Lectionary Reflection for Reformation Sunday, Year A
October 29, 2023*
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:34
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ”If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32
The lesson from Jeremiah appointed for Reformation Day gives me great hope in a time of immense change. When I visit congregations, I hear expressed common threads of anxiety and fear because of decline in attendance, membership, and giving. The church, along with everything else we know, is changing at lightning pace, a reality that is simultaneously invigorating and terrifying. I wonder whether we good church folk more fear the loss of Christ’s message and our ability to communicate it or the institutions/vessels our forebears have created to contain, shape, and even manage that message.
Theologian Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence, quotes retired Anglican Bishop the Rt. Rev. Mark Dyer, saying that about every 500 years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. History seems to hold that it takes about that long for the church to undergo a major “house-cleaning” of the institutional trappings it has amassed and treasured. The first such event was the move from the time before Christ to the Common Era, followed about 500 years later by the fall of Rome, Gregory the Great, Benedict, and the rise of monasticism. The third great house cleaning came with the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity, with the next giant rummage sale coming with the advent of the Reformation and Martin Luther.
We’re quickly approaching that 500 year mark since the last great rummage sale, meaning we’re living through another time of great change. The difference this time is that we’re in an age where information technology and social media are making it possible to share and, one hopes, understand that experience in a new way. We have a choice to make: Shall we be fearful and retrench behind crumbling edifices, or shall we be hopeful and look with excitement for what God is doing in this time and place?
Those of us who annually remember the last “giant rummage sale” of the Reformation may choose not only to survey the course of history but also to anticipate walking forward by faith as the Church continues to reform. The prophet Jeremiah also stood at the crossroads of one of these great periods of change with the divided kingdom, the fall of Solomon’s temple, and the Babylonian captivity (and we think we have it bad!), making his words of even greater import today.
If nothing else, this Sunday should be a day to be unbound from fear of the future and to celebrate freedom in Christ and God’s steadfastness across the ages. Sure, the “clothes” the Church wears are changing with the times, but the fabric of faith is seamless and timeless. The pattern of God’s covenant is not printed on the surface but rather embedded in the heart–the very center of what it means to be alive, moving and breathing. God forgives and remembers no more; in Christ we know this truth, and it sets us free from the limits of our human brokenness.
Our churches are not about buildings and steeples or programs and initiatives. We, as fallen and redeemed sinner/saints, are the Church. We are the living, breathing Body of Christ. And yes, sometimes we stumble and gasp for air and sometimes we run with endurance, but it’s not about us; it’s all about God.
Dear friends, do what Jesus says and continue on. Don’t be afraid to put some of the adiaphora of your congregations on the curb for this next great rummage sale. Make some space for the Holy Spirit to dance and move and breathe. Throw open the windows, sweep out the corners, and make space for new folks and new expressions of God’s amazing grace and steadfast faith. The days ARE surely coming, says the Lord.
Let’s think about colors in liturgical tradition. Red, the color of fire, symbolizes the presence of God. This color is also used as the color of the Church and the celebration of Pentecost, along with commemoration of saints and martyrs and the ordination of priests/pastors. We see plenty of red on Reformation Sunday. Pink is the color of joy and happiness, typically reserved in the church for the third or fourth Sunday of Advent and the impending birth of Jesus.
Why not shake things up a little and wear some pink on Reformation Sunday? We need a little more joy and a lot less fear and anxiety in our faith communities. We have plenty about which to be joyous when it comes to Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. A little lighter, a little brighter, and a whole lot more hopeful, mixing some pink in with the red is another visible way to be joyous and jubilant as God’s people.
It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness month, so many folks in your communities may already be sporting plenty of pink this month.
The word of the day is “continue.” Jesus tells those who believe in him “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). Just as part of success is simply showing up, so part of faithful discipleship is simply keeping on keeping on or continuing. As the athlete, artist, and musician constantly practice, so we faithful continue to practice our faith together in community. Invite youth to consider what it means to them to “continue” to practice their faith. Always be open to the opportunity for youth to be creative in their sharing using social media, video, art, and music. And do share their efforts widely in the congregation. Youth have so very much to teach all of us.
Lead the children and congregation in singing “Jesus Loves Me.” This familiar hymn is a good illustration for God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah about the days coming when God will “put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The words of this simple song are deeply ingrained in many people’s memories and hearts and capture the idea of having God’s love written deeply within our beings. Give each child a simple paper/cardboard or painted wooden heart with the words Jesus loves me! written on it. Let them know that God has named and claimed them, that they are marked with the cross of Christ forever, and that God’s love and very identity is written into them. Remind them that they can sing this song to remember God’s love and that they can be sure that God will never ever leave them. Remind them, too, that this is one thing we all have in common–Jesus’ love. We may look different, live in different places, and worship in different communities, but we all are deeply loved by God and carry that love of God within our hearts. Finish with a simple prayer.
*This reflection was first published in 2014.
Photos: Col Ford, Leonora Enking, and Michael Gil, Creative Commons, Thanks!)
Here are previous reflections for Reformation Sunday, Year A or Proper 25, Year A
2020 – Justified by grace; freed to love
2017 – Reformation 500 Mash-up
2014 – The Days are Surely Coming
2011 – The Truth About Freedom