Still Lutherans after all these years. Reformation Sunday 2017



When you will

A prophet appears with power to utter

The truth to convince us,

And we see you lead us to pathways,

We never have heard of.

All is made new – we hymn you.

As we worship together today, we do remember the history of the 500 Anniversary of Reformation and the events that informed, transformed, and reformed the church. The events that lead to the many branches of denominations, that we know today: and we celebrate with pride and love that we carry the name of the Reformer Martin Luther in our church’s name: Evangelical Emmanuel Danish Lutheran Church.

We celebrate and remember the strides and victories of the reformer Martin Luther, who like a prophet appeared with power to utter the truth that was needed. His voice, his teachings and questions lead not only to a reformation of the one and only catholic church, but to a landscape of different denominations, confessions, and interpretations. Martin Luther wanted to free the only church he knew, the Catholic church, and focus on the faith, the word, the grace, and the bible instead of traditions, institutions, and manmade power.

So, is this a day to look backward or to lean forward? The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is surely something to celebrate as it was a transformation of a system and time that sparked the beginning of the modern age and time that we live in now.

 But just stop for a moment to think about how vastly different the life and the world of the Reformation in the 16th century truly was, compared to ours in 2017.  The world of the Reformation with a powerful ever-present monopole Catholic Church, a feudal society of peasants and landowners, a time where the printing press was just in its making, - and then think about our time of constant change and mobility, of Satellites, computers, cars, Botox, Facebook, and constitution, civil rights, and personal freedom to choose the religion you want to belong to or not. A choice to think, believe and worship as you choose is a modern choice that the time of Reformation only was slowly getting introduced to……

The time and age of the Reformation is in many ways closer in shape and form to the time and age of Jesus and the first congregation in Rome.

WE live in an unimageable and profoundly different world and time than the time of Reformation.  Martin Luther would have felt more home walking the dusty roads with Jesus than driving to church with one of us.

So much has happened.

 So much has changed since the days of Luther. And we are still Lutherans after all these years and all this change. We are still Lutherans because of the very DNA of being Lutheran: change, reformation, transformation, and education.

On this day, the concept of reform and tradition collide.

On this day, the longing for change and the need for stability collide.

We sure have been celebrating and commigrating the Reformation most of this year. Many lectures and thoughts, countless of articles and new books, many sermons, and seminars, - and many wonderful events.

The very moving and solemn Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity at the Catholic Christ Cathedral was one of them. A commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. From conflict to communion: a journey in hope.

 It sure was a journey of hope & promise as Lutheran and Catholic lay and clerical people met and began the service as we did today: singing A Mighty Fortress. As our Pacifica Synod bishop Andrew Taylor said in his sermon: Just 50 years ago just the thought of a joint service would have seemed as unlikely, as the thought that he would be presiding as a bishop. His parents would have had a hard time believing any of these were possible…. And I could ad: the blessed fact that I and my fellow female pastors were greeted and welcomed in our full vestment and ordination status, was equally gratifying and promising.

Times has changed.

Time has reformed not only the Lutheran Church into being, but even more reformed the existing Catholic Church. Times has changed and so has our institutions, relations, and possible conversations.  So, history and time has helped pave the way for a meeting in faith despite differences. Because we do agree on more than we disagree on……

I just voluntarily spent a few days in the dessert, when the heat was peaking last week. I was blessed to be in an AC controlled meeting room with my colleagues from Pacifica and Southwest Synod, supervised and most importantly taught by our two wise bishops Erwin and Taylor.

And yes, - we were looking back on history and to Martin Luther. But most of all we were encouraged to look forward, to lean forward and embrace the future to come as a Lutheran church.  Change will be coming, and change is already here. The question is how will we meet the challenges and the changes of the future?  Bishop Erwin encouraged us not to dig our Lutheran heels in the deep soil and comfort of traditions, confessions, liturgies, Sunday Services, nostalgia, and fear of change – but instead we were encouraged to embrace this time that is ours and be bold Lutherans in the world that is increasingly changing and transforming. And in need of Lutheran Theology and thinking. 

