This is not Reformation Sunday. Okay, it is Reformation Sunday, but these are not the scriptures for Reformation Sunday. For me, a part of the beauty of Christian worship is the rhythm of the church year, the time rolling from our anticipation shining through in Advent to Christmas and the coming of the child in the manger and then the glories of Epiphany, still celebrated in some circles as the coming of wisdom. I like to give the gift of books at Epiphany.
During Lent we take the time we might otherwise spend with the unreal housewives of Burbank of wherever and spend it thinking about how our faith drives us, makes us who we are and then we celebrate the resurrection at Easter.
At Pentecost we try and quiet ourselves and listen to the calls of the Spirit in our lives and then we have Ordinary Time, the time after Pentecost not called ordinary because nothing exciting happens then, but because ordinal numbers were used to mark the days, first Sunday, second and so on.
Christ the King Sunday is the signal, the year is beginning again and away we go, celebrating His birth, embracing His grace in the world for another year.
Today, being close to October 31st has been selected as Reformation Day by the church since the early seventeen hundreds and as Lutheran as I am, I am not changing the scriptures for today.
Because really, from the most prideful, selfish place in my heart, I truly cannot see a single Sunday in the year as being anything but a reformation Sunday, a day lived in the grace of God, undeserved and unearned and unwarranted and unprecedented. That is the inheritance of the reformation and a single day is not enough to celebrate it, so I didn’t change the scriptures, they should remain the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost and still allow us to celebrate our heritage.
In fact, I’m not sure that they could have been better chosen.
What, after all is more Lutheran than the recognition that God is the source and ground of all that we are and all that we have? Jeremiah, grumpy prophet that he is, can stand firmly on the ground of our need for salvation. One of the things that I see when I look around these days is a suspicious lack of Jeremiah’s humility, of Jeremiah’s observation that the Lord is his certain hope in time of trouble.
We seem to have Jeremiah’s grumpy attitude down pretty well though. We fuss and fume about how thing aren’t like they used to be, about how those people are ruining all that we hold dear, that, well, kids these days! I think Jeremiah would feel right at home.
What we lack, of course is Jeremiah’s use of the word we when ascribing fault. We look for peace, we acknowledge our wickedness. Jeremiah had come to grips with the fact that God’s judgment was righteous, that the people had been mired in sin and war and pride and a bunch of other things that had brought them to the brink of God’s ability to forgive, to the raggedy edge of an infinite sea of grace and love.
If we as the body of Christ can communicate anything to the culture around us, to reinforce and in a lot of cases, reintroduce it is a sense of humility, of culpability, a recognition as Luther is reported to have written, that “we are beggars.”
Lacking that we are stuck, stuck with thinking of ourselves as ones who get to judge, the ones who get to decide, the ones who have the right to tell other people that they are sinners, that they have fallen short while never looking in the mirror, and tempering our judgment with mercy, the same mercy we have received at the hands of the Lord. What could be more reformation-esque than that confession? Pick any Sunday and it still fits in perfectly.
Or maybe your tastes run toward the poetic, the hymnal of the Bible and you find your Reformation mojo in this morning’s Psalm. How lovely is your dwelling place indeed! But there is a line I do not want to gloss over, just because the folks who gave us the lectionary decided to gloss over it. A verse in this psalm that is not included this morning.
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness. So says verse ten, though our reading this morning stopped at verse seven. When I think of the ways in which the coming of the good news is supposed to transform you very thinking, your worldview, then this verse snaps into focus for me.
Ours is a calling to a higher place, not a higher physical place and not simply when we die but a higher way of looking at things, a clearer vision. Given the humility Jeremiah displays, we are empowered to see that servanthood is not humiliation and debasement. In the service of the one overarching truth in the universe, servanthood is a fine calling, a blessed calling and no shame at all.
We are called to re-think of the world with ourselves no longer at the top of the heap but reserving that place for God and letting that knowledge inform everything else that we do. With that image and that worldview we can work for the sake of the world without ever feeling that whatever we are called to do may be beneath us, unworthy of us. When it is God that we serve, we are exalted in all that we do.
