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the sermon for

All Saints Sunday

05 November 2017

Matthew 5:1-12
The charity of god is revealed
in, with, and under the self-righteousness of humanity.

11052017You and I live in a church where Reformation Day and All Saints Day are a week apart... at least, as celebrations go. Different weeks. Different colors. Different prayers, different readings, different songs. Truth is, though, from the beginning, the only thing that separated the two was the single tick of a clock! The whole reason the reformation was where it was was because of All Saints Day! Without it, there would never have been a reformation day! You see, Luther tacked his theses to the door of the castle church on All Saints Eve was, precisely, because it was All Saints Eve!

You see, All Saints Day was what is known as a day of holy obligation. It was one of those holy days when attendance at worship was mandatory. So Luther – as it was explained to me – posted his manifesto on the door, that day, so that everyone could see it when they came the very next day! I've, always, kinda thought it was like buying an ad during the super bowl! You, naturally, got the most bang for your effort. Reformation Day, therefore, was when it was out of coïncidence, out of convenience. But the past couple years, I can't help wondering if there wasn't more to it than that.

This is that castle church in Wittenberg. The church, today, isn't one that was there in Luther's time. That one burned to the ground, about two-and-a-half centuries later. The one in Wittenberg, now, is a rebuilt and, later, renovated version. Anyway, that is the infamous door at the end of the walkway. But this was, originally, the one and only church in Wittenberg since the 1300s. But its name, from the start, wasn't "Castle" church. It was All Saints Church! When Luther's prince came to power about the time Luther was born, one of the first things he did was to have that old church rebuilt. It was torn down a couple of years before Columbus set sail and the new church was consecrated in 1503, a little before Luther entered the monastery. The project was finished about the time Luther, first, arrived in Wittenberg. But it's interesting to note, that church building was only eight years old when Luther nailed the theses to its door! All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany!

Oh, and one other thing. Frederick's other hobby – when he wasn't rebuilding church buildings – was collecting holy relics, was collecting sacred artifacts! In fact, he had amassed one of the largest collections in all of Europe! He had a thumb of St. Anne! A piece of straw from Bethlehem! A piece of cloth from the baby Jesus' swaddling! Gold from the magi! A strand of hair from Jesus' beard! And the centerpiece was a thorn from the crown of thorns – certified to have pierced Christ's brow! The collection was enormous! Seventeen thousand pieces about the time of that first Reformation Day! Nineteen thousand, three years after that! And it all went on display, each and every year, in All Saints Church, on All Saints Day! And if a person did it right. If they paid their respect to each and every relic, if they showed their devotion to each and every artifact, they would receive one million nine hundred two thousand two hundred two years – and two hundred seventy days – off their time in purgatory! Off their time or off the time of a person of their choosing! All Saints Church! All Saints Day! Wittenberg, Germany! Accident? Ccoïncidence? Hardly! Reformation Day is anchored, rooted, in what was going on there in All Saints Church on All Saints Day! Luther wasn't living off the beaten path. He wasn't in the eye of a hurricane. He was in the very belly of the beast!

That was faith, believing, in the middle ages. Life was constantly being weighed... and measured... and found wanting... Life was continually in the balance. Good on one side. Sins on the other. And sin was always the greater. That's why the church was there! To help balance the scales! Not merely by wiping away the sins, but by encouraging and assisting people to atone for the sins they committed! Penance it was called! Sin could be lightened only through effort. Giving alms. Saying prayers. Fasting. Just like our discipline of Lent! Going to church on Sunday morning. Even going to All Saints Church on All Saints Day to see the collection! That's how the scale was zeroed out! And it was all up to you! Jesus was, simply, the judge, the one who would read the scale. Of course, there were the saints. Good people, great people, who had built up more good than they needed. So god took their extra good and banked it all together where – with the right credit, with the proper collateral – it could be applied to our account.

