Welcome to worship for this Reformation Sunday, October 29, 2023!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it you can find the order of worship and the words of the liturgy, the page and hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. Most of the words that you need to know will be on your screen, and the sermon is also included on this page below the video.
To further enhance your experience of worshipping online, you are invited to have a candle in your space that can be lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end when the altar candles are extinguished after the sending hymn. You are also welcome to participate in communion by having something small to eat and drink ready for the appropriate time during the service. More instruction will be given to you during the actual service.
May God’s unending love and joy reform you as God’s people, this day and everyday!
Holy God, may your Word breathe a breath of life into our hearts and minds that we might be stirred to see the joy of your blessing and providence, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let me be brutally honest with you. I never really liked the Lutheran traditions and practices while I was growing up. But before you fire me, also know that I didn’t like any Christian traditions and practices while I was growing up. And although I grew up in the Lutheran church, I’ve been exposed to a lot of different traditions throughout my years through visiting different churches with my friends and family. From the happy clappy singing and dancing to the reserved and reverent meditation. From the charismatic supernatural to the contemplative silence. From the speaking in tongues to the speaking in ordered liturgy. There isn’t much out there that I haven’t seen first hand, experienced for myself, or at least read about in the wide global Christian church.
And again, I just didn’t like it. From whatever denomination or culture that I was experiencing, it always felt like it was all… well… kind of fake. Maybe even forced. It most certainly didn’t feel freeing as most Christian faith would promise it would.
To me, it was like these traditions were the foundation of the denomination or expression. Like if you didn’t do like they did, then you didn’t belong, you didn’t fit in, you weren’t a true member of their group. I was even once accused of not having any faith because I didn’t do as I was told, because to them, what I was told was the one true and only proper way to express faith.
I know, even as I say these words it sounds ridiculous. We know cognitively that it isn’t our practices or traditions that defines our faith, but rather our faith that defines our faith. We proclaim that we’re not saved by works, so we shouldn’t be judged by them. We profess that it isn’t our obedience to these customs, these rules, these commands that saves us.
And that’s a good thing too, because if we’re honest with ourselves, none of us really like to be told what to do, do we? We don’t like the “we must in order that” kind of thing. We resist the oppressive oppression from our oppressors and say no, we’d much rather do what we do when we do what we do, thank you very much.
So I guess this is why I didn’t like those practices and traditions as I was growing up. They felt like judgement telling me that I’m not what I’m supposed or needed to be. They felt like constraints that I had to shoe horn myself into so I could feel accepted and included. They felt like commands to participate in these unusual and unfamiliar rituals lest I be cast out into the dark abyss where there may or may not be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And it was uncomfortable. It didn’t feel right. It just wasn’t me. And it isn’t easy to change just because we’re commanded to change.
We’re commanded a lot in the bible aren’t we? We’re given a lot of “do this” and “don’t do this”. I mean, there are those 10 that we know so well (or at least maybe around 5 of them), and we’d say that we’re pretty faithful in keeping them (or at least the ones that we’re familiar with). We’d say that we’re pretty obedient. We’d admit that we’re pretty good Christians because we keep these rules as best we could.
Well, we can keep the easy ones anyway. Like don’t murder? Yeah, the 25 to life is a pretty good deterrent as well. Don’t commit adultery? That’s easy to do when I have like literally no options. Keep the Sabbath holy? Ok, I guess if I have to make sure I take at least one day off a week, I think I can do that. These are the easy ones.
But then we get to the harder ones. Like honour your mother and father, which arguably will include in-laws, and those times that they are acting unreasonable or can’t figure out that really user-friendly app on their phone. And don’t lie… even when lying feels justified and better than telling the truth. And a really tough one for me is don’t be jealous of those around you, even those with nicer clothes, nicer cars, and just nicer everything than I do. The commandments hit a bit closer to home for me, calling me to change parts of me that have been me for so long.
Today’s first reading gets a bit into specifics too. Be holy… don’t render unjust judgements… don’t slander… don’t hate… be holy.
Um. Mighty tall order there. I don’t think anyone can follow all of these, no matter how moral or ethical or how Christian they are.
And then Jesus comes along in our gospel reading for today, not your typical Reformation gospel lesson, but one that we rarely ever get but still so appropriate for today, says that there are but two commandments: Love God, and love neighbour as yourself. On these all the commandments and laws hang.
Sure, at first we might think that it’s no big deal. We can do this. But if you really think about it, can we be told to change our feelings for others? Can we force ourselves to regard someone in this way? Can we be commanded to love?
I mean, even the genie from Aladdin couldn’t make people love other people, and that guy had phenomenal cosmic power, in an itty bitty living space, but still. What makes us think that we can follow this command? That we change just because we’re told to? That we actually learn to love?
So yeah, I never liked the Christian practices and traditions while I was growing up, and I still don’t like being told what to do. Yet, I ended up as a Lutheran pastor, this mainline denomination which arguably has among the most practices and traditions. Well, there’s a story behind that. As I was in seminary, I didn’t tell myself to start to like this stuff. I didn’t force myself to appreciate these customs. I didn’t command my heart to change to see the deep richness of the rituals, the fulfilling meaning in the mythologies, the absolute satisfaction in these sacraments, but my heart was changed anyway. The more I learned, the more I experienced, the more I just saw and recognised God in my life, in my community, and in the world, I just started to love more. Love the things we do, love the people we meet, love this thing we call life and relationship.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m the perfect Christian, not by any long shot. But what I’m saying is that this command to love God and love neighbour and even to love myself isn’t really a command anymore. But it’s more of a description of who I am changing to be, what I am empowered to be like, how I am being reformed as a beloved child of God.
See these are no longer commands that I must follow. They aren’t rules that I have to keep. They aren’t things I must do in order to fit in with the others. But it is how I express my faith. It’s how I can see God in my life and in this place of worship and community. It’s just now who I am.
And as I see this, as I see how God intersects with the world, in the church, and throughout my life, I can see how this God has lifted me up, washed away my iniquities, and declared me as beloved. And so can I then see this regard and love God has for others, reminding me that just as the very flawed human being that I am can be loved, so can all people. Loved by God. Loved by me. Loved through the welcome and inclusion in this kingdom with wide open doors, as we are all equally sinner and saint, fallen and forgiven, wretched and redeemed.
Friends, this is the message I believe is at the heart of the Reformation, that we observe today. It is a message of welcome, grace, and love. A message that tells us that it is not our practices and customs that define our position as members in God’s family, but it is by God’s sole action of deciding that we are worthy of salvation that brings us together as a community, a church, a mass of God’s beloved and valued children.
Truly, this “love God and love neighbour as yourself” thing isn’t so much a command as it is a description of who we are, how we’re created, and what we’re being reformed to be throughout this crazy journey we call life, now and forever.
On this Reformation Sunday, a day that we remember the unending change but also the unchanging ends of life, may we see our continual reforming as God’s redeemed children: welcomed and blessed as citizens of God’s kingdom, and the graciously given love and peace that surpasses all understanding. Thanks be to God. Amen.