October 30, 2022 Reformation Sunday The text is John 8:31-36.
31 Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 3 2and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 3 5The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this day we celebrate Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This event, which occurred 505 years ago tomorrow, is accepted to be the start of what was to become the Protestant Reformation. While Luther’s action was meant only to serve as a starting point for academic discussion, as we know it was the catalyst that led to the re-formation of the Christian church. And one of the results of this reformation was the establishment of the Lutheran Church; lucky for us.
But what about this re-forming of the church? That which has been “formed” has been made, established, created. Having been “reformed” means that something has been changed, altered, improved; and from the point of view of the Protestant church, corrected. Luther’s aim was to question those church practices that he found to be inconsistent with Scripture; he specifically asserted that the core of Christian belief was rooted in solely in Word, truth, and freedom.
The Word of God, Jesus Christ, God’s Son; the truth of Jesus’ teaching; and the freedom that we are granted when we align our lives with the Word and with this truth. Jesus himself explained it to those who believed in him; “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”. And by this Word, this truth, and this freedom we are reformed. We are made, no re-made into a new creation; transformed, and given a new identity. And as such we are granted a permanent place in God’s kingdom.
On each Reformation Sunday we celebrate the re-forming of the church; it’s initial transformation over 500 years ago, and the many ways that the church continues to evolve. It is said that the Christian church experiences momentous reformations every 500 years or so. Around 500 years after Christianity began with Christ’s resurrection, the fall of Rome happened; the resultant power vacuum paved the way for the Christian church to be the predominant force in a post-Roman world. Then around 1,000 CE, after another 500 years, the next significant reforming occurred; the great separation between the Eastern and Western expressions of Christendom. What resulted from this great schism in 1504 was the separation between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Fast-forward 500 years and we all know what happened then; Martin Luther and others helped usher in the rise of Protestantism, whether they intended to, or not.
And it would appear that the current state of the church, now 500 years later, is showing signs of yet more seismic changes. We have developed a deeper understanding of science; thus we have come to better recognize that scientific and religious thought are not really in conflict. The world, and the church have become more diverse than ever before. Cultural changes have forced us to examine how we interact with those who may look and act much differently from us. A large number of our neighbors no longer identify with any religious tradition; many are “spiritual, but not religious”.
These changes have combined to alter how the church functions; we can look back and discern what her role was 500, 1,000, fifteen-hundred years ago. The question now becomes; what role does the church play in our lives today? These days the church is no longer the center of most families’ lives. Post-Covid church attendance has declined greatly, in every corner of America.
Yet, Christianity survives, because those who believe in Christ Jesus will continue in his word, they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free. Word, truth, and freedom remain at the core of the church, and while 500-year transformations may result in immense changes on many fronts, these tenets of our faith will remain; for they make us who we are. What will the church look like in another 500 years? One thing we can be certain of is that the church will continue in her reformation. And God’s people will maintain their place in the kingdom, those whom the Son has set free.
And, just as the wider church has seen and will continue to experience milestones that express the changes she has undergone, God’s children also mark those occasions in their faith journeys that represent their individual reforming. This day Sophie Williams celebrates the next milestone in her faith journey, which began with her baptism, her adoption into God’s family. She has completed two years of exploring the ways in which her faith has been reformed. And I daresay, if there were such a thing as “extra credit” for confirmation classes, she would surely receive it; for it wasn’t easy learning about Word, truth, and freedom on Zoom. These often-complex concepts can be difficult enough to grasp through in-person learning, yet I am confident that Sophie is ready for this next reformation of her faith. And as she progresses through the many phases of her life, her faith will undoubtedly evolve; there will likely be more re-formings of how Sophie views her relationship with God and Christ. Let us pray that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, that she never wavers in her belief in the Word, truth, and freedom promised by Christ Jesus, her Savior.
Shortly Sophie will affirm the baptismal promises that were made on her behalf and she will now take these promises upon herself as an adult member of this congregation. And we celebrate with her as she reaches this transformative moment. We pray that any future re-forming of her faith will bring her to an ever-closer connection with the God who yearns for a righteous relationship with us all. We pray also that she will always remember this most central truth of our faith; that she is so immeasurably valuable to God that God chose to sacrifice his Son in order to save her. And that God will grant her Christ’s Word, and truth, and freedom. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.