Luther called into question the notion that we do things in order to be exalted by positing that we are called into a relationship with God and with each other and that we do things because we have already been exalted by God’s grace. We have already received grace and have been changed forever by the love of God and so we go out into the world a little less scared, a little more secure and therefore capable of acting without fear. I would indeed rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tests of wickedness; it’s just better to serve God however you are called to do it.
And so, as second Timothy says, “there is reserved for us the crown of righteousness.”
If only we can stop trying it on now, here, in heaven’s showroom. We’re back to Jeremiah again with the hubris but it bears repeating. 1 Timothy this morning is all about declaring that heaven awaits and that God is on our side as we travel the roads of life and that it is the will of God to deliver us whole and sound from our sins but it is not about being a jerk about it.
The author is “being poured out as a libation.” I may be wrong, but it seems to me that there is a little bit of hubris there, thinking of himself as being used up for the sake of the world; but maybe there is just a hint of honesty there as well. Having answered the call he has lived his life and now that it nears its end he can look back and see that others have followed, that others have heard the word through his lips.
Is it any wonder that he dreams wistfully of the crown of righteousness waiting for him after his earthly life ends? God has been his shield and strength and now will be his rest. Once a doorkeeper, the author of the letter can lay down his burden and rest in Christ, finding at last the righteousness that eludes us all, finding at last that his legacy is all to the glory of God.
I had a hard time in Long Island with one little piece of the local culture. They were very old school Catholic about their views on pastors and priests. No matter how hard I tried to explain to them Luther’s views on vocation they still insisted on a certain reverence for their priests and by extension, their pastors.
Having come through a life of self-doubt and emerged into the light of the love of God later in life, it was easier for me to embrace the notion that each of us has a calling and that our callings are not higher or lower than those of our neighbors. When I was a carpenter, I strove to be a good carpenter, now that I am a pastor; I strive to be a good pastor.
Neither one has more dignity than the other. It is not the job or the clothes that make the man or woman; it is the calling of the person within the job, within the clothes. The fact that I wore a clerical collar and could speak authoritatively about the Bible and about faith set me apart only because that was my job. Like a pipe wrench and soldering torch for a plumber or a laptop and an actuarial table for an insurance adjuster, they are the markings of the job, and not the actual crown of righteousness.
The Pharisee this morning forgets that. He forgets that he has been chosen out of the people by God, that his calling, his office the very breath in his lungs is a gift of God and that what is called for is not pride, but humility.
The Tax Collector is easy to figure out. He is already unpopular (can you think of a time when people celebrated the tax collector?), nobody comes to him for advice or counsel, they do not seek his approval and when they see him on the street, they move away. He can either bury his humanity and become the monster people believe him to be, or he can do what he did.
He beat his breast and confessed, thanking God for God’s mercy, and not his own glory or position or status. He may have been looked down upon but tax collector was a way to improve your station in life. He was likely not a poor man. But his gratitude was for God’s love for him and for nothing else.
I have often thought that before I hear one more Christian minister with a television ministry lecture me, moralize about this or about that; I would like to hear that person confess. I’d like to know whether or not their sermon is rooted in humility and a love for God and not just in celebration and a love for their own voice.
It is so very easy to point the finger and raise the cry but when it comes time to answer the charge, will we dig in our heels and say “but we’re Christians!” and point at the others or will we fall to our knees and thank God that we have been snatched from the very jaws of death by hand of Christ, God’s own Son.
We are fitted for mission and ministry by the callings of God which we have answered: on the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost as much as on Reformation Sunday. Each of us has giftedness, each of us has a calling and none of them are to sit back and moralize, to rest in our faith and let others do the work.
All of them are to engage, in whatever ways we are called with other people, with the world around us, with our God in prayer and in study. In so doing we are raising the banners of the reformation, painted so beautifully on the wall of Hummon Hall higher than if we reserved a special day, or even a special week to celebrate Luther and all that he did and said.
Reformation Sunday means the leaves are changing colors the mornings are colder. It is a part of the rhythm of the year as much as the spring turning to summer turning again to fall. It is a sign that God is in heaven and all is right with the world. Our inheritance awaits us, but only when we have lived, learned to give and receive love, to run our race carrying the banner of Jesus Christ. Then we can rest.
Now we hear the echoes of Luther urging us, Up Christian, ministry awaits.