Welcome to worship this Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2022! In preparation of our celebrating 70 years of Grace Lutheran’s ministry next week, we will be introducing a new setting out of the new All Creation Sings hymnal. The music for this new setting can be found in the bulletin, as well as projected onto your screen in the worship service itself. It is a good setting and hopefully our congregation will be able to get the hang of it soon.
Also in the bulletin there will be the full order of worship with the words and responses, the hymns numbers that are still out of the ELW, and the sermon manuscript. Much of the words and the lyrics to the hymns will be on your screen, and the sermon is included on this page under the worship video. Feel free to download the bulletin to follow along, or just watch the video and follow along that way.
For a fuller at-home worship experience, you can light a candle at the beginning of the service and put it out at the end with the altar candles after the sending hymn. If you want to participate in communion you can do so by having something small to eat and drink nearby, and you’ll be instructed during worship as to when to consume them. While it’s not the same as worshipping in person, it is something that we can still be connected if even over the series of tubes called the internet. Just remember that God isn’t bound by physical space, but can be seen in all places!
May God’s reforming love be with you, now and always!
God, by the power of your Spirit may our hearts and minds be opened to your Word, that we might live in the freedom that you graciously give, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Communication is hard, isn’t it? Throughout our lives we are taught to express ourselves, relate to others, and properly relay our thoughts and feelings. This communication comes in many different forms, both verbal and non, each with their pros and cons in helping us to actually get out what we want to get out.
Yet, even with all these tools for communication at our disposal, somehow it is still difficult and misunderstandings happen all the time. We don’t always get what is said or what we’re being told. We find ourselves having to explain what we mean over and over. We continue to have a hard time seeing each other eye-to-eye, being on the same page, and hearing or being heard. Like I said, communication is hard.
I think one of the reasons for this is that we have so many ways to communicate that sometimes they conflict with each other. Like, imagine telling someone that you’re listening when you’re clearly texting someone on your phone. Or instructing someone to “turn right here” while pointing to the left. Or even saying “I’m not mad” in the most angry sounding voice ever.
And this isn’t a good or bad thing per se, it’s just what it is. In most cases we correct ourselves and move on. But the problem comes when we make strong assumptions about the other and what they mean, and we go ahead and act on said assumptions. This then further breaks down communication, as now emotion might be clouding the issue with tempers flaring and patience wearing thin. Then either side might feel insulted, offended, or invalidated as more assumptions are made and judgements start to pass.
Sure, this might sound a bit extreme, but I think it happens more often than we think. I see this a fair amount in the news over current events and what causes some of the conflict around the world. I see this in our communities and relationships when there is friction and in fighting. And I see this in Jesus’ interaction with the people in today’s gospel lesson.
We’re likely familiar with this passage, if only for the sheer reason that we get it every year on Reformation Sunday. Jesus is talking to those who already believe, those who are on his side, preaching to the choir, so to speak. He tells them that the truth will make them free. And here is where I see the communication breaks down. They act almost offended at Jesus, thinking that he’s insinuating that they need to be freed in the first place. “We’re descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone” is their response.
Ok, that’s nice. Not true whatsoever, but ok. That’s not even what Jesus said though. So why the snarky comeback?
Well, the communication broke down somehow. Assumptions were made, tempers were a bit on the rise, and walls of defense were built to protect the Jews and their feelings. I get it though, the Jewish people in that time were the underdogs. For generations at this point they had put their trust in an unseen God who had promised them deliverance and redemption but they continue to be conquered and taken over and even exiled out of their land for a time. They were supposed to be God’s people, but for centuries it felt like they were anything but. So they might have been triggered by the “freedom” comment. Maybe they were a little sensitive to the reminder and felt a bit sore. Emotions came into the picture and they just reacted to the misunderstanding.
I mean, their freedom was something that they had a lot of pride in, something they had trusted to be true for so long, something in which their identity was found. So when it felt a bit threatened, they got defensive, then retaliated and clapped back. They stood up for what they believed in, their convictions, their understanding of themselves and their place in the world.
So how dare Jesus insinuate that their freedom isn’t actually theirs? How dare Jesus even suggest that they needed more than what they’ve already earned? How dare Jesus try to take them away from their God-given rights and powers?
And that was the problem right there. There was miscommunication because of the assumptions that the Jewish people made. They passed judgement because of what they already believed in. They were offended because they thought they and they alone had the intrinsic authority to determine what is right and what is wrong. It was their conviction that as descendants of Abraham they were God’s only people. Their understanding of the world and their place in it actually led them to believe that they were God in God’s place.
Of course, they wouldn’t admit that, it sounds like the blasphemy of blasphemies. But the unfortunate fact of the matter is that… we all kind of do this. We all believe that we are always right, or at least 90% of the time. We believe that we can ultimately determine what is right and wrong. We even might think we can decide who is loved by God or not. We effectively put ourselves in God’s place by seeing ourselves as the divine authority on matters. These assumptions that we make simply are not true.
And I think that is what Jesus is talking about when he talks about the truth and how it sets us free. It’s the truth about who God is that liberates us. It’s the truth about who we are that reveals to us God’s grace. And it’s the truth about how God can even love and forgive in spite of all shortcomings, assumptions, and miscommunications that saves us. This is the truth that will set us free.
Not free to do whatever we want whenever we want, mind you. Not free from rules, regulations, and responsibilities. Not even free from the tyrannies and broken systems of the world.
But free from these assumptions that we make. Free from the judgements that we pass. Free from trying to be God in God’s place.
And so instead, we can be inspired by this grace that is shown to us. We can find joy in God’s steadfast love that is freely given. We can trust in this truth and be set free to be God’s people in the world, living in faith and community and proclaiming God’s Word for the sake of the world.
Just over 500 years ago, there was this guy named Martin Luther, who was well versed on this freedom that we just talked about. But the problem was that he didn’t see it proclaimed in the church or anywhere for that matter, and so he wanted to change that, or reform it, as it were. And while that resulted in at least our denomination as we know it, the problem hasn’t been solved. The assumptions and judgements persist to this day. The miscommunications and misunderstandings still result in conflict and friction. We still like to draw lines between us and them, it’s just that the lines are now in different places.
And so it’s important for us to keep aware of these attitudes that we might have of superiority and exclusivity. It’s important for us to keep watch over ourselves knowing that while the shame and guilt of our sin has been removed from us, that doesn’t mean that we are removed from sin. It’s important for us to keep being reformed in the truth of God’s promises of redemption and justification that welcome us all, even those that we don’t like or agree with. And above all, it’s important for us to always be reminded of the truth of who God is, who we are, and how we all work together, that we be freed from the assumptions and from judging and being judged by others.
Because no matter how much we assume to know about the world, we aren’t the authority on right and wrong, only God can be that. In spite of our best intentions, we cannot save ourselves or each other, only God can do that. Regardless of our understandings of God or ourselves, we cannot be freed on our own, but only by God’s truth of grace and mercy can we be humbled with our hearts opened to receive God’s promises of salvation and love, welcoming us to live with God and all the saints in God’s kingdom forever.
This was the goal of the Reformation that began all those years ago. This was the hope of Martin Luther that we’d all see God’s grace. This is what Jesus wanted for all people to see, the freedom that comes from knowing God’s expansive and enduring love that forms and reforms our hearts and minds to learn to live more in line with wonders and joy that God had laid out for us.
So in our time of remembering the Reformation that started over 500 years ago, may we constantly be reformed in humility, that in spite of assumption and miscommunication, we will always know God’s truth, the truth that sets us free. Thanks be to God. Amen.