It’s hilarious you have the Episcopalian preaching on Reformation.
We were there for it, of course,
had our own version of scholars and lay folk saying,
“What the heck, Rome?”
but we went to the king and said,
“You can be in charge and get a divorce if you let us split, cool?”
So, it was less dramatic, theologically, anyway.
Our closest feast day to Reformation Day is the
Feast of the approval of the First Book of Common Prayer (1549)
It was written in English
which was pretty daring and thrilling for the time,
but still no hammer and nails.
It’s funny, as well, because,
much to the chagrin of one of my former Edge House students
and just massive Lutheran Pam Mills,
I don’t much care for “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Except maybe with a beer stein.
Which, come to think of it, Brother Martin would probably have enjoyed.
But I do really enjoy Reformation Sunday.
And I enjoy how much y’all enjoy it.
It’s like going to a part of town you’re not familiar with
and coming across a birthday party
—you don’t know about the family arguments
or the struggles individuals are having,
you only see the delight.
Everyone’s having so much fun being a part of this partying group,
and you want to join in.
From the outside, the red shirts
and the jokes about Minnesota are charming.
Of course it’s not just a party, it’s as serious as the business end of a .45.
Today is a party that celebrates a massive change
in the way the church did things.
It’s a kind of death and resurrection, really.
Do you remember the movie Network?
It’s a brilliant parody as well as foretelling of how the news is made.
In it, the national news anchor gets fed up
with news becoming entertainment
and his and his coworkers’ being expendable.
On a live broadcast he snarls,
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.”
It becomes a rallying cry.
This is our Brother Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.
The church needed reforming in Martin Luther’s time.
He and others were right to point out the sins of the church and say,
“Friends, no, this is no good. Let’s try again.”
But it wasn’t that easy.
His 95 Theses read as a dry topic sentences for academic discussion.
What he was saying was,
“we are hurting each other the way we’re doing things now.
We’ve lost our way.”
But as the internet tells us in its infinite wisdom,
“When you have power, equality looks like a threat.”
Even though the reformers spoke truth,
those in power felt threatened.
Change the way we operate on a daily basis?
Change our theology about Purgatory and really eternity itself?
Consent to the people hearing scripture in their own languages
and being involved in its interpretation?
This is terrifying. It means we in power lose the power we had.
It means we’re not in control any more.
It’s not like the Pope and the Magisterium
held that power for evil purposes, mostly.
They, like so many others, understood themselves
as helping, as upholding sacred practices
and understandings of God.
It’s not that they were caught out in intentional greed,
but that they understood themselves as righteous,
like the people Jesus was talking to in last week’s gospel.
It says he spoke to
“some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”
This may be the lasting lesson of the Reformation.
Not the party but the invitation to examine ourselves.
Do we trust in ourselves that we are righteous?
Maybe we’re not selling indulgences any more,
but what do we hold tightly in our fists,
thinking we’re doing good
and in reality hurting each other and the message of love
Jesus came to give us?
The lasting lesson of the Reformation, what we’re celebrating today,
is of repentance.
Repentance, matanoia in Greek, is a turning away from the thing.
My dad used to say to us as kids,
“I don’t want your sorrow, I want your repentance.”
He meant, he didn’t just want us to regret the thing we’d done,
because regret isn’t transformative.
It just sits there making us miserable.
Repentance is a change in posture, a change in direction.
Repentance may indeed happen often,
like the process of getting sober
or the way we need reminding to be kind to someone.
Turning away from something hurtful may happen so many times
that it looks like we’re spinning in circles,
but it’s a real change each time.
Maybe a better word for it is a practice,
something we do regularly that shapes us,
something that in trying over and over we get better at.
I practice forgiving and having patience
with one of my husband’s childhood friends
over and over and over.
I think I’m better at it now than I once was.
And I think I have to keep practicing, keep reforming.
Pastor Larry was all about that version of the word,
do you remember?
He understood it to be about re-shaping ourselves
in a different image,
or, more likely, God re-shaping us into the image of God.
Imago dei, our original state.
We can’t ever get there by ourselves, not really,
but we can continue to turn towards it.
I did something like this the other week.
I’ve been miserable about how we speak to one another any more.
Maybe it’s not different now then it ever was,
maybe I’m just newly aware of it.
But so much of the conversations online, in speeches,
even between church members,
is so rude and ugly and hateful.
UC, like most college campuses,
has street preachers every few weeks
who carry signs and preach sermons over megaphones
about how we are all of us going straight to hell.
Sometimes they’re decent to talk to,
most times, it’s a mess of judgment.
So I invited some students and colleagues
and took the Edge House’s own megaphone onto campus
to do some positive street preaching.
The others in the group weren’t comfortable speaking yet.
I ended up confessing our sins. Our collective sins.
I didn’t plan anything particular to say and it was really hard,
but I began to confess the ways
that we ourselves need reforming.
How we have treated native peoples over the centuries.
How we have treated Jews and Africans.
How we have treated each other
when our beliefs were deemed heresy.
How we have consistently chosen to see
our brothers and sisters of whatever
orientation or gender or color or status
as less than because it is politically expedient.
Afterwards, because I stumbled over my words and thoughts,
I asked on Facebook “what are the sins of the church
you would like to hear confessed/apologized for?”
I got so, so many responses. Pages and pages of them.
Friends, we are absolutely justified by faith,
we are absolutely saints and saved and living in the Kingdom.
And also we are still sinners, needing to turn back to God.
What needs reforming now?
What is the theme about which we could write 95 theses?
Probably we can think of lots of things out there that need reforming,
but what in here needs reforming?
What is the speck in our own eyes that needs to be removed?
Within the ELCA?
Within Good Shepherd?
Within each of us individually?
We participate in the world, in voting, in civic pride,
but do we put our faith in those systems and leaders?
Do we think that if we put enough money and energy
into the process the country will become Christian again?
As though it was better 50 or 200 years ago?
Perhaps our reformation involves intentionally listening
to the voices of the marginalized
—whether by race, sexuality, youth, status.
Whose voices do we discount?
Or is it simply that we have arrived at this point in history
without meaning to,
doing what we’ve always done because we’ve always done it?
This is what the Reformation is about
—seeing God’s desires for unfettered, active love,
and naming the ways that we block that love.
And we are not about a single Reformation
as much as a call to constant reformation.
Whether we know it’s happening or not.
Martin Luther didn’t intend to start a new church.
He didn’t want to destroy the church but to call it to account.
He leaned into his challenge to the church because he loved it so much,
because of his respect for the institution
and the people and for Jesus himself.
Whatever we do now to identify the truth of things,
to name our own privilege and to sacrifice power
is because of our love and respect for the church and for people.
We don’t do it because our works will bring the Kingdom here
but because when we repent, when we open our arms in love,
that is the Kingdom here.
I'll close with a video from Britain’s Got Talent. At the beginning, look for the judgment. Then look for the moments of turning. As they see what they've done, look for the Kingdom of God on their faces. Look how beautiful, how loving it is to repent.