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Reformation Sunday Sermon
Jeremiah 31: 31-34,
Romans 3: 19-28

October 30, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

One of the dangers with celebrating Reformation Sunday every year is that we lift Martin Luther up almost to be equal to that of Jesus … or at least to the status of sainthood. I always heard that Luther himself would be turning over in his grave if he knew that those people who worshiped in churches of his tradition called themselves, “Lutheran.” He preferred the term, “evangelical” because it refers to the fact that we rely upon God’s word for direction in our lives, and not upon the authority of popes or councils. To call ourselves, “Lutheran” sort of goes against the spirit of Luther’s reformation in the first place.
Most of us know enough about Luther’s life to know that he was a larger than life character. From his beginnings as a monk who nearly killed himself trying to work out his own salvation, to his colorful sermons and writings which featured interesting language calling the pope and those who opposed him such names that today’s presidential candidates would blush! Certainly, the Reformation did not begin and end with Luther, but his timing is credited with one of the greatest movements in the history of the world, religious or secular.

So, it is easy to understand how this could turn into a time to worship the man at the center of it all. And yet, the importance of this time in our history is that we worship only one person as the savior of the world – the son of God himself, Jesus. Indeed, it is of ultimate importance to remember that the Reformation was an act of God and not an act of one or more human beings! Jan Hus and others who were years ahead of him preached the same message that Luther did, but they were not as successful as he was. As a matter of fact, most of them were burned at the stake or done away with in other gruesome ways! But God was so intent on drawing his people back from error and sin that he kept on working through people and events in the world to eventually break through and once again show the world the free-gift of grace. God’s people often fall into a pattern of faithfulness, turning away, suffering for their turning away, and returning to God. It happened all through the Old Testament, and it seems to be happening all through human history as well.

The Reformation was an act of God, not humans. It was a time of covenant renewal for God’s people. The prophet Jeremiah spoke during a time when God’s people had turned away from God out of the fear of the growing strength of the expanding Babylonian empire. He had warned them over and over again of their sinfulness, and they chose over and over again to turn away from him (and God) and rely upon their own abilities and knowledge. In a short break from these warnings, chapters 30 and 31 in Jeremiah make up what has been called, “A Little Book of Hope.” In it God reminds the people that even though they have sinned, even though there is judgement at hand, and even though they are being defeated and many are carted off into exile, God is still and will continue to be their God ... and they are and will continue to be God’s people. As a matter of fact, Jeremiah shares good news that God is still acting for them in the midst of their struggles. God is making a new covenant, one which he is writing on their hearts. The original covenant that God made with the people were written on tablets of stone – the law which Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. This covenant is being written on their hearts. This is an act of God at the right time, when the people are in need of God’s love to return to their dependence upon him for all things.

God is active in our lives in so many ways today at times when we need it most. We Lutherans believe that God is especially active when we celebrate the sacraments. Last week I spent a little time with Brianna and Nicholas to talk about sacraments – especially Holy Communion, which they will receive today for the first time. I am sure that they could tell you that we Lutherans believe that there are two sacraments – Baptism and Communion. That the three criteria that Martin Luther set for something to be a sacrament are, a) common earthly element (water; bread and wine); b) God’s word (I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy spirit; On the night of his betrayal Jesus took bread, etc.); c) it is commanded by Christ that we continue to do them (Go therefore, making disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; do this in remembrance of me).

I am also sure that they could tell you that the two most important words that God speaks to the church in this Holy Sacrament through my lips are, “for you.” This is Jesus’ body and blood, give and shed FOR YOU! God is active today – the new covenant is renewed again by God so that at the right time in your life, when you have turned to your own ways and means of getting by in life, you can experience the love and grace of God in a real, personal way.
I will soon bless this ordinary bread – that the three of us made last week - and wine, and share the Word of God that proclaims that God is still active in this Holy sacrament: “This is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.” The new covenant that Jeremiah promised was to be written in the hearts of all of God’s people is renewed whenever the church is reformed, whenever we gather to focus on God’s word, whenever we receive the very presence of God in the bread and the wine of communion. God is still active in the life of this congregation, and in the lives of all of you. And at the right time, God renews God’s love to us so that we experience new life in the midst of the death that is all around us.

God worked in and through Martin Luther and the other reformers to call the church back to faithfulness. God still works through people today to do the same thing. I am excited that leaders of the Lutheran church and of the Roman Catholic church in the world today recognize that the Holy Spirit of God is still active and at work today. This coming year is sure to be an exciting one as we all recognize our need for God’s grace to be justified in God’s sight. I hope that you are like me – thankful that God is still active – in the sacrament that Brianna, Nicholas and all of us will soon participate in, and in the life of the church, calling and empowering us to be the hands of Christ in the world today. May it be so, in the name of Christ. Amen.