The Festival of The Reformation

October 25, 2020


Romans 3:19–28  Ascension / Good Shepherd + ZOOM 25/10/20

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every
mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the
law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and
the Prophets bear witness to it –
22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who
believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are
justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put
forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness,
because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness
at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No,
but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
(Romans 3:19-28 ESV)

The world always needs a reformation. The young tell it to the old. Socialists tell it to capitalists and
vice versa. David Attenborough doesn’t use the word but his ecological call to us is a reformation of
the planet. Opposition political parties call for it. A theory about the origins of revolutions – violent
and sudden changes – is that they are preceded by calls for reformations that were not heeded.

Reformers want things to be better and any opposition usually begins with the sentiment ‘but if it ain’t
broke, why fix it?’. We all know that it is difficult to change the status quo – not least because most of
us don’t like change – but reformations and changes come about precisely because the current
situation is deemed to be unjust, dangerous, illegal, cruel – in other words – reformers always claim
that they are going from ‘bad’ to ‘good’.

And so we, Lutherans, today – on the Sunday preceding 31st October – can observe and comment on
The Reformation in a similar way that we brought good back to the Christian Church. However we
should be somewhat cautious here in our adulation when we look around the churches – more
denominations now than 500 years ago – and realise that no one else is celebrating, let alone
observing this Reformation.

In fact type in ‘reformation’ into a search engine and Christianity and you will probably be drawn to
the 16th century and in broad terms you get three ‘Reformations’ – there is The Reformation also
known as the Protestant Reformation and occasionally the Lutheran Reformation; there is the English
Reformation when Henry VIII severs the links that the churches in this land had with Rome and
established the Church of England with the English monarch eventually being the ‘Supreme
Governor’ (thank you Elizabeth I); and there is the Counter Reformation which is the Roman Catholic
response from the Council of Trent onwards which might be likened to more of an internal reform.
We often are alone in this commemoration and we do not commemorate well if we stay in the 16th
century. No, we have to go further back, another 1,500 years to the radical action of the God of the
universe on Planet Earth.

Then some disciples of a man named Jesus started telling the world that although Jesus had been
crucified – with all the associated horror, agony, and scandal – this Jesus is the God of the universe
here to set things right in a world that had become so very wrong – with fear and death and power and
control the order of the day in a world of a survival of the fittest with little compassion but lots of
alliances whereby people try to live as well as possible and not succumb to the evil of others or the
dangers of the world. And that is not how life here was meant to be so the God of the universe did
something about it culminating in the defeat of death’s power through a crucifixion where death itself
was nailed and broken. That’s what Jesus’ empty tomb is all about – new life without fear and death
and power grabs and the desire for control.

If that was on offer in a shop, we’d all try and buy it. If that was part of a tribe or team, we’d all try to
join. If it is free, we all default into thinking something is sus here. Nothing good is for free – not
really is our experience. And that is what the followers of Jesus faced, the incomprehensibility of free
things – grace and mercy and compassion. We find freedom hard – we all want it but when still
trapped in a world of fear and death and power and control, we know in ourselves and history tells us
that we will use freedom for ourselves and those close to us but it can’t work for everyone. We all
need others to make things for us, clean things for us, get dirty for us, protect us, even be killed for us
– so we can be free. That’s why our freedom has limits and we have boundaries and laws. Every
group has rules, regulations, constitutions, laws – with rewards and sanctions – because that is the best
way we have found to live here. But that is not how life here was meant to be! Freedom is meant to
enrich and enhance life because we seek the best for others and they seek the best for us in a
harmonious relationship of mutual love and respect – I know a garden-like idyllic situation we might
dream about. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if such freedom and such living existed?

And that is what the Apostle Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to realise when he wrote that no one
is righteous before God – that we have rebelled by taking our freedom and telling God we want to be
free from him – and then finding out that all the rules and laws needed for living just highlight that we
are unrighteous before God – our definitions of good fall so far short of God’s that with death always
looming, we are stuck on the treadmill of fear or pride but God has rescued us in Jesus freely. There’s
no greater challenge to human pride than a rescue or a handout that leaves us back in a relationship
with God! The rescue we desire is to be rescued but free from God! But that’s not what we find with
this crucified man, this God, who calls us to follow him – to trust him – to stop justifying ourselves to
ourselves and to others and to God – if people believe in him – and to accept God’s justification – his
forgiveness – and trust the words and story and mercy spoken to us through words, water, bread and
wine and live in the relationship re-established.

That’s the message that the people of the Church still struggle with and when we are in an
organisation where it is easier to establish rules, regulations, and standards and to shift the message
from what God has done to what we do, then the Church itself can become the province of fear and
death and power and control.

And the call to reform – repent – daily – is a call to each follower of Jesus individually and it can be
hard – and it is also a call to all the followers of Jesus collectively and that can be harder – until the
message of that free gracious love and mercy busts through again.

Am I talking about the Christian Church in its history … or the human heart in a person?

On whose terms do we live? Humanity defaults to saying, ‘My own’ but that is rarely ever done
because we all make compromises to survive because we do not have the freedom to do as we like all
the time.

Martin Luther in his world heard in the Gospel of Jesus Christ – in what Jesus did for us and does for
us – the amazing good news that God offers life on his terms – beginning with a rescue and a rebirth –
and following Jesus which seems so restrictive is a freedom we’ve never dreamt possible. That
message defines the Christian Church and needs to be clear but can be muffled or distorted. Through
faith in Jesus, our lives are transformed here on Earth so that fear and death and power and control are
seen as the false gods of this planet and Jesus and his presence and he still serves his people gives us
freedom that the world cannot ever take away! A freedom to live in the grace of God and without fear.

Yes, the world always needs a reformation – when it is Jesus reforming life on Planet Earth so that
fear and death are defeated and love and mercy are embraced without fear.

Bible References

  • Romans 3:19 - 28