of love is greater than we had thought, and how our faith is not some merely private or spiritual matter. It is what shapes our public life, including our politics. This is a riskier faith that doesn’t allow us to hide or to remain invisible. It is a response to what Jesus taught is the greatest commandment: Love for God and neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). Jesus spent his entire ministry constantly blowing open our definitions of “neighbor.”
Formation and re-formation are what many Christians settle for. But again, these are not the goals of Christian faith. The goal of Christian faith is transformation (See accompanying scriptural references to transformation: Philippians 2:1-8, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 13:1-7). Martin Luther was a reformer who contributed much good to the world, but in some instances he is a rather poor example of transformation. For example, in response to Luther’s teachings many peasants were encouraged and rose up against their masters, seeking economic justice. Luther, horrified, sided with the rich who crushed the rebellion. Luther hated many Catholics and most of all he hated Jews. Luther was a man of his times whose circle of love failed to extend beyond himself and his kind (See New Yorker article).
Jesus embodies a life that represents a transformed heart and mind. But is this all beyond us? Is there anyone in our own time who embodies the spirit of transformation, God’s all-encompassing love? The answer is yes! Read the teachings of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, and you will find strong evidence of transformed hearts and minds.
Dear friends, the process of Christian growth is not so much a straight line, from formation to transformation. It is more like a circle, in which a transformed heart and mind lead us back to the basics of our faith to hear our scriptures in a new and deeper way, which leads to further reformation, which leads to deeper transformation.
And Christian formation is not just personal! It is just as much a process for the community. On this Reformation anniversary we can give thanks and praise to God for the reforming and transforming work that the Holy Spirit is doing among us.
I am deeply hopeful and encouraged by signs of God’s transforming love among you within this congregation. Your circle of love over the past few years has grown ever wider and all-encompassing! However, our work is never done. Let us each be diligent in practicing the basics of our faith, that together we will become ever more open to the reforming and transforming work of the Holy Spirit!