-- Ephesians 2:8-9
Why be Lutheran? Is it for all the potlucks and Ole and Lena jokes? Because we get to sing “A Mighty Fortress” and “Borning Cry”? Is it so we can tell stories about Martin Luther and worship without having to lift our arms and yell “Amen”? Those stereotypes may hit home, but they are not what being Lutheran is about. The first Lutherans saw a need for change in the church. They became Lutheran because they believed…
1. The Church is the caretaker of God’s grace
2. The Church should always be Re-forming
Because God is loving and forgiving to all people, it’s the Church’s job to make God’s love known and to bring it to life in the world. That’s what it means to be the caretaker of God’s grace. But that’s not what was happening back in the 1500’s. The Roman Catholic Church had gotten off-track and was no longer being a good caretaker of God’s grace. The intense struggles to get it back on track ultimately became the Reformation.The Reformation was about changing and improving what the Church does. To stay healthy, relevant, and on-task the Church must continually re-think and clarify its understanding of God’s grace, and then adjust its message and practices to make sure it is communicating God’s love in a way that the world can understand it. Lutherans believe that reformation is still necessary, and are committed to the hard work of positive change. Where we can do better, we will, even if it means our understanding of the Reformation itself could use some reforming.
This is the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. As a historic occasion, we have a great opportunity to invite friends and neighbors in our community to come and hear the story of our faith tradition – who we are, why we do what we do, and how we got this way. Through its print media as well as through our national Bishop Eaton and our local Synod offices, the ELCA is asking us all to be extra careful how we tell the story of the Reformation. The Reformation we want to tell about is not a German holiday, but rather a worldwide movement which is still going on today. We are a part of it. As we welcome the community to join us in recognizing this important anniversary, we want our guests to learn what is truly most important about being Lutheran.
The date itself marks 500 years since Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses – 95 arguments for change in the church. But this is only a tiny piece of the Reformation story. If it happened at all, that event probably took place on October 31, 1517, a day that came and went without anyone noticing. As Lutheran Theology Professor Timothy Maschke writes, “What began as a quiet protest against indulgences – made by an unknown Augustinian friar at a new university in an inconspicuous town of northern Germany – quickly, almost miraculously transformed from gentle ripples of spiritual concern to a political and theological tsunami, affecting all of the European world and, rightly understood, all of Christendom.” (Cameron MacKenzie, The Reformation, p. iv).
Other reformers would take Luther’s ideas and insights all over Europe – and then missionaries took them into all the known world. Today, there are Lutherans practically everywhere. We speak many languages and come from many cultures. The 2 largest Lutheran denominations today are both in Africa: Ethiopia and Tanzania. It would be misleading to give the impression that somehow being Lutheran is about being German or Western European. The real Lutheran story is multicultural, an important point to highlight on this Reformation anniversary.
For the past 50 years, the Lutheran story has also been one of continued dialog, ministry, and partnership with other churches, including Roman Catholics. 500 years ago, the Reformation tore us apart from the Roman Catholic Church. Today, the Reformation is bringing us closer. To be sensitive to our Roman Catholic neighbors, we are trying to avoid the term “celebration” in connection with this observance. "It's neither a celebration nor a lament," says Wanda Deifelt, professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. "It's a commemoration, which comes from the Latin for 'We share memory.' We are telling the story of what happened 500 years ago without pointing fingers." The ELCA has requested that our Reformation observances keep in mind our close relationship to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, and make it clear that we are members with them in the body of Christ. We are aware that the divisions caused by the Reformation have been painful, and are seeking healing in our relationship with them. Roman Catholics and Lutherans hope that the day will come when our differences are resolved and we can come together and share communion once again. Some of that story is told in the book From Conflict to Communion, which you can download for free (in the language of your choice) at: From Conflict to Communion
Conversations between Lutherans and Catholics worldwide have led to proposals that we have been taking to heart here in our Florida-Bahamas Synod. The proposals call for us to engage in worship, Bible study, and service together with our Roman Catholic friends as part of this 500th anniversary observance. We have worshiped together (at the Common Prayer service, held earlier this year at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Largo). Our clergy have shared in a Bible study retreat. And the God’s Work Our Hands project we had planned for September 10 last month was to be a joint service project with Lutherans from our Tampa conference bringing a meal and worship to the Roman Catholic homeless mission Pinellas HOPE in Clearwater. Hurricane Irma got in the way of that, but we will be rescheduling it for sometime later this year.
Here at Atonement, we have a team of people who have been hard at work planning this year’s Reformation observance. The group includes a wide variety of Atonement members who have been looking at ways we can tell the bigger story about Lutherans and the Reformation. Nick Trejo has been leading the team, which he has taken on as his Eagle Scout project. We have been careful to include our new Hispanic mission. Being a Lutheran ministry to our local Hispanic community, they have the opportunity to reach a segment of the population we have not been able to. Todos Unidos en Cristo has generously agreed to fund and help design a mass mailing to invite our community to join us on Reformation Sunday. That day, there may be an Ole joke or two and we’ll definitely be singing “A Mighty Fortress.” There will be some of our usual German food, along with a puppet show, bounce house and face painting for the children. But we will also be including some Hispanic food and elements of worship as well, to help show the multicultural side of our Lutheran tradition. Reformation day this year will be our official open house for the community. We hope and pray that anyone who comes to us looking for a place to grow in Christ, serve others, and learn about God’s grace will discover God’s love at Atonement.