Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation 2017

         Dan and Claire were married for 8 years, it started out great, but they were drifting apart. Eventually Claire spoke up, “Hey, this isn’t working.” Dan replied, “I’m so glad you said something, I’ve felt that way too.” It took a lot of work and some outside counseling, but things got better.
         It had started to go south for Phil when he had an accident on the job and was given more painkillers than he needed. Then he used medication he found in her mother’s medicine cabinet, and he quickly escalated to heroin. His best friends Jason and Jamal sat him down one day, and told him how his dependency on drugs had changed who he was—they intervened, and Phil got into an inpatient rehab place, and afterwards regularly attended NA meetings and, after a few relapses, kept clean.
         Patt and Max were driving from South Plainfield to New York City, and things didn’t look quite right, and after a while Max turned to Patt and said, “Hey, Patt, I just saw a sign for Philly… maybe we should turn around.” And they pulled over, checked googlemaps, and turned around.

         In all these cases it took some courage to say, “This is wrong” and courage, too, to change. To turn around—or to put it in biblical terms, to repent.
Let us pray

         When I think of repentance—of folk forced to look at their situation and be stimulated by the Spirit to spontaneous acts of re-interpretation of the faith, I think of Jeremiah.
         2,700 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah was assessing the destruction of Jerusalem, walking the rubble and ruin of that grand city razed by the Babylonians—his city shattered.
         And down from his depths a question arose, “Why?”
         “What of the promises between God and us? What of the covenant made between God and the people, made between Moses and God?”
         And the horrifying answer came to him, “they broke it! They treated God like a cheated-upon spouse!”
         Imagine that moment! Struck there by his surroundings, and by his despair, and by a need to start again—to turn around, to repent.
         “Oh, Lord,” it seems he is saying, “There is no way out. We can’t save ourselves, look around at our best, blown to bits and blowing away in the wind and ate by the flames of war!”
         And God responds, “I will provide for you a new covenant. An internal promise, one sided and sure, beyond breaking—there will be no separation between you and I this time, because you will know me!”
         God turned the people around, and did a new thing with them!

When I think of repentance—of folk complacent but called to something more, moved to a higher ground and higher calling, I think of the folk Jesus calls to discipleship in John’s Gospel.
1,990 year ago, Jesus calls it like he sees it.
“The truth will set you free.”
Yet these folk with him believe they’ve always been free, smug even with Jesus right there, unable to see where they’d fallen short, unable to see how bound they were.
But Jesus sets before them a Word and a Way—a path to turn onto and follow onward to the Truth and the Freedom found in being a Disciple of Jesus Christ, paved, ultimately, in the unearned adoption into God’s family—reminded that that was Abraham’s origins as well… just some wandering Aramean who God happened to gift with relationship—turning him too toward the promised land, turning Abraham too around, and into the merciful arms of God!
God turned the people around and did a new thing with them!

When I think of repentance—when I think of a Repenter par excellence—someone stopped in their tracks and turned 180 degrees around—I think of the Apostle Paul.
1,960 years ago, Paul had a problem.
He’d met the Messiah, and it wasn’t who he expected at all! The Blessed One died on a cursed tree! Non-Jews joining Jesus’ earliest followers!
He asked, “How is this possible? Aren’t there clear boundary markers? Isn’t that what makes the world of religion go round? Isn’t that righteousness in a nut shell?”
No—he finds, God is faithful to ALL people! The barriers erected, erased, and replaced by God’s love found in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God turned the people around and did a new thing with them!

When I think of repentance—being convicted and convinced by conscience, following after a new Spiritual insight, wherever it may lead—I think of Luther.
500 years ago, Martin Luther looked back at Scripture and at the Early Church, and looked carefully at the church around him—and was convinced something was wrong!
He looked at the penance system that had calcified onto the church and hand clung to it like some parasite.
He looked at it in horror, realizing the problem was deeper than the sale of indulgence—get out of purgatory free cards hocked to pay for St. Peter’s Basilica back in Rome.
         Luther noted:
-How the penance system was warping not only his faith life, but the collective life of the Church writ large.
-How it seemed designed to obscure the Grace God promises us,
-designed to ignore that we are adopted children of God,
and to pull at people’s hearts in order to make God’s law again an external thing.

And to this he wrote up 95 points of debate, beginning:
 “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” in Matthew 4:17, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
         And the journey that followed the posting of the 95 theses involved:
-sanctifying and splitting,
-a Christian re-thinking of sex and celibacy and the spirituality of work,
-a popularization of scripture reading and child rearing,
-new ways of taking care of the poor among us, engaging with secular power, and finding God where we would least expect God to show up.
God turned the people around and did a new thing with them!

And, just as God wasn’t done with folk 2,700 years ago, or 1,900 some years ago, or 500 years ago… I want you to know God continues to call us to a life of repentance, of turning around, moving from complacency to Christ follower, righteous re-interpretation of the faith, digging down through the layers of our own missteps to recover the grace that is always, already, there!
God is always turning us around and always doing a new thing with us!