Echoing the Divine Plea: “I Lay Before You Life and Death. Choose Life!” a Reformation Sermon

Listen to the sermon Here

As you can see and hear, our granddaughters are spending the weekend with us. As many of you know, because you have experienced it yourselves, when little children come into your life, they completely change your perspective. For the past several weeks, my focus and indeed, our focus together has been upon our Visioning Process as we try to envision the kind of church we here at Holy Cross want to be over the course of the next five years. There have been many questions and conversations about who and what we are together as a congregation and where and how we want to engage our talents and resources; questions and conversations about what it means to be a congregation in the 21st century and how we might respond to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. What do we have to offer? How can we play to our strengths? How might we make a difference in and with the various communities that we currently serve? How can we do more? What is the more that we can and should be doing? What are we as a congregation being called to be and do? What is the importance of our Lutheran heritage? What does our reputation for being a “progressive church” mean to us, to the communities that we serve, and to the future we see for ourselves? How can we stay relevant in a world where the church is continually being judged as irrelevant? How will we choose what is most important? Which needs or whose needs can and must we meet, and which needs, or whose needs must we say no to because we can’t possibly hope to meet everyone’s needs? Where will the energy, time, and resources come from so that we can fully live into all that we envision for ourselves?

Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming can and is so very exhausting. But Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming is also challenging, invigorating, and vital! So, “here I stand” on this Reformation Sunday, charged with the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News in ways that will challenge us all to be bold, to be the Church that Martin Luther set loose on the world 500 years ago.  So, since our Visioning Session last Sunday, I’ve been all up in my head trying to figure out exactly what I could possibly preach to you that would help us to break the log-jam in which we find ourselves as we try to figure out where we are going and what we are called to do. I’ve been reading and studying, going over and over where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing, and what we have been considering and my mind has been full of questions and concerns, and hopes, and dreams. That is until Friday evening when the little girls arrived. Suddenly, I was jolted out of my head and into the fierce immediacy of now! Now Gran? Gran, can we? Gran, can you get me? Gran, I want!!! Gran, NOW!!! Followed by me, saying, In a minute. Just a minute. Wait, I’m coming. Look out! You’re going to hurt yourself. Stop that please! Wait, hold-on, maybe, let me see, I don’t know, maybe, let’s wait and see, OK, Yea, OK, I said, “NO”. What, leave her alone. Don’t do that! Do this! Please. Please Gran. Can we Gran, can we? Playing with and responding to the needs of a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old has shifted my focus.  It’s exhausting and it’s liberating and there’s nothing quite like little ones to get you out of your head and into your heart.

So, today, despite all the grand and glorious questions that are swimming around in my head as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and regardless of all our concerns about our future together as a congregation, one question looms very large in my mind and perhaps more importantly, in my heart. Today, my response to Martin Luther’s challenge to the church to be “Semper Reformanda!” – “Always Reforming” comes from my heart’s concern for my grandchildren. Looking toward the future of these little people, I cannot help but wonder what kind of church they will encounter as they grow into all that they have been created to be. Will they encounter an irrelevant, out of touch, Church, that is in so much denial about the realities of existence, that fails to respond to our changing understanding of what it means to be human, a church that holds tightly to ideas, doctrines and dogmas of a bygone era and cannot respond to the needs of the poor, the hungry, or the powerless? Or will they encounter a Church that has died a slow, agonizing death? Or maybe they will meet a living, thriving, vibrant Church that is relevant, responsive, and vital?

 Obviously, I am biased. I want my grandchildren, your grandchildren, indeed all children to encounter a resurrected church that speaks not only to their needs, but to the needs of the world, the needs of our planet, and most especially to the needs of the poor, the neglected, and the powerless. I want this generation and every generation to experience the church in reformation, always reforming, adapting, innovating, and responding to the ONE who IS the source of ALL, in ways that create justice and peace in every nook and cranny of Creation.

