Sermon Archives

Every 500 Years Or So ~ Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Romans 3: 19-28

Listen to the entire service online including, about 29 minutes in, Rev. Dr. John C. Lentz Jr.’s sermon Every 500 Years Or So on Jeremiah 31: 31-34 and Romans 3: 19-28.

Welcome to Reformation Sunday. Yes, about every 500 years or so, the church gets all shook up and resettled and so here we are: 500 years ago, Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest, put up his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (better known as his 95 theses) on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church door and transformed the world.

Of course the reform movement in the 16th century started before Luther and the power of the debate lasted long after him. The issues Luther raised were first discussed by Paul in the 1st century. We are still debating them today. The reformation isn’t over, it is still in full swing!

We are still debating indulgences. Pastors are still selling “prayer clothes” – if you give a gift to their ministry you will benefit! All the topics are still hot: the sacraments, how to read scripture, who is saved, the role of the church in politics.

Thankfully, in our particular context, we don’t kill Anabaptists anymore (but we have Mennonites among us, and Baptists, and Catholics and Lutherans and even some Presbyterians!). We don’t go on witch-hunts anymore (only Republican and Democrats do that). Catholics and Protestants can be friends and even get married. Yet we still can’t take communion if we visit the local Catholic parish and the priest doesn’t permit it.

We have come a long way baby, but we have a long way to go!

And yes, Martin Luther was a raging anti-Semite. And yes, John Knox our Scottish Presbyterian forbearer hated women almost as much as he hated Catholics.

And Christians burned other Christians at the stake. And yes, much of the reformation zeal pushed Christians to see people of color and native people as heathens, less than humans: convert, serve or die – and sometimes all three happened.

And yet God writes straight with crooked lines – and the human propensity for evil could not and cannot outdo God’s propensity for grace. “Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda – “Reformed and always being reformed by the Spirit;” as Presbyterians say.

I am always amazed and thankful how the spirit of God oozes through the cracks in our institutions and formalities and in my life and yours …. and lets the light and power of the Gospel transform and liberate and restore. I really believe this to be true: nothing is good or bad until God gets through with it!

And women are ordained, and the LGBTQ community is welcomed and celebrated and we yearn to become the beloved community and we want to know Christ and him crucified and keep hope alive in this strange and troubled world of ours.

I don’t want to forget the reformation, because I think the Spirit is doing something new with us, in us today. I believe that the Holy Spirit is doing something new in you today, if you open your heart to it and trust it.

I wish I could find my preaching shirt tabs (that I used to have) for eminence and gravity of appearance! In the good old days of the reformed church of the 17 and 18th and even into the 19th century my sermon might be 2 hours long and the ushers would come down the aisle to poke you if you nodded off. (Some of you do that in under 15 minutes!) And then you would come back tonight for another shorter sermon of only an hour! You wouldn’t have to go home to watch the “Walking Dead” you would be the “Walking Dead!”

The church of whatever ilk is always at its best and most faithful when it is grounded in the traditions of scripture of the past, thinking theologically about who God is and what God wants in the present, and maintaining an open hope that God is moving towards a future of reconciliation.

It is this faithful commitment to the past, present and future, you see, that drives the church onwards. It is a personal faith commitment to trust that in your own life that continuity with the past, a present struggle to seek God, shaped by the trust that the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice: As Martin Luther’s namesake Dr. King said sixty years ago.

This is my message for you this morning: The God of the past, is the God of the present, and the God of the future. God is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow. When you and I keep that in mind, we can do all things in Christ. We can change the world again. We can continue to bust open institutions and demand larger circles of inclusion – but we have to know our stuff: our bibles. We have to worship, we have to study and pray and hold each other accountable.

The great hymn “Amazing Grace” – “Grace has brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home” Reminds us to trust in the past, power in the present, hope for the future.

James Weldon Johnson wrote a poem that is now a hymn: “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.”

