“What is the Reformation, Anyway?” 06.11.2017 Sermon

What is the Reformation, Anyway? • June 11, 2017

This sermon is part of Good Shepherd’s summer worship series Reformation Then & Now: Why It Still Matters. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Have you ever played the game dominos? Not the pizza, the game. Whenever I’m in El Salvador or Mexico, I’m always intrigued by folks that I see sitting around a small table playing a unique little game called dominos. It always seems like a gentle, mostly peaceful game.

My entire experience with Dominos, though, can be summed up in times as a young boy stacking dominos side-by-side with my friends. We would knock the first one over and watch the chain reaction that would make the others fall too. This version of dominos, as I remember it, was anything but gentle or peaceful. A bit like the Reformation actually.

Image result for dominos

Last week, Pastor Pam invited us into our summer worship series on the Reformation by closing her sermon with the reminder that “We are gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit.” She challenged us to think about how the “Holy Spirit is inspiring and empowering us today.” That’s a great thought to carry with us throughout worship today too as we ask the question “What is the Reformation?”

In the words of Luther Seminary Professor Rolf Jacobson, Reformation is “A revolution within Christianity that started in 1517 and is either still happening or needs to happen again, depending on whom you talk to.” (Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, pg. 140)

When I think about the Reformation – I think of two things.

First…the event that happened on Halloween in 1517. An event that we commemorate the 500th anniversary of this year. Second…I think of a movement within the Christian church that continues today. In other words, Reformation is an ongoing, never-ending renewal and reform of the church, not just a one-time event.

A few years ago, Augsburg Fortress – one of the ELCA’s publishing houses – released a great little book called The Lutheran Handbook.

The title of one chapter in this book is, “Five Things You Should Know About the Lutheran Reformation.” These five things, according to the author, are…

  1. Most people in medieval times had low expectations. They didn’t know anything about advanced medicine, modern psychology, or what it was like to live in a democracy. They didn’t expect to live very long. They didn’t think they had much power over their lives. And they didn’t think being an “individual” was very important.
  2. The “Lutheran” reformers were Catholic. The reformers wanted to make changes within the one Christian church in Europe, but they wanted to stay Catholic. None of them ever expected that their actions would lead to more than 30,000 different Christian denominations that we have today. All claiming to be the one true church.
  3. People in medieval times weren’t allowed to choose their own religion. You could believe whatever you wanted, but you could only practice the faith your prince or king chose. After the Reformation, only the regions whose princes had signed the Augsburg Confession could practice any faith other than Catholicism.
  4. Martin Luther wasn’t the only reformer. Luther wanted the church to rediscover the good news of Jesus that creates and restores faith. Other reformers fought for changes like the separation of church and state, a mystical relationship with God, better-educated priests, and more moral leaders in the church to name just a few issues that arose from the reformers.
  5. Luther and his colleagues cared about what you hear in church today. They taught pastors how to tell the difference between law and gospel so the Word of God would hit home and create faith. This skill has been taught to Lutheran pastors ever since.

(The Lutheran Handbook, pg. 58-59)

Image result for 95 thesesNow, if you’ve heard of the 95 theses before today, good for you. That’s outstanding. My guess is that there are many of us in worship who have never heard the term 95 theses before today. And if we have, we might not actually know why or when or where or what they even are. Or why they have any importance to our lives and faith today.

It’s important to note, and as you can see from the insert in your bulletin, the 95 theses is not a list of things Luther didn’t like about the church. The 95 theses are an academic argument focused on one specific topic – indulgences.

Just like memories of dominos falling as a kid while playing in my backyard, Luther’s 95 theses at the start of something that became known as the Reformation caused dominos to fall. And in many ways, I believe God continues to call the church toward reform that will cause more dominoes falling. Because things like indulgences are still present in the Christian church today.

As I shared earlier, Professor Jacobson’s definition of the Reformation is “A revolution within Christianity that started in 1517 and is either still happening or needs to happen again, depending on whom you talk to.”

In 2017, we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the start of this reform movement. I’d argue that this reform didn’t begin in 1517 after all. It began with Jesus’ instructions to us in the Gospel of Saint Matthew.

