Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Reformation Sunday 2018 (October 28th)

As we approach Reformation Sunday, I have a couple of thoughts regarding the occasion itself.  My first thought goes toward the Latin phrase "ecclesia semper reformanda est."  This is usually translated for us as "The Church is always reforming," prompting us to think of ways we are reforming the Church.  However, the Latin grammar makes this phrase a PASSIVE phrase: "The Church is always being reformed."  By whom?  We are left to infer that the Church is being reformed by Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, Christ and the Holy Spirit may work through individual people to bring about reformation (such as what we saw develop through Martin Luther's writings), but we would miss the point if we claimed that the individuals were solely responsible for the resulting reformation.

My second thought goes to a sentiment we heard in greater volume last year.  Some suggest that the Church goes through a major reformation approximately every 500 years.  We saw this happen with the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the 1000's.  We saw this happen again with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's.  Perhaps we are living through a new reformation here in the 2000's.  It's hard to say what this reformation will look like because we are in the midst of the transition, which may be why the Church is facing many challenges today.

What else can we say as we approach Reformation Sunday 2018?  Below, in italics, are some of my thoughts regarding the readings for Sunday.  I invite you to add your own thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Jeremiah 31:31 - 34

 31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-- a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.  33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I 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.  34 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 31:32 refers to the covenant with Moses.  In striking this covenant, the Lord gave to the people (through Moses) the Ten Commandments.  This is the covenant the people broke.  This is the covenant we continue to break, even if grew up reciting it every Sunday morning in Sunday School.

- Does Jeremiah 31:33 become a better indicator of the Gospel if we read it as the Lord putting the Lord’s “instruction” in our hearts?  Hearing the word “law” in this statement may pull us away from reading this as a precursor to “the new covenant in (Jesus’) blood.”

- Is there an example of “know(-ing) the Lord” through the Lord’s forgiveness?

Psalm 46

 1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
 10 "Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."
 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

- Psalm 46 is the textual basis for Martin Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

- “God is in the midst of the city.”  The psalmist was writing about the Lord’s presence on Earth, specifically in Jerusalem.  We can also hear this as a vision of the Lord in the midst of the New Jerusalem (i.e. heaven).  Which image is more comforting for you?  Why this image over the other one?

Romans 3:19 - 28

 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  20 For "no human being will be justified in his sight" by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

 21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;
 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

 27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith.  28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

- Romans 3 expands the promise of Jeremiah 31, discussing the limitations of the old covenant (that we could never keep our end of the bargain) and describing the new covenant.

- “…effective through faith.”  Whose faith?  Our faith or Jesus’ faith?  In my opinion, the sacrifice of atonement is effective through the faith of Jesus.  This matches Luther’s understanding of the sacraments, which are effective through what the Lord does in the water, bread, and wine, rather than being effective through the actions of the presider and/or the receiver of the sacraments.  The key is not what we do but what the Lord does.

John 8:31 - 36

 31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  33 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?"

 34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.  36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

- In the larger context of John 8, there is a lot going on here.  The chapter starts with the story of the mob, the woman caught in adultery, and Jesus.  Jesus refuses to condemn the woman and prevents the mob from carrying out their plan to stone her to death.  Then there is a long discussion of death, life, sin, forgiveness, the Son of Man (i.e. the Messiah), and Abraham; our passage is in the midst of this discussion.

- The people protest that they are children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.  This is incorrect: past generations of the children of Abraham were slaves of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians.  The current generations of the children of Abraham are under the control of the Romans.  By no means are they “free,” even if some of them have been granted Roman citizenship.

- In baptism, Jesus frees us from sin, completing an act that began at the Cross.

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