Revised Common Lectionary reflection for Reformation Sunday and the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 25
October 29, 2017
Lessons: Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 96:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22 (Reformation Sunday)
Lessons: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46 (Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost)
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are freed in Christ to love the Lord their God with every fiber of their being and their neighbor as themselves.
Key Scripture: For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Romans 3:28
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:36-39
Whether the church you serve and/or attend finds its roots in the Reformation, the truth is that the Christian Church in all its diversity is rooted in reformation. Yes, the message – the good news of Jesus Christ – is the same in every age, but how it finds its expression and its practice is deeply rooted in context and therefore constantly re-forming. The world around us changes. We either re-form for the sake of the gospel, or we entrench in the security of our traditions and assumptions. To be reformers, we must constantly explore new and fresh ways to share the good news, employ effective ways of catechizing and incorporating folks into our communities of faith, and retool our approaches to ministry and mission.
For example, no one would think of dragging out the 16mm projector to show the most recent Luther film this weekend. Most of us probably don’t even have a VCR anymore. It’s quite possible that we might use that DVD, but some folks would choose to upload the movie to their laptops and project it – quite possibly from YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu Plus. Gutenberg is giving way to Google whether we like or loathe it. And just look how much mobile phones have changed! We’ve come a long way from Ma Bell’s party line. The principles and the content are fairly constant, but the delivery is changing with increased frequency. Most of us willingly “re-form” how we view media and make contact with one another, yet we tend to resist change in the church.
Instead of celebrating this 500th anniversary of the Reformation as a milestone, as history, or as foundational to your denomination’s character and theology, why not celebrate the very real fact that the Church is a living, breathing organism that (gulp) changes and reforms. I don’t know about you, but I’d sure prefer to be a part of something alive than something lifeless and non-responsive. Besides that, just take a walk through scripture and look at the holy mashup of folks God uses to accomplish the divine purpose. Of course, there’s also the fact that the Bible is a mashup of different books representing different times, places, situations, and people all dedicated to the same life-affirming, live-giving, and salvific story of God’s relationship with humankind and, indeed, all of creation.
Re-formation among the faithful has been a reality long before the Protestant Reformation became big news, it has not stopped, and it seems unlikely to do so any time soon. Who knows what the next 500 years will bring! So hop on the Re-formation train for the next phase of the journey–not just a narrow slice of history. Celebrate the goodness of God, the amazing message of which we are stewards, and the myriad ways the church has and continues to reform.
In recognition of this 500 year milestone, we again bring you a short “mashup” of the lessons appointed both for Reformation Sunday and for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost. Any one of these lessons can be the springboard for your celebration of God’s reforming, renewing, and restoring work–past and future to be sure–but particularly right now in your time and your place. Love God, love neighbor, and never stop reforming!
Reformation Sunday Lessons
Jeremiah 31:31-34: Three words–Hope. Amnesia. Gumby. We have hope in a God who chooses not to remember and who never breaks the covenant. Our God is amazingly flexible with a bunch of stiff-necked followers!
Psalm 46: Be still. Be not afraid. God is in the house, so offer your best praise. Enough said.
Romans 3:19-28: Salvation is a gift we cannot earn. It is gift. Plain and simple. Thank you, Jesus!
John 8:31-36: Want to be free? Want a real forever kind of home? Stick with Jesus.
21st Sunday after Pentecost Lessons
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18: Pay attention people. Love your neighbor as yourself. Model your life after the holy one — God.
Psalm 1: Want to be happy for the rest of your life? Take delight in the God who loves and watches over you.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8: Love and care for others as Paul and his companions cared for the churches entrusted to their watch and care.
Matthew 22:34-46: You know the drill: love God, love neighbor. Wash, rinse, repeat. Jesus loves you, now go love others.
Truly, the constant thread runs throughout. God is gracious, merciful, and desires to save. God is with us. We are called to center our lives in God, to worship and offer praise and thanksgiving, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we stick with the Lord, we are free to be, to love, and to give. Amen.
The hymn “God is Here” is a good one to remind us of the constant in our faith that is never in need of reform. Pay particular attention to the fourth verse where it says “help us work your purpose out.” In that working we reform the church for each age, yet God is constant. How might we help people live in the tension of that which never changes and that which ever-changes? It is important to honor the reality that change is often hard but still is necessary.
How does one explain freedom in Christ to youth who have never “known” slavery, who have lived in relative safety, comfort, and freedom? Hint: Head to the font and remind them of the words we use in confession: “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” Our freedom comes in Christ, in living for, in, and with the Word of God made flesh. Consider reviewing the lesson from 2 Timothy if you are using the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost lesson or John 8:31-36 if you are using the Reformation lessons. How do we see that freedom played out in our daily life? Does freedom also imply accountability? If yes, where do we find that accountability? How does the community of believers play into our freedom in Christ? You should find some rich connections for faith strengthening in these lessons, and youth never fail to amaze and inform.
Purchase small party-size packages of Play-Doh. Find pictures of various church reformers throughout the ages, and copy them so that you can cut a small circle to fit in the inset of the lid. You might end up with images of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Melanchthon, Pope Francis, the Wesleys, Oscar Romero, and Desmond Tutu, for example. Invite the children to open their Play-Doh. Ask them if the Play-Dohs are all the same? No. They are different colors. Can you bend and mold the Play-Doh into different shapes? Yes! Can you blend different colors together to make something new? Yes! Can you let it dry up? Yes. Can you press it back into its container and keep it fresh and ready to use again? Yes. So Play-Doh is remarkably flexible and versatile. Is it still Play-Doh? Of course! That fact doesn’t change no matter what color it is, what shape it is molded into, or how it’s blended together.
The gospel of Jesus is like that, too. It is always the same good news–no matter what color, what shape, or anything else. Our churches may change throughout the age, and there are many reformers like the ones on the Play-Doh covers who have reshaped and reformed the church over the course of history, but our good news is always constant. Although our reformers come from different times and traditions, the good news they bear to the world is always true and never changes. And that is very good news indeed!
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
What does it look like to love God with all you’ve got and your neighbor as yourself? Like good stewardship, of course, and like reformation. When we keep our focus on Jesus and follow his way, we will find ourselves constantly reforming but always firm in that which really matters.
Stewardship at Home
What needs reforming in your life? In your congregation? Your community? This world? Don’t worry! You don’t have to take on a herculean task in one week. Start small. Find one thing this week that you can begin to reform. Maybe it involves letting something go or cleaning something out of your life. Perhaps it would include a new spiritual practice or discipline. Families may want to pick something all members can do together. Singles may want to partner with a friend for accountability and mutuality. Love God. Love neighbor. Be reformed—always.
Photos: Keren Tan, Eflon, and Hunter Desportes, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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