This is it. Today is the day (ish). This is the day that we commemorate the reformation of the Christian church. Well, one of the reformations, that is, the one that happens to be commonly referred to as “the Reformation”. And this isn’t just any commemoration, but as you gathered from the graphic on the screen and on the bulletin and how we are planting a tree later and my specifically telling you at the beginning of service today, we are commemorating the 500th Anniversary of said Reformation. 500 years! That is 500 years of reflecting on scripture as it was made accessible, 500 years of accepting that our relationship with God is defined more by grace than it is by law, 500 years of the church reforming in its faith, its witness, and its service. That is a lot of years for a lot of stuff. But can you feel that excitement in the air? Can you feel that joy? That celebration?
Yeah, me neither.
Now, I’m not trying to belittle this commemoration at all, I mean 500 years is still a lot of years and it is quite an accomplishment that the church has lasted this long. It has outlasted many empires and cultural revolutions, it has outlasted Sears and the Chicago Cub’s no-win streak, it has outlasted kings and rulers and Bob Hope. Guys, the Lutheran church is older than Canada (not the actual land of Canada, but Canada as a country, perhaps you saw the 150 stuff around). So I do know and understand that 500 is a big year and something to be celebrated. That’s why we are having this service, why we are planting a tree later, and why I’m even preaching this sermon.
It’s just that… I feel kind of “meh”. I mean the church lasting this long doesn’t mean so much to me because I don’t know what it was like before then. I don’t personally feel a sense of accomplishment or anything because I wasn’t around when the whole thing started. I guess it isn’t as meaningful to me as you would think it would or should be because, well, I just didn’t see or feel firsthand the need for the change to begin with.
I know, there needed to be a change because people felt oppressed and the church was taking advantage of that, I get it. I know something had to be done to make the church more accessible to the common folk because at the time it was just for the elite and educated. I know the church needed to be reformed in accordance to the scriptures. I know all that and I get it. But what I mean is that maybe I just don’t feel it because it is still so far removed from me. Even as a Lutheran pastor, one who holds onto the theology of this church dearly, maybe I just don’t feel the cultural significance of this event.
I guess it’s like the Canada 150 stuff. I’m Canadian. I’m born in Canada. I love this country. But I sure don’t look Canadian, do I. You might think, no no no, the face of Canada is changing and it includes people of all ethnicities. Yeah, sure it does, that’s why whenever they feature a Canadian in a tv show or a movie, it won’t be an Asian person with a face like mine and with impeccable English pronounciation, but it would be a white guy wearing a Mountie hat saying “eh”.
So it is similar to this in the Lutheran Church. I am Lutheran through and through. I hold to the doctrine of the church, the theology, and all the promises of the faith as Lutherans interpret it, and I even make a living by being a professional Lutheran. There is just this disconnect.
I wonder if this is the same disconnect that the Jews were feeling when Jesus was talking to them in today’s gospel lesson. This story, which we get every year for Reformation Sunday, talks about freedom. Jesus promises those who abide in his word are his disciples and they will know the truth, which will set them free.
Yeah, that sounds nice and all, but free from what? Why do we need to be freed? We don’t need to be freed in this day and age in Canada where we can pretty much do what we want when we want as long as we don’t get caught. Like the Jews claim in the story, we aren’t slaves to anyone, we are our own people, and life is pretty good. So why would we care about this truth that supposedly sets us free?
So there is this disconnect in that we don’t exactly get it. We don’t see the need to be freed as we don’t really feel oppressed to begin with. We read texts like these and while we might know that it has some significance, of course because it is from the bible and it was selected to be in the lectionary, but we still just feel like “meh”.
So imagine if people like you and I, who are part of the church and actually show up on Sundays maybe feel this way about the gospel, how would people who don’t come to church at all feel about this freedom? They’d probably be all “meh” as well, except with a capital M. Maybe even capitalize the E and the H too, if they are especially cynical or skeptical.
But the thing is, just because people don’t care or it doesn’t mean too much to them, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. Just because we may fail to see the significance of something it doesn’t mean that it isn’t significant. Just because we don’t understand the need for change doesn’t mean that the change wasn’t life-giving, fulfilling, and ordained by God.
Just as I don’t really feel much towards this 500th anniversary, it is still the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, our church, who we are as Christians. I can ignore it or even deny it all I want, it is still happening. Same with the Canada 150, we can protest, we can explain why it isn’t a reason to celebrate, and we can shun those who sit opposite of us, but the fact remains this country known as Canada by its governances and so forth is 150 years old. And me, just because I don’t look like a Canadian or say “aboot” or “eh” doesn’t mean I’m not Canadian… eh?
What I am saying is that this freedom that Jesus promises us is promised to us, all of us, including us, welcoming us, and quite literally freeing us. Freeing us our vices, our hang ups, our bunch of things that maybe we didn’t even know we needed to be freed from. And above all, this truth frees us from our sins. The ones that still make us feel guilty, the ones that make us cringe whenever they may creep their ugly heads back into our lives, the ones that we didn’t even know about. We are freed from them. All of them. By the grace of God.
See, I can’t convince you that this is meaningful and significant, all I can say is that it is true. That in our lives and in our relationships, there is a forgiveness that knows no end, no bounds, and no partiality in that God is a God of love and welcomes all into the everlasting kingdom and community. This is what the Reformation was about, in revealing to all the whole inclusion of God, breaking down the walls that we put up around ourselves and our churches to keep us in and others out, opening up our hearts to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ that while we are sinners, and believe you me, we are sinners, Jesus decided to show us the love of God through witness, service, and sacrifice.
The Reformation is about hope, hope in the future, hope in God’s grace and love, and hope that we as the church could accurately and faithfully reflect God’s grace and love to all people. There is hope in growth, in life, and rebirth after death. There is hope in relationship, in community, and in service. There is hope given to us by God, that as we later in this service go outside to plant a tree for this commemoration, that we see its growth and life-giving branches and leaves as a reminder of God’s abundant blessing and providence of God’s promises and truth. The truth about God and God’s relationship with us, the truth that sets us all free.
Today in our Reformation celebration, may we remember who we are and whose we are and how we are set free from all that holds us back from living as God’s beloved children, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.