BONUS SERMON: Reformation Sunday, October 30

By the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Texts: Jer. 31;31-34; Rom. 8:19-28; Jn. 8:31-36

Savonarola was a Dominican priest and reformer of the church shortly before Martin Luther’s time.

He was tortured and burned at the stake for his efforts when Luther was a teenager.

For years, he was a very powerful person in Florence, Italy.

Early in his pastorate, Savonarola noticed an elderly woman who came to the cathedral every day before mass and knelt before the statue of the Blessed Virgin to pray for an hour.

Savonarola mentioned her devoutness to an old priest who had served the cathedral for decades.

He smiled and said. “Things are not always what they seem. Years ago, this woman was the model for the statue of the Virgin. She’s not worshiping God. She’s worshiping who she used to be.”

One of the great dangers Lutherans face on Reformation Sunday is the danger of worshiping who we used to be.

I have served two Lutheran churches that were founded before the American Revolution. And both of them had “History Rooms,” with gathered artifacts from their past: Silver Communion Ware, old pulpits and altars, Council minute books, written in German, etc.

There were walls filled with portraits of pastors, from pen and ink sketches to modern photographs. Members usually jokingly referred to it as “the rogues gallery,” and, in some cases, not without reason.

This ancestor worship, this veneration of who we used to be, is not unique to Lutherans, nor is it a terrible or grave sin.

But, it can block us from seeing ourselves as we really are, it can blind us to our need, to hear and respond to the gospel for ourselves.

We can become so enamored of our Lutheran-ness that we can forget our human sinfulness and our need for God.

Back in the day, back in the 1960’s when Muhammad Ali was still Cassius Clay, he boarded an airplane with a bunch of reporters and was very much in “show time” form, bragging and joking and “carrying on” as we say in North Carolina.

When the Flight Attendant told him to fasten his seatbelt, Ali looked around at his captive audience and said, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”

The Flight Attendant smiled, leaned down and fastened him in and said, “Yes, well, Superman don’t need no airplane neither.”

We are not supermen or superwomen or super-Lutherans or super-Christians. We need a word of truth to remind us of our limitations and needs.

Just like Savanarola, and Martin Luther, and Phillip Melanchthon, and John Calvin, and yes Muhammad Ali; and a host of others, we must hear and know the truth and be set free by the hearing and knowing.

What is the Truth that sets us free? What is the truth that we celebrate this Reformation Sunday?

A few years ago I heard the Rev. Dr. Leonard Bolick, the Bishop of NC preach at the anniversary of a congregation and he told us of a poll done by Christian Researcher George Barna.

Barna had asked a wide cross-section of Americans a very simple question: What are the most important words you”ve ever heard?

Answer # 1 – (no surprise) I Love You.

Answer #2 – (no surprise either) I Forgive you.

Answer # 3 – (Unexpected) “Dinner’s Ready! Come eat!”

These three phrases, “I love you”, “I forgive you”, “Dinner’s ready, Come Eat,” summarize the truth of the Gospel, they remind of why we’re here, they tell us why we built this building and what we are called to do and be here.
1) I love you

We’ve all seen the signs on the interstate, “Massage Parlor” or “Adult Bookstore.”
The last time I saw one I began to ponder the desperate hunger for love that drives people to those places.

St. Augustine: “Our hearts are restless O Lord, until they rest in thee.” And “There is a hole in the heart of (humanity) that only God can fill.

Until we rest in God, until God fills that hole, we will fill it with other things: like sex and booze and drugs and food and wealth and work and productivity and popularity and social activity and, and, and. Whether we are aware of it or not, our lives are driven by a search for God, a yearning for what the Bible calls the Peace that passes all Understanding.

That is the Church’s # 1 purpose for being; to tell the world God is love, God is love, God is love.
#2 – I forgive you.

But, you know what? Sometimes knowing that God is love is not enough – somehow that does not rescue us from our despair and our desperate search for peace. Why? Because with our knowledge of God’s goodness and love is an awareness of our own unworthiness, our inability to be the good people we want to be, of our failure to live up to our own standards, much less God’s.

(Famous Baptist minister Carlyle Marney – was teaching at the Ridgecrest Assembly once. Someone asked, “Where’s the Garden of Eden?” Marney replied, “128 Hill Street, Knoxville TN. That’s where I stole money from my mother’s purse and hid from her under the stairs.”)

The only thing that will reach us in that state is a clear message that God’s love is greater than our failure. That God’s love is so deep and so wide and so complete that it can forgive and defeat even the darkest and most evil act.

The cross stands at the center of a Christian Community’s life because it is a startling and sobering reminder that God’s love is free, but it is not cheap. God’s love cost God the life of Jesus, who was willing to suffer and die so that we could be forgiven and live. The Church is a sign, pointing always and forever to the cross, shouting out to the world: You are forgiven!
#3 – Dinner’s ready, let’s eat!

We use the word Communion so much and so often to refer to the Lord’s Supper that sometimes we forget that it has other meanings.

It also refers to the connection and community we have with God and each other, a connection and community that exists at all times and in all places.

The gathering for the meal is a celebration and a strengthening of a reality that never ceases to be true; that we live now and forever within the Eternal Life of God.

We gather at the Lord’s Table to remind ourselves that we are a community united in Christ and in constant love with one another.

That is why in the ELCA, the table is always open and inviting to all, calling us back, time and time again, to the place where God’s love and forgiveness are made real and touchable for us in the bread and the wine.

My boys were 10 and 7 when they got into an argument over the frequency of communion.

Oldest: takes too long, if you do it every Sunday, not special, etc.
Youngest: You only say that because you’re good. I’m a mean little kid, I need all the forgiveness I can get.

Love, forgiveness, community. That is why we are here.

Robert Frost once said, “Home is that place that, when you have to go there, they have to let you in.”

Sisters and Brothers in Christ, we are the world’s true home.
We are not here to worship who we used to be, we are here to worship God.
This church does exist for the benefit of those of us in here.

This congregation exists for the salvation of those out there,
as an outpost of the Kingdom of God,
as a sign of God’s love,
as an agent of God’s forgiveness,
as an open table
where God’s hungry children can be fed.
We are the world’s true home,
and it is our calling to cry out to the world:
God is love, You are Forgiven, Dinner’s ready! Come Eat!

Amen and amen

One thought on “BONUS SERMON: Reformation Sunday, October 30

  1. I love the insights in this ‘bonus’ sermon for Reformation Sunday, 2011. I love the way you used the 3 phrases survey respondents wanted to hear to describe the purpose of the Church. “The congregation exists for the salvation of those out there.” What a concept that is and that needs to penetrate my heart. The joke/story on Cassius Clay is a good one.

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