Jeremiah the prophet knew this to be true: God entered a covenant with the children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai and that covenant stood firm. But it was a new day. The people of Israel were headed into the valley of shadow of exile – but Jeremiah said: “a new day is coming.” It is time for reformation! A new covenant is coming soon – not on paper or parchment but “I will write it on their hearts and I will be their God, and they shall be my people – from the least to the greatest.” (Jer. 31:33)

The covenant was not about laws to follow but a relationship to be in – a relationship with the Creator of the universe, a relationship with all of human kind. That is a covenant I want to sign up for!

St. Paul in Romans is telling the people of the first century that its time for a reformation – because the covenant got too legal and people once again were caught in the trap of thinking religion was about following rules. “But now,” Paul writes: “the righteousness of God has been disclosed… the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ for all who trust it.”

The righteous covenant of God witnessed in Jesus – loving sacrifice is the key, loving God and loving neighbor are the only things that matter, getting a new mind for a new age and putting your stake in the ground not to burn others but to trust – that Love wins that you are worthy enough – precious enough – beloved enough – you! Yes you! And so is everybody else.

There is no boasting, just giving thanks and loving others. We are made whole by this wonderful imaginative leap of faith that God is love and we know that is true by looking at the life of Jesus and looking around and looking within.

History is messy and we muck it up, but every 500 years or so, it is as if the spirit comes and throws everything about – like the hurricane in Puerto Rico – and it is all about building out of the ruins a new life, a new hope, a new day.

You and I have been set free to serve and give and act. It is our time now.

We have all sinned, but we are all saved – no one is outside of this reality – from the worst to the best. Open yourself to the spirit and let it work in you. Grounded in scripture, cracked open for liberation and justice.

This is the new reformation.

God of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Remember that as you walk through the valleys and upon the mountain top. Remember that as you struggle to find meaning in your life.
Remember that when you are down and when you are up, when you are happy and when you are sad.
Remember that when you are clear or when you are confused.
Remember that when you are scared of what is happening in our world or on top of the world.
Remember that when you are giving birth or facing death.
Remember that when you are taking on or letting go.

Remember that and then go live like you trust it. It will be enough and more than enough to change your world.

If we do not remember the past we are doomed to repeat it, but if we remember and stay open then we join the gracious movement of hope and we move from age to age as the people of God still heading towards the promised land … still heading towards becoming the beloved community.

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

“Every 500 Years or So”

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Romans 3:19-28

 

Welcome to Reformation Sunday. Yes, about every 500 years or so, the church gets all shook up and resettled and so here we are: 500 years ago, Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest, put up his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (better known as his 95 theses) on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church door and transformed the world.

 

Of course the reform movement in the 16th century started before Luther and the power of the debate lasted long after him. The issues Luther raised were first discussed by Paul in the 1st century. We are still debating them today. The reformation isn’t over, it is still in full swing!

 

We are still debating indulgences. Pastors are still selling “prayer clothes” – if you give a gift to their ministry you will benefit! All the topics are still hot: the sacraments, how to read scripture, who is saved, the role of the church in politics.

 

Thankfully, in our particular context, we don’t kill Anabaptists anymore (but we have Mennonites among us, and Baptists, and Catholics and Lutherans and even some Presbyterians!). We don’t go on witch-hunts anymore (only Republican and Democrats do that). Catholics and Protestants can be friends and even get married. Yet we still can’t take communion if we visit the local Catholic parish and the priest doesn’t permit it.

 

We have come a long way baby, but we have a long way to go!

 

And yes, Martin Luther was a raging anti-Semite. And yes, John Knox our Scottish Presbyterian forbearer hated women almost as much as he hated Catholics.

And Christians burned other Christians at the stake. And yes, much of the reformation zeal pushed Christians to see people of color and native people as heathens, less than humans: convert, serve or die – and sometimes all three happened.

 

And yet God writes straight with crooked lines – and the human propensity for evil could not and cannot outdo God’s propensity for grace. “Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda – “Reformed and always being reformed by the Spirit;” as Presbyterians say.

 

I am always amazed and thankful how the spirit of God oozes through the cracks in our institutions and formalities and in my life and yours …. and lets the light and power of the Gospel transform and liberate and restore. I really believe this to be true: nothing is good or bad until God gets through with it!

And women are ordained, and the LGBTQ community is welcomed and celebrated and we yearn to become the beloved community and we want to know Christ and him crucified and keep hope alive in this strange and troubled world of ours.

