October 29, 2017
What if I were to tell you this morning that someone has created the quintessential painting that redefines perfection as we know it? Even better, we do not have to worry about painting anymore because there is nothing more to achieve. What if the same thing was said for music? Or poetry or novels? Or a television show, or a movie? Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
We are created ourselves in the image of God, and as such, we ourselves are called to use our creative abilities in sharing with the world. Part of this, is the premise for the introduction of Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis. He writes, “Times change. God doesn’t, but times do. We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”
Rob Bell lifts up Martin Luther as one of these innovators. Luther and his contemporaries did not use the word reformed. They believed that there was a constant reforming that must take place. It is in this means that we commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation today.
This does not come without trouble. Humanity has a tendency to not act in our best interests or those of our neighbors. Throughout time we have forgotten God and what it means to be people that follow the way. This is seen and read through the Old Testament and also in the Jewish leaders that Jesus is talking to in John’s gospel this morning.
The Jewish leaders have seemed to forget their past when they tell Jesus that they are descendants of Abraham and they have not been slaves to anyone. Perhaps they are so focused on themselves that they have forgot that time in the past that they were slaves to the Egyptians. Or even the Persians and Assyrians. One could even argue that the Romans have them under their control at the time Jesus is having this conversation. They seem to be selective in what they choose to recall and the truth that they are living in at the moment.
Apparently, we have learned little from our ancestors as well. We choose to remember what we want and we disregard those things that may reflect negatively in our current lives. The freedom that we seek in our own country and especially in our lives is one that benefits only the individual. At the same time, we take the freedom that we have for granted when the majority of people in the world do not nearly have the same kind of freedom that we enjoy.
As a society, we tend to focus on personal well-being and how we will benefit the most from the decisions that we make. We witness this throughout all of society, from celebrities, all-star athletes, our own government, and if we are brave enough to admit it, in our own personal lives. The marketing and advertisements that we see, promote this very way of being. How can you help yourself get ahead. How can you keep up with your best friends and neighbors so that they do not look upon you as though you do not fit.
This freedom that we we tend to seek, and that is promoted today, is not the freedom that Jesus speaks of in his conversation with the Jewish leaders. The freedom that Jesus speaks of can only be known as you seek the truth.
That truth that Jesus speaks of can only be found in him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. In following Jesus place to place, the disciples begin to understand that the truth is being revealed to them. As they come to know the truth, they realize it is the only truth they need to know. It is in this truth that is Jesus, that will make them free. It is this same truth that Martin Luther came to fully understand as he read and studied Romans. It was in our lesson from Romans today that Luther began to fully understand who he was in God and the role God plays in our salvation.
Paul writes, “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24). These verses are the ones that set the Reformation into motion. It is here that Martin Luther began to fully understand the grace of God that comes to us sinners with no doing of our own. While the leaders in the Roman Catholic Church were trying to figure out how they could best benefit from people giving to the church, Luther realized that the truth can only be found in Christ, and Christ alone. It is here that he found the truth that had been slowly buried over the years.
While we are now 500 years removed from the reformation, are we still reforming? Or, have we become complacent and comfortable in the familiar. Do we perceive change as a negative? Are we holding on so tight to our ideals that we are not allowing the Holy Spirit and the truth to shine through?
We must admit that we are in an unusual spot in history. Church affiliation is declining and we are left wondering why we do not have as many people in the pews as we did fifty years ago. In this understanding, church is now seen as kind of weird. Flannery O’Conner wrote that, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.” We are truly in the minority today and left wondering how to work in the midst of it. Being odd may not be such a bad thing.
Rachel Held Evans writes, “Making the church relevant and hip is not what [growing the church] is about. It’s about keeping the church weird.” It is our traditions that make us weird. Baptism and communion is what makes the church different from any other gathering of people. Being weird is about opening up the church as a place where discussion and openness can happen. Rob Bell speaks to this weirdness. Martin Luther was weird 500 years ago when he was bold enough to raise his questions and begin reforming the church as he knew it.
It is in this weirdness that we find the truth that so longs to be with us. This truth is Jesus Christ. It is this truth that brings us a light in the darkness, hope amidst despair, and a promise of eternal life.
What are we doing to thrive in being weird, or odd today? Is being justified by grace through our faith enough? Yes and no. While we find the truth here, how do we help others come to know the truth that is found in Jesus Christ? The church today must be continually reforming as we come to listen and be in relationship with one another. We must be open to God working in the most unusual ways in and among us.
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther was bold enough to print his 95 Theses and send it off to his superiors. Martin Luther was not much different from us. Today we are starting to realize that where division began, all of God’s people, which means all of humanity, must be working together as one. It is the freedom that comes to us in the truth that is Jesus Christ that allows us to open our hearts to a reforming church that will usher in the Kingdom of God.
Let us pray, Christ, you are the truth. In you, we learn what it means to be open to a grace that is of no doing of our own. We thank you for guiding our brother, Martin Luther, 500 years ago, and we give thanks to those that are bold enough to continue to make the church weird today. Guide us as we repent of our missteps and reconcile with our sisters and brothers in the future to come. Amen.