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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The Reformation Day Readings for Sunday, October 30, 2011:

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm: Psalm 46

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28

Gospel: John 8:31-36

The Lectionary Readings for Sunday, October 30, 2011:

First Reading: Micah 3:5-12

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Joshua 3:7-17

Psalm: Psalm 43

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13


Maybe it’s because I know several pastors who plan to stay with the Lectionary readings this Reformation Sunday. Maybe it’s because I’ve been working on an article on ecumenism for The Lutheran. Maybe it’s because I read this interesting blog post over at Living Lutheran.

In that post, Clint Schnekloth argues that celebrating Reformation Sunday is spiritually dangerous: “If we celebrated an entire year, 52 Sundays, with each Sunday celebrating a development in the history of the Christian faith, with the Reformation situated within that larger context, it might work. As it stands, Reformation Sunday is the only Sunday of the entire church year that commemorates a moment in the history of Christianity rather than a moment in the narrative of Scripture itself. It is elevated and idealized precisely because it is so unique. This needs to stop.”

I hadn’t ever framed Reformation Sunday in that way before. I had always loved the celebration of Martin Luther’s accomplishment and the singing of those stout, classic German hymns. I loved the idea of nailing ideas to a door. Of course, I couldn’t tell you what those 95 theses said beyond some of the most famous ones.

Of course, many church folks couldn’t even tell you one of those theses. If you ask them to explain the Protestant Reformation, in terms of protest or reform, many Christians can’t. And when it comes to more ancient Church events, many of us are even more woefully ignorant. If we reshaped the calendar to include more Church history, we could address that: Councils of Carthage Sunday, anyone?

The creators of the Lectionary, however, must have realized the folly of a church year that celebrates Church history. Our worship should keep us focused on God, and less on human actions. And so many of those events out of Church history, important as they were, set into motion some unfortunate side events too. For example, as I’ve read more about the events that happened in the centuries following the Reformation, I was rather aghast at what Luther set into motion. I still approved of his wanting to reform corrupt practices out of the Church. But the amount of lives slaughtered because of different religious beliefs, religious beliefs which don’t seem worth discussion much less murder, still staggers me.

These days we might argue for the inclusion of Reformation Day as a high Holy day because so few people feel passionately about their religious beliefs. Maybe we hope that Reformation Day will reignite that flame of Protestantism, at least, the Protestantism that doesn’t make us uncomfortable.

The Lectionary readings give us a cautionary tale about religious groups who get too puffed up with self-righteousness. Jesus reminds us that outsiders will judge us more by our actions than by our spiritual creeds.

So, as we sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” let’s think about our heritage. But let’s also think about our future. Most importantly, let’s think about our present: are our lives a testament to a God who lives and moves among us? How can we be the light of Christ in a world that needs light so desperately?

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