Now, I know that there are all sorts of things that will need to change in the Church if we have any hope of living into the dream of all that we might become. Lots of things, ideas, practices, traditions will have to die before the Church can be resurrected. Some of our best loved, and most treasured, practices and traditions may indeed have to go. Some of us, perhaps many of us will be disappointed because the very thing we love most about the Church is the very thing that needs to die for the sake of resurrection. Sacrifices will have to be made. But surely, we, the people who claim to follow the ONE who sacrificed everything to show us the Way, surely, we, the people of resurrection, we cannot allow ourselves to live in fear of death? Death, there it is that word, Death. Is death the very thing that stands between us and resurrection?

For centuries, Death has loomed large in our imaginations and more importantly, in our hearts. Death or the fear of Death has compelled us to seek answers to questions that have no answers. These answers to questions that have no answers have motivated us even as they have struck fear into our hearts. The Church’s abuse of these answers to questions that have no answers is the very thing that set the Reformation in motions. Indulgences, bought and sold created a monster of a Church, filled with the abuses of power and control.  But not even the Holy Roman Church could hold firm, as long as the Church’s own held on to the promise of the freedom that the Gospel proclaims: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.  ‘

Freedom: freedom from everything that holds us captive to our fear. Freedom from our biggest fear, freedom from the fear of Death. We shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. Martin Luther didn’t discover the truth about what the Church was selling, Luther was just one of many who knew the truth that indulgences were not the answer to the fear of Death. But Luther was in the right place at the right time and together with the newest technology, Luther was able to sound the alarm, and warn people that indulgences could not save them and the rest, as they say, is history. The treasured traditions of the church around Death, may have been shattered by Luther and the forces of the Reformation, but our fear of Death continued to loom large, and the Church’s focus on Death continued. Believe this, understand that, hold on to this theology, or that belief, and rest assured that you will be spared the torments of Hell. Christ has died for you. God’s grace is sufficient. There’s nothing to fear, because the Church has all the answers to the questions that have no answers. Just receive the gifts of faith and when you die you will rest in the arms of Jesus. The Church will help you focus on the wonders of the next life. The Church will help you find your way and in the end, you will arrive safely and securely in the next world. In the words of an old seminary professor, “The church is so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good.”

A few years back, Bishop John Shelby Spong posted not 95 Thesis on the door of the Church but, Twelve Theses on the walls of the Internet:  Jack wrote:

“Martin Luther ignited the Reformation of the 16th century by nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517 the 95 Theses that he wished to debate. I will publish this challenge to Christianity in The Voice.  I will post my theses on the Internet and send copies with invitations to debate them to the recognized Christian leaders of the world.  My theses are far smaller in number than were those of Martin Luther, but they are far more threatening theologically.

Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead.  So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.

The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.

Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.

The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.

 There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.

Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behaviour control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behaviour.

All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.”

In my head, Jack’s vision of all that the Church might become is what I want for my grandchildren. But in my heart, what I want for my grandchildren, and for children everywhere, can be summed up in one thesis: Let the Church’s treasured tradition of focusing upon Death be replaced with a focus upon abundant life. Let the answers to questions that have no answers die so that the children of God can live here and now. For Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life and live it abundantly.” Let the truth set us free from our fear. Let the Church be resurrected into life, so that the children of God can seek the justice that leads to peace in this world.

Our ancestors, long before the Church was born, believed that the Great I AM, the source of our BEING said: “I have laid before you life and death.  Choose life.” As near as we can tell, Jesus lived and died seeking peace through justice, not for the dead, but for the living. So, on this Reformation Sunday, my heart echoes the Divine plea: “I lay before you life and death. Choose Life!”

The answers to the questions that have no answers are not the answers that will save us from Death, nor are they the answers that will set us free from our fear of Death. We humans are finite beings and none of us can know what will happen when we die and that is scary. All we can do in the face of our fear of Death is trust that the Source of our Being is LOVE and that LOVE will enfold us whether we live or whether we die. There is nothing to fear, not if we know and trust in the LOVE that is God.

So, let our worship and praise proclaim LOVE. Let our living and our dying be in, with, through and beyond, the LOVE that IS God. Let the Church be LOVE in the world, this world not the next world. Let the Church be LOVE in every nook and cranny of this glorious creation. Let us always be reforming for the sake of the LOVE that IS God! Semper Reformanda! Let the resurrection begin!

 

 

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