Red is the Color of Grace
This sermon was presented at Resurrection on October 26, 2014, the Festival of the Reformation. The text is John 8:31b-32, ŇIf you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.Ó
Dear Friends in Christ,
Tomorrow Pastor Carol and I are going to Lake Anna to see all the colorful trees. This time of year we all get to enjoy natureŐs pageantry of color. Reds and yellows and oranges and greens and browns. If the leaves were all one color it wouldnŐt be nearly as spectacular.
I liken the variety of leaf colors to the variety of denominations we have within Christendom. The color red is often assigned to us Lutherans. Red has great beauty, but red alone isnŐt nearly as interesting and beautiful as is the variety. But red definitely has its place and the beauty of the ChurchŐs palette is definitely enhanced by red.
What is it that Lutherans bring to the panorama of the Christian Church? WeŐre told by others that it is our emphasis on GodŐs Grace that is our siren call. We unabashedly believe that we are loved and forgiven as a free gift of God, without any credit on our part.
Pastor Carol and I were speaking the other evening with Mario from the Spanish Seventh Day Adventist Church. He read that we were celebrating Reformation Sunday. He told us that knew this had to do with Martin Luther and his nailing a paper on the door of his church. He further said it was about grace and GodŐs love. Pastor Carol and I could only marvel that this marvelous message is appreciated by others.
IŐm reminded that in the ongoing Dialogues between Roman Catholic Theologians and Lutheran Theologians, the Catholics said that the number one scriptural teaching from the Reformation in their eyes was this emphasis on Ňjustification by grace through faithÓ. That is, we are made right in GodŐs eyes as a free gift and we receive this gift through our faith in Jesus Christ.Ó
We Lutherans really like celebrating Reformation Sunday. This is the time to sing ŇA Mighty FortressÓ and wear red and remember how our forefathers and mothers challenged the Catholic Church. I think it would be unfortunate if our emphasis today was only on the past. Reformation is needed in every generation of the Church. Reformation is not a once and for all deal. The Reformation of the 16th century was a dramatic and painful step in the ongoing process of reformation. We at Resurrection have some understanding of what it takes to bring about reformation in the Church. You and I continue to experience the upheaval that came from the 2009 ELCA Churchwide decisions on Human Sexuality. I suspect that back in the 16th century there were many folks who wondered if it was worth it, these big changes. The rioting and family feuding and the resulting war and death across Europe were cataclysmic. Surely some wondered, ŇCouldnŐt we just go back to where it was before? Maybe it wasnŐt fair and even scriptural, but at least there was stability and we didnŐt have to endure this fear and anxiety and bloodshed.Ó
In todayŐs gospel lesson, Jesus is speaking with Jews who say they believe in him as the Christ. He declares this truth to them (and it is for us today too), ŇIf you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.Ó
What is it that people have to be set free from? Those Jews go on to claim that though they honor Jesus, they are still holding on to the notion that they will be saved because they are children of Abraham. They donŐt need the grace of God that Jesus is offering. I would label that their darkness (that understanding). Jesus even goes on say that such thinking links them to the devilŐs thinking. The darkness of 1517 when Martin Luther was nailing those 95 Theses was this: you could buy your way into heaven and that you had to earn GodŐs favor.
What is the darkness of this present age, of today? Here are some evidences of darkness:
á We are an age where we are afraid of growing older, afraid of reaching the end of life, because we are an age that thinks death is the end of us.
á We are an age that does not expect resurrection.
á We are an age that stockpiles treasures on earth, a greedy age, that doesnŐt know to look for greater treasure in the world to come.
á We are an age that desperately needs to hear good news.
á Our world (including the church) needs to be reformed.
What is Reformation Sunday 2014 about? Here are 4 truths for us today:
á A reminder that God is working among us now, in the present.
á God is calling us forward into the future.
á God is constantly reforming us, beckoning us back to truth, back to hope and life and forgiveness we can never earn.
á God is sending us out to live and speak truth in JesusŐ name.
Thanks be to God. Amen!