By Pastor Wes Poole
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. NRSV
Jesus said to the Jews who had 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.” NRSV
This coming Sunday, we will read both of the above passages and more as we celebrate Reformation Sunday. For the Lutheran Church, and many other Protestant denominations, this is the day when we focus on our heritage; on the things that we have brought to the table of Christianity, and of course on Martin Luther. Normally, on this Sunday, most every Lutheran around the world would be belting out Luther’s greatest hit, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Perhaps not this year, but the sentiment and spirit will certainly still be there. All of this is quite good, as we have a great deal to be proud of as Lutheran Christians. The energy, insight, and devotion to the Gospel that Luther both possessed and acted upon has changed the world for the better. Indeed, some 20 or so years ago, Time Magazine listed the Lutheran Reformation as one of the top 5 important events of the last Millennium. This was no small accomplishment for one rather insignificant monk in 16th Century Saxony. For Luther, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was so important, so all encompassing and transcendent of earthly authority that he risked his own life, and some would say mortal soul, to bring about the changes in the Church that needed to happen. Luther, though flawed and sinful like any of us, was a man of vision and imagination. He imagined a world made better by a more grace filled and inclusive church. His vision remains at the heart of our church’s mission to this day.
However, the Reformation really isn’t just about Luther; otherwise we might call it “Martin Luther Day”. There is more at work in this celebration than simply a history lesson or the remembrance of an important historical figure. The Reformation was about change….and more than that…the Reformation is about change. Many of us know that Luther did not want this church to bear his name. He preferred the term “evangelical” meaning basically “of or pertaining to the Gospel/Good News”, although that term gets misused a bit these days. Fortunately or not, as the poet said, “You can’t always get what you want!” and so our church bears his name proudly to this day. Still, Luther’s point resonates across these past 500 years. An evangelical church, a church firmly rooted in the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning, is not a static institution that is rigid and unyielding. Indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ is a living, growing, entity that is constantly finding new ways of expressing itself in different, or as is certainly the case these days, difficult times.
“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant…” The words of the prophet Jeremiah tell us of a God who is not content to “leave well enough alone” and have everything remain the same. This same God, who created all that is and who has never stopped creating, sees fit to work new wonders in this world He brought into being. That is what the Reformation is all about. That is the spirit of fearlessness and creativity that Luther set into motion some 500 odd years ago and still survives to the present.
That is indeed the spirit we are called upon to embrace on this most Lutheran of celebrations. If we are to remain faithful bearers of the Good News to this world which has a profound need to hear it, we must be willing to take a step back; to be able to effect and accept change. Sometimes it’s a personal change; a change of behavior or direction or heart. Sometimes, it’s a corporate change; a community of faith willing to take a leap of faith, grind up those proverbial “sacred cows”, and proceed in a new or unexpected direction. Regardless, there is no need for fear or hesitation. This same God who promises to do new things is also the God who has written His law on our hearts and set us free with the truth his Son brought us. With a God like that, fear has no foothold and there are no limits to what can be achieved. Remember the proverbial “battle cry” of the Reformation, Sempre Ecclesia Reformanda…the Church always reforming. That is the very essence of the way in which the Christian Church is to operate. That is yet another part of the Truth that will, as John tells us, set us free. It is a truth that is bigger than we are; a timeless truth that will still be when perhaps people have forgotten about Luther and his Reformation. Still, the Church of Christ will live on, transforming lives and telling that great Story. Our Good Shepherd family is a part of that story. May we continue to embrace that bold and dynamic spirit of growth!
Let us pray…
God of creation and creativity, grant us open hearts and minds as we celebrate the Reformation. Help us always to be willing to embrace newness and innovation; employing the imagination that is one of your great gifts to us. As always, in whatever we do or attempt, may we continue to put our trust in you and the promises you have made to us in Jesus Christ, for it is in his name that we pray. Amen.
Be well, be kind, and be safe!
Pastor Wes †