Reformation Sunday, Oct.25, 2009 / Rev. Carol Kniseley / Resurrection Lutheran
Currently in the Adult Forum, we have been relearning what it is we profess to believe…when we say, “I am a Lutheran Christian.” Trinity Lutheran Seminary Professor, Dr. Mark Allan Powell, likes to point out that: ‘Lutherans like to put a certain “spin” on things’…and it’s that “spin” that tends to separate us out from all the other labels that we profess to wear. Speaking of which…I just happen to have with me today…this hat that reads ‘old lutheran’. Does that mean that all Lutherans are “old”? Perish the thought! What it means is that our brand of Christianity has been around ever since a guy named Martin Luther took another look at what the church in his day was teaching…and began to realize that some things needed to be “reformed”…even “relearned”…so that what was being taught really did reflect the Word of God.
And so the next visual that I want to turn our attention to is one that was created by Martin Luther himself…as a teaching tool to help explain what it is we profess to believe. With your permission, I would love to use an “old” visual (Luther’s rose) in an entirely “new” way…in order to teach five basic points that “we” profess to believe.
Point #1: Jesus is Lord. For those of us who profess to be Lutheran, Jesus is the one who first and foremost meets us at the cross. Which is undoubtedly why Martin Luther put the cross right smack dab at the center of his rose. Luther wants to remind us that while God could have chosen to come down to us in all kinds of ways, God chose to come DOWN to meet us here in the most unlikely place of all: on the cross, in the face of an outcast and a stranger…who suffered…and died. In looking at his cross, we see our own failures…and our own faults. And suddenly we know the truth that Jesus came to be our savior BECAUSE we needed to be saved. We needed to be set free…from our own stupidity, our self-centeredness, even our insistence on calling our own shots out in the world. And that Jesus, the Lord, is the ONLY ONE who could save us and everyone else.
Which brings us to Point #2: Everyone is welcome! Why? Because Jesus…the Lord…welcomed everybody but especially the foreigner, the stranger, the excluded, the sad, and the hurting amongst us. And that, my friends, includes every single one of us. The truth is, none of us deserves to be welcomed or loved by Jesus. We know…don’t we…that we have been saved by grace through faith alone…and NOT because of anything that we have ever done to earn or deserve such grace. We know that we are right with God ONLY BECAUSE in an astounding act of grace…God came down here to meet us. What God did not do, was draw a line and say, “I’m coming for you, and you, and you. But you over there…well, you’re out of luck. So I ask you, if God didn’t draw a line, why do we somehow think that we have the right to draw one now?
This, I believe was Jesus way of reminding all of us that our relationship with him starts at the foot of the cross...where no one has right to boast…and everyone is made equal in God’s eyes. As long as Jesus remains the Lord, there are no lines. And thank God that there aren’t. Because as “Lutherans,” we believe that we are at the same time both saint and sinner alike. Like those first disciples who dared to drop everything and to follow Jesus, there can be only one reason why any of us are here today. It isn’t because we are better than anyone else, or more faithful, or more well behaved. The plain and simple truth is that Jesus has welcomed all of us with open arms…just as he did all of them.
And that is precisely why Point #3 is so important: love changes people. Nothing can ever remain the same once you’ve been touched by the immeasurable love of Jesus. And I can think of no better example than that of Martin Luther himself, whose life was so radically changed. Including turning from a church whose teachings were no longer in line with God’s understanding of grace.
In Luther’s time as well as now, there was always the temptation to try and scare people into heaven. But the truth is, it doesn’t work. What does work is knowing that we are unconditionally loved by a good and gracious God who always comes down to set us free. Simply put: love transforms us. And like a flower which has lain dormant, all of a sudden…we find ourselves suddenly alive and in full bloom…much like the rose envisioned by Luther.
The renewal of many churches in our day…hinges on the rediscovery of our fourth point: everybody has something to offer. Martin Luther and the reformers of his day called it by another name: ‘the priesthood of all believers.’ It is a label that has remained in tact for some 500 years. We teach that in baptism every single one of us has been set free to use our God-given gifts. The sky’s the limit as far as I can see…which for me, the blue field surrounding Luther’s rose is perfect for helping us to recall: that with God…all things are possible IF we are willing to step out in faith…and use our God-given gifts.
And now…we have come full circle, so to speak. God came DOWN here to set us free FROM all the garbage in our life that makes us miserable. BUT…we haven’t just been set free FROM. Lest we forget…we have been set free FOR as well. POINT #5: the world desperately needs what we already have. Jesus meets us and all of a sudden…it’s not about us anymore. It’s about what we can do to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors…whoever they may turn out to be.
I believe that what we have to offer to the world, as Lutheran Christians is special. Jesus is Lord…and BECAUSE Jesus is Lord…everyone is welcome. We also know that this LOVE that is poured out for us…changes our lives. And that we have been given gifts to use for ministry…meaning that each and every one of us has something to offer. Finally…we know, don’t we, that these gifts have been given to us for one reason…and one reason alone: so that we can give them away for the sake of the world that desperately needs what we already possess.
Thanks be to God…the question of who we are as Lutheran Christians will always be a good one to wrestle with. And if that means having to ‘relearn’ a thing or two…especially in light of reforming our present way of thinking…then by all means…let the learning begin. After all, the Reformation was never meant to be a static end in itself. It has always been seen as a life-giving process of renewal, one that will undoubtedly continue…until the end of time. Thanks be to our God, I have no doubt.