A few months ago, there was a couple who stopped by the church and peeked into our beautiful sanctuary. I told them about the history of the church, and then the man asked me: “What kind of Christians are you?” “Lutheran, “I said. He looked at me in surprise and said: “But wasn’t Martin Luther black?”

Well, I had to give a short history lesson about who Martin Luther was and who Martin Luther King was… and then I thought: there is so much knowledge and tradition that is not as common as it used to be. Likewise, I thought about the time when a loving mom of a child to be baptized, told me that she was brought up Lutheran in Minnesota, but then she became Christian….

“What kind of Christian church are we?”

“What kind of Lutheran Church are we?”

What kind of believers and human beings are we in the 21st century and in the 500th year of reformation?

As a Lutheran Church we are always and should always in the spirit of Martin Luther advocate for lifelong education, for peace and justice, for security and for freedom.

As a Lutheran Church we should always embrace our faith in grace alone. Not just for me, but for all. A faith in grace that will and can set up free….

And then… we are back in the days of Jesus and we echo the endless claim: “We are the descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying” You will be made free….”

Today’s claim is: we are the descendants of Modern Age, of Constitutions and Civil Rights, of opinions and elections, of democracy and personal choices, - and we are certainly not slaves to anyone.

Well, one of the curses of modern age, is that we trick ourselves to believe we are free to do whatever we want – when we in fact are slaves of so many things.

We are slaves of money and power, we are slaves of fear and anxiety. We are consuming unbelievable amounts of opioids, drugs, alcohol, and soon legally recreational marihuana to feel free or cover that fact that we are indeed slaves of something. We are slaves of work and time. We are slaves of the thought that we are indeed in charge of our own happiness We are slaves of Social Media and Constant Information Flow. We are slaves and obsessed by the calories, diets, and health. We are slaves of the thought of endless youth, beauty and strength and fear most of all to accept our age, to face the decline and embrace death as part of living.

So, we are indeed not free, as the descendants of Abraham was not free.

We are indeed in need of forgiveness and grace in our self-center life. We are indeed in need of continuity and relations. We need being part of something bigger than my own personal project. We are indeed in need of good Lutheran Sermons that points our focus to the other, our relations, our neighbor, our society, and our God. We are indeed in need of finding holiness in the middle of our lives.

What kind of Lutherans are we? Shaped by Morin Luther’s insight that all of life is part of our calling from God, the question of theological identity is not only about our faith of heart and mind, nor is it only a description of how we live within the sacred church walls and institutions, - no it is also and most importantly about the life of faith we live out in the world. ML sermon 1519: “How do we stand before God, and how do we stand before neighbor?”

For Lutherans, justification of faith alone is not only freedom from sin and brokenness, but even more freedom for a purpose. Freedom to act and live, freedom to change and transform, freedom to better a correct, freedom to feed and clothes, freedom to share this life. Freedom for means that in Christ we are set free for loving and for serving others. Freedom is a relationship, not a new set of fun activities, travels or personal growth, freedom is always freedom for living in a relation.

So, we are still Lutheran after all these years. – and blessed to belong to the sacred community of imaginary Lake Wobegon “where all the women are strong, al the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

As Garrison Keillor writes in “Life among the Lutherans”

“The people who occupy the pews of Lake Wobegon Lutheran on Sunday are ordinary people doing their best to be good and walk straight in a world that seems to reward the crooked and mock the righteous. They gather tighter and give alms to the poor, they sing…. And then they go home and put on their work clothes and tend their flower beds and groom their lawns. While they do their best to love each other, they also watch each other very closely. There is gossip, on occasion. There are cold shoulder treatments and grudges and ferocious rivalries. Despite one’s best efforts, envy of the achievement of someone else’s children is a tough thing to deny.

So back to church, they go, seeking forgiveness and grace. Church is the place where, like Robert Frost said, when you need to go there, they have to take you in!

You can come back every Sunday promptly, or come on Easter and Christmas if that what you can manage. If you wander in and find a lunch going on and you forgot to bring a hottish, it’s okay: Lutherans always have extra. And there always is coffee. It may not be the best coffee, but its good enough.”