 

I don’t want to forget the reformation, because I think the Spirit is doing something new with us, in us today. I believe that the Holy Spirit is doing something new in you today, if you open your heart to it and trust it.

 

I wish I could find my preaching shirt tabs (that I used to have) for eminence and gravity of appearance! In the good old days of the reformed church of the 17 and 18th and even into the 19th century my sermon might be 2 hours long and the ushers would come down the aisle to poke you if you nodded off. (Some of you do that in under 15 minutes!) And then you would come back tonight for another shorter sermon of only an hour! You wouldn’t have to go home to watch the “Walking Dead” you would be the “Walking Dead!”

 

The church of whatever ilk is always at its best and most faithful when it is grounded in the traditions of scripture of the past, thinking theologically about who God is and what God wants in the present, and maintaining an open hope that God is moving towards a future of reconciliation.

 

It is this faithful commitment to the past, present and future, you see, that drives the church onwards. It is a personal faith commitment to trust that in your own life that continuity with the past, a present struggle to seek God, shaped by the trust that the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice: As Martin Luther’s namesake Dr. King said sixty years ago.

 

This is my message for you this morning: The God of the past, is the God of the present, and the God of the future. God is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow. When you and I keep that in mind, we can do all things in Christ. We can change the world again. We can continue to bust open institutions and demand larger circles of inclusion – but we have to know our stuff: our bibles. We have to worship, we have to study and pray and hold each other accountable.

 

The great hymn “Amazing Grace” – “Grace has brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home” Reminds us to trust in the past, power in the present, hope for the future.

 

James Weldon Johnson wrote a poem that is now a hymn: “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.”

 

Jeremiah the prophet knew this to be true: God entered a covenant with the children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai and that covenant stood firm. But it was a new day. The people of Israel were headed into the valley of shadow of exile – but Jeremiah said: “a new day is coming.” It is time for reformation! A new covenant is coming soon – not on paper or parchment but “I will write it on their hearts and I will be their God, and they shall be my people – from the least to the greatest.” (Jer. 31:33)

 

The covenant was not about laws to follow but a relationship to be in – a relationship with the Creator of the universe, a relationship with all of human kind. That is a covenant I want to sign up for!

 

St. Paul in Romans is telling the people of the first century that its time for a reformation – because the covenant got too legal and people once again were caught in the trap of thinking religion was about following rules. “But now,” Paul writes: “the righteousness of God has been disclosed… the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ for all who trust it.”

 

The righteous covenant of God witnessed in Jesus – loving sacrifice is the key, loving God and loving neighbor are the only things that matter, getting a new mind for a new age and putting your stake in the ground not to burn others but to trust – that Love wins that you are worthy enough – precious enough – beloved enough – you! Yes you! And so is everybody else.

 

There is no boasting, just giving thanks and loving others. We are made whole by this wonderful imaginative leap of faith that God is love and we know that is true by looking at the life of Jesus and looking around and looking within.

 

History is messy and we muck it up, but every 500 years or so, it is as if the spirit comes and throws everything about – like the hurricane in Puerto Rico – and it is all about building out of the ruins a new life, a new hope, a new day.

 

You and I have been set free to serve and give and act. It is our time now.

 

We have all sinned, but we are all saved – no one is outside of this reality – from the worst to the best. Open yourself to the spirit and let it work in you. Grounded in scripture, cracked open for liberation and justice.

 

This is the new reformation.

 

God of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

 

Remember that as you walk through the valleys and upon the mountain top.  Remember that as you struggle to find meaning in your life.

Remember that when you are down and when you are up, when you are happy and when you are sad.

Remember that when you are clear or when you are confused.

Remember that when you are scared of what is happening in our world or on top of the world.

Remember that when you are giving birth or facing death;

Remember that when you are taking on or letting go.

 

Remember that and then go live like you trust it. It will be enough and more than enough to change your world.

 

If we do not remember the past we are doomed to repeat it, but if we remember and stay open then we join the gracious movement of hope and we move from age to age as the people of God still heading towards the promised land … still heading towards becoming the beloved community.

 

AMEN.

 

 

 

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