Welcome to worship on this Reformation Sunday, October 31st, 2021! We are glad that you are here!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. The bulletin will have the order of worship, the words and responses of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. The sermon is also included below the actual video on this page.
For a fuller at home worship experience, you are encouraged to have a lit candle in your space, as well as something small to eat and drink for communion.
May God’s gracious redemption strengthen your faith this day and always!
Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
So for Halloween tonight, our daughter had decided to wear a red rain jacket with the hood up, red pants, and an all-black dome-like mask with just a white square on it. Any guesses on what she’s trying to be? You may or may not know, but she is dressing up as one of the guards from the very popular Netflix series Squid Game. A series, by the way, that none of our kids even watched, they just know all about it from the multitude of internet memes and the myriad of YouTube parody videos. You know a show is popular when kids who haven’t even seen it are huge enough fans to dress that way for Halloween.
If by chance you don’t know what I’m talking about, Squid Game is this Korean-based thriller drama that follows a fellow whose name I can’t remember nor pronounce who is in financial dire straits because of his uncontrollable gambling habits. Then he randomly meets a stranger in a subway station that offers him the chance to win a ton of cash by playing these schoolyard games against 450ish other contestants who are also in financial dire straits. Seems like a no brainer. So this forgettable named guy agrees to play, thinking he has nothing to lose but with everything to gain. These are kid’s games, for goodness sake. But then it’s revealed that the losers of the games are brutally shot and killed. This little helpful tidbit of information was revealed when close to half of the contestants that lost the first game were brutally shot and killed.
Of course, this strikes fear and doubt in the remaining contestants. Is all that money really worth their lives? The masked organizers of the games confused them even further by telling them that every “eliminated” contestant adds the equivalent of about $100,000 CAD in the pot. So with already 200ish people eliminated, the pot was over 2 million. So if you do the math, a sole victor could stand to win over 40 million dollars. Sure, that isn’t Jeff Bezos kind of money, but it sure could solve a lot of debt issues.
So the story of Squid Game is built around the tension between one’s desire to live over their desire to be rich, their loyalty to the relationships they built in the game over their competitiveness against those same people, their morals that determine what is right and wrong over winning the money at all costs, as it would for sure save them from their own crippling and debilitating debt. It caused quite the conundrum.
I know, this story is totally fantastical, like there is no way that all the contestants could just die unnoticed like that or that there would be some sort of secret organization that would bother to create such high risk games. But what struck me about the whole series and why I think it’s so popular, was how the show touches on the very relatable feeling among the contestants of being completely and utterly trapped. Trapped in their debt, trapped in their life circumstances, trapped in their not-so-great decisions of the past.
And that’s scary. So scary in fact that they’d be willing to put their lives on the line just to be free from whatever is holding them down. If you watch the show, you would understand their desperation and desire to play, as many of the contestants felt like their lives were already on the line, even from before the games began.
We might not have felt this level of trapped before, where our actual lives were at stake, but I’m sure we’ve felt it some shape or form in the past, or maybe even now. It doesn’t have to be financially but of course it totally could be, but also it could perhaps be feeling trapped in a bad or abusive relationship, trapped in a toxic job environment or position, trapped by our own guilt and shame of the past. That last one is one that I struggle with particularly, and it appears that I might not be the only one.
In today’s gospel lesson, part of the readings we get for every Reformation Sunday, Jesus promises us that we will be free. And I admit, that much like those listening to Jesus in the story, I wonder “free of what?” because being born and raised in a “free” country, I don’t really know any different. But Jesus was clear in his explanation: they, and we, are slaves to sin.
I know, I know, it’s hard to not get defensive when we’re accused of something that we might not agree with, as did Jesus’ original hearers when they thought they were being called slaves. But what I understand Jesus to mean by “slave to sin” isn’t that we are controlled or ruled by the sin itself, but that we’re controlled, trapped even, by the circumstances that hinder our relationship with God. We are trapped in the systems that oppress us and condition us to oppress others. We are trapped in the perpetual stream of information that inundates our brains to the point where we can’t even tell what is true or fake anymore. We are trapped in the stifling selfishness of the world, teaching us to only aim up but never to look down, stripping us of all compassion and humility toward those less fortunate than us.
We are trapped in this sin.
Or at least, it could feel like we are. Like those contestants on Squid Game we could sometimes feel like we have nowhere to turn, nowhere to run, nowhere to find rest and sanctuary. It can be so overwhelming, causing us to take desperate action, frantically grasping at whatever could save us from this shame. And it wasn’t just the Squid Game contestants that did this, all throughout history we have people acting in ways to alleviate the guilt, trying to find the magic formula that would wash it away or the divine checklist that would prove themselves worthy. We see it in our time, we see it in Old Testament times, and we of course see it in Jesus’ time
And we also saw it just over 500 years ago when a Benedictine monk by the name of Martin Luther was so led to engage and deep study and prayer in hopes to understand how a “good God” could ever let this be. And in his studies he came to realise that this being trapped? Well it isn’t God’s doing at all. Instead, it’s ours. In our depravity we have set up these systems to alleviate our guilt at the expense of others. In our imbalanced sense of self we have created structures and rules that measure our worth as people. In our (dare I say) sin, we have been trapped in our own judgments of ourselves and others, not being able to see and understand the width and breadth of God’s grace and love.
So Luther came to understand Jesus’ words in today’s gospel to mean that we have indeed been set free from rigorous rat race that we call “normal” life. In own guilt, he felt liberated by the truth of God’s gospel, that because of God’s forgiveness, we are continually loved by God and welcomed into God’s kingdom and community. In Luther’s own sin, he saw God’s grace freeing him from that shame and lifting him up to reform the church to be more faithful to God’s love, more receptive of God’s grace, and more compassionate to others who might not yet see it through that lens.
And so for us, in our own feelings of being trapped and guilty, we can rest in God’s promise of forgiveness and redemption. In our feeling excluded and shamed, we can trust that God restores us and brings us back into wholeness. In our stifling and overbearing sin controlling us, we can have faith that there is freedom in God’s Word, allowing us to let go of our worries and concerns of greatness, allowing us to see others as God sees them, allowing us to truly believe that we too, are beloved children of God.
See the Reformation as it started just over 500 years ago wasn’t to protest against the church. It wasn’t to stick it in the face of the church and call it out for being so wrong for so long. It wasn’t even to alleviate the guilt and shame that was put on the people by the systems that were prevalent at the time. Rather, it was meant to do just as its name suggests, to reform the church to be more faithful, to be more loving, and to be more open to accepting God’s grace that comes to us freely, God’s mercy that is granted without condition, and God’s love for us all that will never change, never falter, never trap us into thinking that we are slaves to anything.
On this day of Reformation, may we remember and recognize God reforming us ever in God’s love, that we might live in joy and freedom, liberated from the shame and guilt of sin and empowered to display the compassion of Christ, now and always. Thanks be to God. Amen.