Those indulgences we hear about, this time of year? They weren't the problem. They were, merely, a symptom. A symptom just like all those relics... in All Saints Church... on All Saints Day... It was the entire system that was the problem! It was what the church, how the church, believed! Love came only... Love came only at a price! That was the problem! Love sold and bought! Love bartered and traded! Love – if it is love, at all – has to be free! Unearned! Undeserved! Unconditional! Unending!

Reformation and All Saints Days have to touch! They have to stand not a week apart, but back-to-back and side-by-side! If we want to understand either! Those people inside All Saints Church, on All Saints Day, roaming among the remnants and remains, were a lot like us! Shoulder to the wheel! Nose to the grindstone! Hands clenching bootstraps! They believed – with all their heart – that if it was meant to be, it was up to them! They believed – with all their strength – that god helped those who helped themselves! They believed – with all their being – that relic by relic and prayer by prayer – they were lifting themselves out of the night! Chances are, they never heard the hammer as they put the finishing touches on the next day's activities. Chances are, when they went home that night, they never noticed – let alone read – the sheet of paper hanging on the door. "That's not how it works," Luther had written! "That's not how any of this works!"

Thesis 37.
Any true Christian, whether living or dead,
participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church;
and this is granted by God even without indulgence letters.

Thesis 62.
The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God!

Thesis 94.
Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their head,
through penalties, death, and hell!

Start to finish, beginning to end, it's Jesus! Jesus and Jesus' cross! Beginning to end, start to finish, it's god's grace! God's charity! God's love! And for Luther, there was no greater contradiction, not greater challenge, than what would be happening the very next day... in All Saints Church... on All Saints Day... A saint isn't someone who does good, more good than most. Someone whose scales tip in their favor. A saint – simple and pure – is someone, anyone, who is loved by god! Love without limit and loved without measure! Loved with all god's heart and soul! And faith, believing, isn't something that finishes, that finalizes, that love. Faith, believing, is what, simply, acknowledges that love to be true. God loves me, loves us? Amen! So it is! This is most certainly true! God loves us! Our faith – our lack of faith – doesn't change that, at all!

So, in the end, we have two holy days – Reformation and All Saints! Separated not by an entire week, but by a single click of the clock. But that click is important, essential! It's that click that defines, that declares! Faith isn't about balancing scales. Believing's not about tipping those scales in one direction of the other! It's about being anchored, being rooted, in the grace and the charity and the love of god! It's about resting in the shadow of the cross! That's faith! That's believing! But then, my friends, that's Reformation, as well!

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the sermon for

Reformation Sunday

29 October 2017

John 8:31-36
Reformation begins and ends with god's love!

10292017I have to admit, I've been looking forward to this day for a long, long time! Truth be told, ever since my last semester in seminary. It was 1983 and we celebrated Luther's five hundredth birthday. Of course, he wasn't there to blow out the candles, but that's what captured my imagination, back then. My ministry would begin with the five hundredth anniversary of his birth and – Lord willin' and the creek don't rise – end somewhere around the five hundredth anniversary of the posting of the theses, thirty-three or thirty-four years later. Just like the covers of a book. A front and a back. And for all this time, I've been living out my call with that image in mind. So today, this morning, is a big deal! A big deal and very personal, at the same time!

That's the reason for all the hooplah, the last few months. Posting the Ninety-Five on Facebook, one thesis a day for the past three months! Movie Nights! Teaching the college classics course up at Midland College on the Reformation! So Who Knows What – about the Ninety-Five Theses – on a Wednesday afternoon at Manor Park! The piece in the Reporter-Telegram, day before yesterday! The t-shirts! The coffee mugs – eventually! The hymnfest, this afternoon! Even the celebrations of reform we hosted, the last four Reformation Sundays! It's all been about this moment! October 31st! All Hallows – All Saints – Eve! 2017!

It's been exhausting! Draining! But it's, definitely, been worth it! It's been good! Because, you see, of all the days in the church year, this one... this one is our day! Ours and ours alone! Worthy of our best! Deserving of our brightest! To lift up! To celebrate! To share with the world! But here's the crazy thing... This day isn't about us! It's not about Lutherans! It's not about the Lutheran church! It's not even about Martin Luther! Not foremost! Not first! No, this day, if it's about anything, is about Jesus! About Jesus and the cross!

