Jeremiah 31.31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3.19-28; John 8.31-36
I was confronted with some difficult, messy and painful things this past week. Don’t get me wrong, I had a LOT of fun - it was a great week with family and friends. But, I also spent time at Wartburg, which means my grief for my friend Ben, a classmate who died in the 2010 Haiti earthquake…my grief for him bubbles up and becomes a little more palpable. I also spent time with one of my best friends who is going through a divorce while raising a 5 year old and a 3 year old. Really messy. Really painful.
So between the wisdom of Heidi Neumark and spending the week in the midst of some really real and painful stuff and the fact that it’s Reformation Sunday, a day that celebrates Martin Luther calling a thing what it is, it seems a good day to lay down some truths.
Truth Number One. This day, Reformation Sunday, has always made me feel uncomfortable. I grew up Roman Catholic and never knew about this day until I joined a Lutheran church. And it has never sat well with me. So after a lot of pondering and soul searching, prayers and tears, I was lead to….
Truth Number Two. I have been uncomfortable with this day because while many of us see it as a celebration of an exciting new thing that happened in history, in my reality, at least for these past few years, this day commemorates broken-ness. And it seems weird to celebrate broken-ness.
The Reformation and Reformation Sunday are a huge part of my story. It resulted in a denomination I am deeply proud to be a part of. It resulted in Pastor Seth and I ending up here and being swept up so lovingly into the Agnus Dei family. It has also splintered and broken the Christian family and my family. I live in a world where I was invited to lead the prayers at my brother’s wedding, but was not welcome to receive communion. I want to be very clear: I deeply love the denomination that I came from. My brother and his family were very much present at my ordination. I don’t blame my family’s brokenness on the Roman Catholic Church, nor do I resent it. I don’t long for some sort of merger of all Christian denominations. I deeply respect my brother’s commitment to and love of his denomination, and I think there is incredibly value in the diversity of Christian denominations. But the divisions in my family related to the church and the division in the church itself point to why this day makes me squeamish. This day separates us. In a world already so divided by race and class and gender and age and size and hair color and so many other things, it is one more thing that can cause division. That can cause suffering. That reminds us of our broken-ness.
But then I remember…division and brokenness and suffering can only lead us to...
Truth number three. God makes good things out of broken-ness. That’s what grace is. We are enslaved and trapped by sin and brokenness and pain. We are freed by God in Christ Jesus. Not freed from experiencing those things that make us uncomfortable and sad and devastate our lives. No, those things are all too real. But calling a thing what it is can be painful. Naming and acknowledging my grief for Ben is not a fun activity. And NOT calling thing what it is was has devastated my friend now going through a divorce.
And that is where we met God at the cross. God calls things exactly what they are with the same voice that called light and life into being, weeps with Mary and Martha at the death of dear Lazarus, whispers words of forgiveness from the cross and says to us every week – ‘This is my body, given for you’. With that voice, God calls the sin and brokenness and pain exactly what it is - powerless in the presence of God’s love and grace. Not gone from our lives, but transformed. For if God can make resurrection from death, we cannot imagine the beauty, love and hope that will come from brokenness.
So in the end, I will go ahead and joyfully celebrate Reformation Sunday with you, as long as it is in the spirit of....
Truth number four. We as a whole Christian Church need to keep reforming and changing. We need to call a thing what it is. We need to acknowledge the fact that the world has changed and the church hasn’t quite caught up. The world is incredibly more interactive than it ever has been before, and that reality isn’t reflected in current church life. We need to acknowledge the fact that financial generosity, even though we may be really good at it, is not enough to feed and heal a hurting world. For that we need advocacy and innovation, which tends to be messier and harder. We need to surrender the need to be right all the time – to be bigger, better and trendier that that group down the block.
And for all of those things to happen, we need our church communities to be built on strong relationships, to be safe places to name difficult truths, to call things what they are. And as Christians, we know that the strongest force for changing things for the better is love. That is what we gather here to practice each Sunday morning. We gather to practice love – a love that not only frees us from sin, fills us up and make us whole, but to practice a love that frees us for service and sends us out, to make the world whole. We cannot do it alone, we can only do it by the grace of God, making good things out of broken-ness.