Last year, the Lutheran church celebrated the 500th anniversary of the reformation. 500 years since Martin Luther, after an intense study of scripture, was brave and bold enough to question and challenge the Roman Catholic Church. Since then, we’ve had many incarnations of the reformation but nothing, in my opinion, as brave and bold as Martin Luther’s original reformation. At the same time, we are a church of reformers. We are a church that claims reformation as part of our core. Despite that proclamation, we are also a church with punchlines that revolve around not liking change. So where does that leave us? Perhaps reformers who fight reform at every corner? I don’t know. But what I do know is that it is more important than ever that we are a reforming church and I really believe that society needs a reforming church right now.
Often when people speak of a reformation, they quickly slip into nostalgia. This can be a dangerous habit. Many think reformation is more people in the pews, full Sunday school rooms, a healthy bottom line, hundreds of students in seminary, lots of students at our church colleges and on and on. You know…like we used to have. But reformation and nostalgia are not the same thing. And it’s good to remember where we’ve been. That helps us to figure out where we’re going. But we cannot be a reforming church if we’re constantly looking backwards. A reforming church is bold, unapologetic, centered on Christ, and takes seriously the ministry of hospitality. These 4 reasons are why I think society is hungry for a reforming church.
The reforming church is bold. So, what do I mean by that? Well to be bold means proclaiming and believing that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. We confess this to be truth. But, did you hear the difficult part of being a reforming church that is bold? It’s one thing to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, but it’s another thing to believe it. To be a reforming church we must believe what we confess for ourselves. If not, no one is going to believe us or the confessions, evangelism, or gospel that comes out of our mouths. Scripture for today says “if you continue in my word…” Another way of translating that could be “if you abide in my word.” To abide means that we are in relationship with Christ. As a reforming church, and specifically as Lutherans, we believe that this relationship has nothing to do with us. We cannot earn God’s love. We do nothing to get closer to God. God draws near to us despite our sins and shortcomings. If you don’t think that this is a bold proclamation, then perhaps I need to say it more often. To many in this world believe that something, anything must be done in order for Christ to love us. After all, it can’t be as simple as Jesus loving us just because. But, it is that simple. And that, my beloved, is bold.
The reforming church is unapologetic. I think this needs to be discussed a little bit other than me just saying that and leaving it there. Please understand, I think it is important for the church to apologize in the ways and places it has fallen short, and there are many. I think it is even more crucial for the church to apologize to the people she has wronged, and there are many. When I propose that a reforming church is unapologetic, I mean that we do not make excuses or shy away from being who we are. I will never apologize for the rituals that center us in Christ: communion and baptism. So, no. I’m not sorry that we only have one baptism. It’s what we confess. And no. I’m not sorry that I will give communion to anyone who will hold out their hands. I believe these two sacraments are the most intimate ways we feel the love of Christ. Who am I to deny these to anyone? Here’s the other thing about a reforming church: we’re not going to be all things to all people. And, as the kids say these days, #sorrynotsorry. I’m sorry that not everyone will find a home in this particular reforming church. At the same time, we cannot change ourselves to accommodate everyone because we will end up being nothing. We are Lutheran. Our identities are shaped by that.
The reforming church is centered in and on Christ. I think this is kind of a given, but how quickly we forget that. There is too much temptation to make church be about anything but Christ that we can forget why we gather week after week anyway. How are the lights? Is the band playing up to date songs? Is the Pastor preaching practical sermons that make me feel good about myself (because that is his only job)? Do they have a hip coffee shop in the gathering area? What isn’t asked is where is Christ? I have been in too many churches where it isn’t obvious who or what they are worshiping. There is no cross, there’s no picture of Jesus, there’s no mention of Christ or God in the preaching. In a time where the church has turned into a consumer’s product, the reforming church remains centered on Christ and him crucified. When the reforming church stays centered in and on Christ the temptation to worship anyone or anything else disappears.
Lastly, the reforming church takes seriously the ministry of hospitality. Believe it or not, I actually think this is the most controversial and challenging thing we as a reforming church could do. Why? Because there are getting to be fewer and fewer places in society where all really are welcome. And if we’re going to continue to grow into a reforming church and be challenged by Christ’s message, the ministry of hospitality must be one of the cornerstone missions of the church. And I understand that for some, this ministry of hospitality may not be comfortable. It’s one thing to welcome those who look, act, and dress like us. But how far does our hospitality go when it’s one of our LGBTQ siblings? How far does our hospitality go when it’s a person of color whose primary language isn’t English? How far does our hospitality go when a new member joins and they like to speak in tongues? I think that’s also why it’s important to be reformers together in community. We become like this amazing, beautiful rock tumbler. We actually bump up against one another and polish one another’s edges.
So yes, I do think God is calling us into a new reformation, my beloved. Our voices are important and we have something life-saving to say. What doesn’t change in the reformation is that we continue to stay abiding in Christ’s love. Because when we are supported by Christ’s love we have the strength to boldly proclaim the message the world needs to hear. And that message is this: you are loved. You are forgiven. You are adored by a God who loves you so much that God went all the way to the cross for you. There is nothing you have to do to earn this love. You are forever freed from your sin. That, my beloved, is some bold announcements for a new reformation. The freedom given to us in Christ, the love given to us in and through Christ, and our abiding in Christ will always be stronger than our sin. In a world that is constantly tempting us with bigger, better, and stronger, how novel an idea to reform and proclaim that we believe in Christ alone, through Word alone, by faith alone.