You've, probably, heard many reasons for the Reformation. The corruption of the church. The rise of nation-states. The printing press. A return to the bible. Worship in the language of the people. The list goes on. And each rationale has a grain of truth. But bottom line, especially in this place... It's all about Jesus! Jesus and the cross! God doing for us what we are unable to do for ourselves! God doing for us what we are unwilling to do for ourselves! Reformation Sunday isn't about our choices or our decisions! It's not about our commitment or our devotion! Reformation Sunday Isn't, even, about loving god with our whole heart! Loving our neighbor as our self! It's Jesus and the cross! It's Christ and Christ crucified! It's god loving each of us, loving all of us, not because we're worthy, not because we're deserving, not because we've earned it! But loving us, simply, because that's the kind of god god is! Giving the last drop! Giving the last ounce! Giving the last breath! Just because that's what god does!

No wrath! No rage! No paybacks! No ultimatums! Just Jesus and a cross! Christ and Christ crucified! And this day is one more chance, another opportunity, to lift it up for all the world to see! Lift is up without apology or excuse! Lift it up confidently and courageously! Lift it up and this – THIS – is our god! I have to say – respectfully and with all humility – there's not a whole lot of churches like us! Especially in this part of the country! There's not a lot of churches quite like us! What we believe in! What we rely on! It's rare! It's exceptional! When we do it right, we don't spend much time talking about ourselves. What we should. What we ought. How we must. How we have to. For us, believing doesn't have anything to do withy morals or ethics or principles. In fact – push come to shove – what we do, what we don't do, doesn't matter! It's not important! Because it's all about god!

God creating and protecting! God redeeming and setting free! God reviving and making new! It's all about Jesus! Jesus and the cross! Christ and Christ crucified! For us, it's that black cross within a red heart! It's the suffering, the sacrifice, that makes alive! But, then, not everyone gets that. Even among Lutherans, two thirds to three-fourths of us disagree with that, or don't understand. It's grace! It's charity! It's love! God's grace and god's charity and god's love for us all! And then, in turn, our grace and charity and love for each other. It's all Jesus! Jesus and the cross! From beginning to end! From start to finish! That's the "truth" that sparked a revolution! And that's the "truth" that continues to fan the flames!

God loves us! With all god's heart! With all god's strength! With all god's being! God loves us! Without limit! Without measure! God loves us more than we could ever dream of loving ourselves! And that love picks us up and holds us close and never, ever lets us go! It changes us! Making us different! Making us new! Not because we want to! Not because we want to be! But just because that's what love does!

On a day like this, there are so many things – so many good things, so many worthy things – we could call to mind! Scripture! Faith! But today is about one thing and one thing alone. God's amazing, astounding grace! Sola gratia! Charity alone! Only love! Only love! Jesus and the cross! Handed down from one generation to the next for – so far – twenty-five generations! It's no longer the sound of coins clinking in coffers that purchases our forgiveness. It's Jesus' holy and precious blood! Christ's innocent suffering and dying! It's not simply in the mercy of almighty God that Jesus was given to die for us. It's in the charity from which that mercy springs! It's the love! Always, forever, the love!

So today is a big deal. A once in a lifetime – once in a dozen lifetimes – kind of thing. But then again, it's really no different from any other time we get together! To hear the love proclaimed. To receive it administered. Marked with the cross. Consuming Christ, together. After five hundred years, we continue to be a people of grace! A people of charity! A people of love! Twenty-five generations who have done what we are doing! Twenty=five generations who have been what we are! Evangelicals in every sense of the word! A people, as the name implies... A people of good news! A people of gospel! A people of grace! We speak it! We sing it! We pray it! We read it! We bath in it! We eat it and drink it! God's grace! God's charity! God's love! And it all boils down to this...

Jesus and the cross!

Christ and Christ crucified!

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