November 4, 2023

October 29, 2023 Reformation Sunday

October 29, 2023 Reformation Sunday

Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46

Put on the spot by the Pharisees, Jesus displays wisdom by summarizing the law of God in just two commandments and by demonstrating the Messiah must be more than the son of David.

34When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.


I told a story recently, maybe at our last “welcome to church” class, and I finally remembered where I got the story from this week!  Kelly Fryer, wrote a book called Reclaiming the “L” Word, about renewing the church.  And this is a story SHE tells. When she was in seminary, there was one day in particular that still stands out for her. It was a beautiful day outside, and while she was sitting in class, she realized that she was bored out of her mind, along with the rest of her classmates. Well, it must have been obvious to the professor, because Fryer writes, “Suddenly the professor slapped the notebook shut and stopped talking. He said he wasn’t going to waste one more breath on us. But before he left the room, he picked up a piece of chalk and went to the board. He drew a gigantic ARROW pointing down.  

After he drew the arrow, he stood back and said, ‘If you understand that, you understand everything you need to know about being a Christian … who also happens to be a Lutheran.’ And then he left the room.”

Now, at this point, Fryer said her first thought was, “He thinks we are all going to hell!” But then she goes on to say, “The next time we gathered for class he began by drawing the same arrow on the board. This time, as he began to speak, he had our full attention. ‘Here’s what it means,’ he said.

 ‘God always comes down. God always comes down. There is never anything that we can ever do to turn that arrow around and make our way UP to God. God comes down in Jesus. And God still comes down, in the bread and the wine (of communion), in the water (of baptism), and in the fellowship of believers. God ALWAYS comes down.”

This is one of the best starting points  I can think of for what it means to be a Christian who just happens to be Lutheran.

The readings for today help us get at the core of some of our Lutheran emphasis.  Not that other denominations of Christianity believe differently – but these are things that we especially emphasize and cherish.  

But we use some real churchy words.  Like Grace. And Incarnation.  And Love.   The idea of being saved by grace through faith without relying on works of the law is one of the most profound ideas Luther reclaimed through his thorough reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The balancing act has always been emphasizing which is first: grace or the law.

 Grace gives us the freedom to do our best in living according to God’s will. When we fall short, that same grace allows us, in love, to continue.

But if we could love God with all our heart, soul, and  mind and love our neighbor as ourselves.  We wouldn’t need Jesus then would we.  Nearly every week we begin our service by reminding each other that Jesus died for our sins.  Jesus died because we could not love God as we ought to – nor our neighbor,  and really do you always love yourself?  

We want to be the lord of our own life and do things our way, but we confess that Jesus is Lord and he is also the way.   But we’re sinners, so we say it but we don’t always live it.  We’re sinners, that have been claimed and saved, and redeemed by God, but we don’t act like it.  Made into a holy priesthood of all believers to love and serve God by serving our neighbor, even as God provides our daily bread and strengthens us with the very body and blood of his Son.  And some days we’re just like “meh.  I guess so.”   Simultaneously saint and sinner.  Very Lutheran.

God comes down to earth in Jesus of Nazareth, and we confess that Jesus is fully God and fully human.  This is the incarnation.  God walks among us, cares enough to show up, in a silly human body, a silly tiny human body at first, born the same way all of us are, blood sweat and tears.  I think that means that bodies are important to God.  Not in a “oh your body is a temple” and you can’t do anything to violate your “purity” stuff.  But just simply that bodies are important.  This flesh stuff matters.  This concrete here and now stuff is important too, not just spiritual realms.  What we do to each other here matters.  

Jesus  has been throwing out crazy responses to the religious leadership’s questions, and telling some over the top parables.  But he’s running out of time, approaching his betrayal in just a few short chapters.   And when asked what law is the greatest – which rule should we follow above all others.    Jesus doesn’t say, “Believe the right things.”  He doesn’t say, “Maintain personal and doctrinal purity.”  He doesn’t say, “Worship like this or attend a church like that.”  He doesn’t even say, “Read your Bible,” or “Pray every day,” or “Preach the Gospel to every living creature.”  He says, “Love.”

Again quoting my favorite modern day prophet – Debie Thomas “…we cannot love God while we refuse to love what God loves.  We cannot love God in a disinfected, disembodied way that doesn’t touch the dirt and depth of this world.  Our love is meant to be robust and muscular, hands-on and intimate.  Reaching into skin and bone and blood and tears.  Neither can we love ourselves or our neighbors in any meaningful, sustainable way if that love is not sourced and replenished in an abiding love for God.  Only God’s love is inexhaustible; if we cut ourselves off from the flow of God’s compassion, we will quickly run dry.  In other words, the motion of our hearts must be cyclical — love of God making possible and deepening our love of neighbor, and love of neighbor putting flesh and bones on our love for God.”

As Martin Luther wrote – God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.  To be hands-on in this world is not a requirement of your salvation, but it is a response to it – and the only way to live faith, active in love.  

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