Reformation Sunday Sermon October 29: Be still and know
Reformation Sunday October 29, 2017
Psalm 46; John 8:31-3
It’s a red-colored pull out all the stops church day today. Reformation 500 marks a watershed moment in history, but I want to say that Lutherans continue to be on the move, drawing the circle wider, repenting of our capitulation with static institutions, and reclaiming the best of what Luther and the reformers envisioned, that the good news of Jesus Christ sets us free from whatever weighs on us, whatever locks us in. Luther himself composed A Mighty Fortress is our God based on Psalm 46 with the conviction that God’s Word was more powerful than a locomotive. Luther said that the Holy Spirit is the one that prompts faith and keeps the church alive. In the Large Catechism he has choice words to say about the third article of the creed, you know, this part, say it with me: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
This is the sum and substance of this phrase: I believe that there is on earth a little holy flock or community of pure saints under one head, Christ. It is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, mind, and understanding. It possesses a variety of gifts, yet is united in in love without sect or schism. Of this community I also am a part and member, a participant and co-partner in all the blessings it possesses.
Be still and know that I am God (song)
There were about thirteen teenagers at Camp Calumet for five days in June, all about thirteen years old, along with loveable mom Betty Mulrey and dorky me Pastor Keyl as leaders for confirmation camp. I remember kids like Danny, Kayleigh, Ryan, and April. We were supposed to grow in faith while also having fun in creation in that most beautiful of spots way up in New Hampshire on Lake Ossipee.
I remember thinking how many years I had been doing this, lugging kids to church camps and hoping no one breaks their leg, how compared to other church groups there at the camp that they wouldn’t disappoint me too much. I wondered just what this week would bring, with the canoe trip on the Saco River, the hikes off the Kancamangus Highway, the nightly campfires, and the highly competitive all-camp game, each congregation being given a challenge to complete a human pyramid, act out a gospel story, guess when the Augsburg Confession was presented, or figure out a puzzle from some or other pastor staffing a station.
Something happened about midway through the week that I wish you could see for yourselves. At the end of the day, before bedding down for the night, everyone crammed into one cabin after playing cards and teasing one another, we shared our highs and lows. And to a person, everyone’s high was how awesome it was to be there together. And as we sang this little song, with seven little words from Psalm 46, Be Still and Know that I am God, I knew that in that moment, those supposedly squirrely kids and I the overanxious pastor believed what we sang, and we were together in something holy beyond our ability to understand. We were actually tasting the mystery of the divine in the backwoods of Northern New England. And if we could come up with a word for it, what we felt from God, and how we felt about one another, I think it would be love. And we were the church there.
I’ve had all sorts of ideas about what to say on this Reformation 500, quoting Luther at length, reminding you that we are a confessing church with so many resources upon which to glean, or that we should cheer hip hip hooray 500 times.
But I’ve come to say that if this is all that we do then we may be only standing still in one place or only looking backwards rather than seizing upon the Reformation as was and as it is which is a movement, a seismic undulation under our very feet, where the creation is groaning and responding and pleading for attention and care.
People are leaving the church, people are dismissing the church because it has fallen deaf to its deep call to welcome sinners, it has ignored the gifts that are readily available for those on the margins and from those on the margins who only feel as if they don’t belong here, and too often the church has prioritized what is good for the institution over its true treasure.
Now Martin Luther lit a stick of dynamite under the church.
Martin Luther made sure that the Bible got into the hands of everyone and anyone, so that they could read and understand that God’s love knows no boundaries. So he translated the Bible into the German tongue.
Martin Luther knew the power of song as a something that can beat down the demonic and breathe good news into those who have had the wind knocked out of them by lecherous men, by gatekeepers in the church, or by overbearing parents. So he wrote the hymn a Mighty Fortress is our God basing it on Psalm 46, taking seriously both the demonic forces at work and the strength of God in Christ to match those forces. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage, his might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail! One little word subdues him.
Martin Luther knew that the church was not contained by the religious elite or monolithic structures but in living and breathing communities with the hoi polloi, people like you and you and you. He worked with lay theologian Philip Melanchthon, artists like Lucas Cranach.
Against the powers of the church back then enlisted townspeople and local electors to join the movement. He was a regular preacher in his home congregation in Wittenberg. When his daughter Magdalena at age eleven took sick and died as a teenager, Luther’s heart was almost broken. Once he said to a colleague that children were the “best gifts of God.”
Luther wrote some awful things about the Jews that have been used to denigrate and even substantiate anti-Judaism and the Holocaust.
We are not praising Luther today. He didn’t even like people calling his followers Lutheran as it was itself initially a mocking of him.
We are on board the train that continues the movement that frees and unites, where the power of the Word blasts principalities like racism, sexism, gender conformity, and denominational silos.
Through the Holy Spirit we are together as the church.
Through the Spirit we hear Jesus speak about the son having a place in the household forever, and join our lives with his.
We fling the shackles that try to hold us and so many and walk with Jesus and get on that moving train, knowing that we will grab onto the life that God so dearly wants us to know, as we invite, as we baptize, as we share bread and wine, as we share what we have, as we sing and speak and pray and act and care and stop wondering about our place but know our place because God in Christ is here in love, wherever we are, wherever we are going, for 500 years more and forever. We are the church here.
Tags: Camp Calumet, Luther's Large Catechism, Martin Luther, Reformation 500, the Reformation, the Third Article of the Creed