Monday, October 29, 2007

New Reformation

Someone said after my first Reformation Sunday that she heard more about Luther from me than she did from some Lutheran pastors. I said I was overcompensating. I want to be clear that it is important for Lutherans to be Lutherans. I know it is important for me to be Episcopalian. But more importantly it is important that we are all Christian. I know that when I was still a Roman Catholic that some of the children I taught knew they were Catholic, they didn't always know that they were Christian. That does not mean that they weren't good people. It was that their self-identification was not as Christian.

I have said that I believe that we are in the throes of a New Reformation. I am sure that each age has those who might claim a new era, or a new time of re-formation. Each generation tries to do that: some want a completely NEW age, and there are those who want to RECLAIM a previous one. In neither case can a completely new nor a reclaimed age be developed. We can only stand on what has gone before us, trying our best to make the best of what has come our way.

Reformation is what goes on in our hearts when we are faced with our sinfulness or our inadequacy. It is what goes on when we ask of ourselves to be more than the previous age has been. It is an anxiety-producing time but it is also an energizing time. The real difficulty comes when I see this time as an age of reformation and you, don’t.

I know that this is what is going on in the Episcopal Church at present. I know that there are places in the ELCA where this is going on. And other denominations are watching all of this to see which way to jump.

But jumping is not the way that we need to look at the changes that are facing us in our churches. I believe that all of our Christian denominations are being confronted with a new way of understanding Christianity. We are going to have to find new ways of describing the saving grace of God. We are going to have to find new ways of communicating the Good News. We are going to have different words that communicate the joy that knowing God in our lives.

Terms like Justification, Redemption, Sin, Transgression, Trespass, Original Sin, Guilt, Law, while so important to our theological understanding of faith, may have to give way to new expressions. This new reformation may require of us a new vocabulary the same way as words like Internet, Blog, computer, technology, etc. has enhanced our global understanding in the past 10 years.

We are going to hear more about a relationship with God or Christ. We are going to hear the words of Liberation, the throwing off of the yoke of Domination. We may even find our Christian life taking on a “subversive” role when trying to speak the Gospel which calls for the equality of humanity, the care for the poor, the speaking for the disenfranchised. We may find our new Christianity at odds with the majority culture that is bent on grasping all the gusto of life to the exclusion of honesty, integrity, sharing, etc. We are not going to hear of a Protestant work ethic that means that we can work to get more than our piece of the pie.

It is a scary Gospel that is being heard in the New Reformation. It is a Gospel that is at odds with a society that is willing to step on the poor to get more for themselves. It is a scary Gospel that says that the God who loves us more than life calls us to lay down our lives for others, not for patriotic reasons, but for faith reasons. It is a reformation in thinking that says that human liberation from all kinds of tyranny, even the tyranny imposed by our nation must be at the center of faith. It means that no one nation may dominate others even for the sake of the Gospel.

Yep, we are heading into a new age. We may be heading into a new church. But it is the Church of Jesus Christ—the one who taught the world that the Kingdom of God was about serving others in his name. Reformations are tough times. There are those who won’t like the message. But truth and integrity are at the center. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” And for those of us who follow him, we have no other way to go.

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