My sermon for Reformation Sunday. I dressed up as a ghost since it was also Hallowe'en and had chains wrapped around me (they were heavy, too!), and also carried a Bible that I had wrapped up in chains. The sermon was in three parts.
The Ghost of Reformation Past
After the second reading (Romans 3.19-28)
I am the Ghost of Reformation Past. I have come to you on this spooky Halloween Day and this spirited Reformation Sunday to bring you a message.
Are any of you familiar Charles Dickens' holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, in which three ghosts — the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas future — visit a man named Scrooge on Christmas eve? As this is Hallowe'en, three ghosts have been chosen to visit this church on Reformation Sunday, I am the first, the Ghost of Reformation Past. After I share my message, the Ghost of Reformation Present will appear, and finally, the Ghost of Reformation Future will arrive.
As the ghost of Reformation past, I am here to tell you of a time when the church was in chains to sin, when the church kept the gospel good news bound by chains. A monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. Brother Luther's own reformation of heart took place after reading this verse of Romans, these words of Paul,
“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ1 for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement1 by his blood, effective through faith.”
And again, “ 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
Brother Luther understood these words to mean that a person cannot do anything, do you hear that, a person cannot do anything to get into heaven; rather, it is through God's faith in us, through God's love for us, and through God's steadfast grace that we are forgiven and inherit eternal life.
By this discovery, Brother Luther, in effect, unchained the gospel from the idea of works' righteousness, which, in other words, was the belief that you had to do good things, good works, to get into heaven. Those who do good get eternal life in heaven, those who don't do good, don't. This verse of Paul proves this idea of works' righteousness to be false! Paul says that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That means everybody from Moses to Peter to Mother Teresa – none of them could get into heaven on their own, all of them have sinned and fallen short. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, too, but God loves us and forgives us none-the-less — an all you need is love, love, et al., mother love, love too deep for words – and all of God's children, us included, are justified, forgiven of sin, inheritors of eternal life, through God's gift of grace.
I leave you now with this message of Reformation past: Brother Luther inspired a reformation in the church that continues to the present, where the Gospel is freed from chains and God's word is available to all. (Here I took the chains off the Bible and laid them at the foot of the altar.) Look for the Ghost of Reformation Present to come and speak to you of how this reformation continues here and now.
Please Rise for the Reading of the Gospel.
The Ghost of Reformation Present
After the Gospel reading, John 8.31-36
I am the ghost of reformation present. I come bearing news of the present reformation of this church of God. As you know, the church is at a crossroads. Several churches have chosen to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over the social statement and decisions made in August year of our Lord two thousand nine. Mainline protestant churches – from Episcopalians to Pentecostals, Lutherans to Baptists – throughout the country are losing members at a rapid rate. Where the state of the economy has meant the the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has had to lay off over sixty people this past month, where many individual churches throughout the country are facing budget deficits.
It seems like a dangerous time to be the church. Now more than ever we feel the chains of sin that Jesus spoke about in this passage. We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. It says that right in the confession every Sunday.
Jesus says that we are slaves. And those listening to Jesus said, “We are descendants of Abraham, we were never slaves to anyone!” How quick did they forget that yes, they were slaves – they were slaves in Egypt, they were in exile in Babylon, and currently they were under foreign exile. How quickly did they forget they were slaves. How quickly do we forget!
But Jesus says, “whoever commits a sin is a slave to sin.” Each of us sin. Each of us have sinned. From cutting off someone on the way to church to arguments I've had with my parents, I have sinned. I am a slave to sin, wrapped in these chains of sin. As are we all slaves to sin.
But! We are here together, and together we heard Jesus say that if the Son has made you free, then you are truly free. And I am here to tell you that the Son has truly made you free. (Here I took off the chains around me and laid them at the foot of the altar.) At this font, at this altar, at the foot of this cross, we are reminded by Christ we are forgiven all of our sins. Do you hear that? We are forgiven all of our sins! Cutting off someone on the way to church? Already forgiven. Arguments with family? Forgiven. No matter what sin you have committed, the Son has already made you free by his death on the cross. Do you hear that? You are forgiven! And you did not have to do anything! Every little sin, every big sin, everything you have ever done wrong? It's forgotten. You are forgiven.
Our baptisms reform our hearts and minds, it frees us from sin so that we may go into the world to tell the story and live the story. Thank God almighty, we are free at last. So the question is, what do we do with this freedom?
The church has a choice, we have a choice – to fall back in fear or to boldly follow the spirit as she continues to move us, continues to reform us. We are at a crossroads, for sure, but even here, even now, even as we sit in our pews, arms crossed, teeth clenched, the Holy Spirit is at work. The spirit is moving, yes, the spirit is stirring up within us. As I depart, I pave the way for the last ghost, the Ghost of Reformation Future. Where are we being called as a church? What is the future of the reformation? Now that we have been set free, where are we being called to go? Look for the Ghost of Reformation Future to come and speak to you of how this reformation draws us into the future.
The Ghost of Reformation Future
Following the Children's sermon
I am the Ghost of Reformation Future, of Reformations yet to come. I have come to bring tidings of the future of this church, the future of the reformation.
From St. Paul to Martin Luther, from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr., many of our greatest prophets have had visions of what the Kingdom of God will look like when fully realized among us. When once and for all the chains of slavery and sin will be laid to rest. A time where there will be no more crying, no more pain, no more sorrow, where all the walls that separate and divide us will be torn apart stone by stone. This vision of the future is certainly not realized right now, as the world is full of pain and sorrow, walls of poverty and class separate and divide us. The chains of slavery and sin still bind us.
However, that does not mean that we cannot be a part of the reformation here and now. As the ghost of the reformation present said, the Holy Spirit is calling all of us, each and everyone of us. We are called to be a part of this reformation, working towards a better, brighter tomorrow. We have been set free from sin so that we can serve others, Martin Luther said. So we can go into the world and bring about, with God's guidance, a reformation here and now.
We are all of us children of the Reformation, made clean in these waters, filled with this bread and wine, and reminded that we are set free by the word of God. Child of the Reformation, stirred up with the power of the Holy Spirit, we leave this place fed and forgiven, set free from the bondage of sin. No matter what, we remain in the love and care of God. We are forgiven! You hear that? You are forgiven! We are free! We are children of God! The question I leave you with my brothers and sisters of the reformation, the question is, you are set free! Now what?