Jesus sends his first disciples – and you and me today – into the world to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
And as we do this reformation work, Jesus promises to be with us always, to the end of the age.

So in light of Professor Jacobson’s definition of reformation – I think it all started long before 1517 and I think it’s still happening in 2017. And you and you and you and you and me and all of God’s children who are or will ever claim to be followers of Jesus are invited to join the movement into that kind of reformation every day.

As we were reminded of last week, the Holy Spirit is still inspiring and empowering us. And I believe with everything that I am as one of your pastors that, because of that truth, the world – and each one of us – will be transformed and blessed if we answer Jesus’ reforming call. Send us Lord Christ is my prayer for us today. Amen.


“Jump” 03.12.2017 Sermon (2nd Sunday in Lent)

John 3:1-17 • March 12, 2017

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Phoenix Trip 2017I spent about 34 hours this week on the ground in the Phoenix/Mesa area. We hosted three gatherings on Wednesday with snowbirds from Good Shepherd who are living in this area for the winter. Although it is always an incredibly quick trip, it is one that I am grateful for and hope to be able to continue to do in the years to come. And from the 2 dozen or so brothers and sisters in Christ from Good Shepherd that I had the pleasure of spending a little time with this week in Arizona, I bring greetings to you today. And without hesitation, they informed me that if it’s still snowing in North Dakota – they’ll keep enjoying the desert sunshine. They’ll see us again sometime in the spring. Which seems like a long way away on a snowy day like today.

17155619_10154618532707408_3231173549994035720_nAnd as you can see by my lack of hair today, Brave the Shave was a wonderful success. The team I was part of, led by Dr. Tim Pansegrau, is currently in second place having already raised nearly $50,000. Our collective efforts have resulted in me finding myself in second place currently with nearly $9,000 raised as well as claiming first place for most donors toward those efforts. You can still go to the Brave the Shave website and give to Pansey’s Peeps or my individual page until the end of the month. Thank you for your prayer, your financial support, and your sense of humor through all of this. We were so successful that losing my hair for a few weeks might just become an annual event – especially if it can help kids with cancer.

17202872_10154618532717408_1155892679776784284_nBrave the Shave is an amazing community event that shows just how much light we can shine into the darkness of our world when we work together. Light that needs to shine into dark places for kids who have to walk the evil journey that cancer is.

The Bible is filled with stories of light and darkness. Abram had no idea where he was going, but God called him to go. And at the young age of 75, Abram went. Out of darkness, light shined forth in order for Abram to be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:2).
Prior to being called the Apostle Paul, he was known as Saul – a ruthless murderer and persecutor of Christians. Out of that darkness, Saul experienced the light of Christ on a desolate road. His life was changed forever and his calling was no longer about the darkness of persecution and murder, but proclaiming the light of Christ to anyone he could.

Our gospel reading today is from the gospel of Saint John. A major theme throughout John’s gospel is light and darkness.

Night or darkness symbolizing unbelief.

Day or light symbolizing belief.

Image result for nicodemusOne of my favorite stories of this darkness and light in John’s gospel is the one we just heard with a man named Nicodemus – a powerful leader of the Pharisees. He comes to Jesus at night. The questions that Nicodemus has for Jesus are fascinating. He is trying to step into the light of who Jesus is – light that will shine with belief. But he is struggling within the powerful grasp of darkness because of unbelief.

As I hope you know by now, it’s Lent, time for a little confession…one of my favorite movies of all time is Mary Poppins. I’m not sure why, but I just love that movie. One of the commentaries I read this week reminded me of that in a most beautiful way.

Image result for mary poppins chalk drawingThere is a scene in Mary Poppins where Mary, Bert, and the kids jump into the middle of a sidewalk chalk drawing. They leave a world that is somewhat dark, grey skies and simple clothing. After they jump, the world is entirely new and much more colorful in every way!

The author of this commentary said, “That’s what becoming a disciple does. When you are grafted onto the body of Christ, you leave an old, dreary world behind – and enter a world where the unexpected becomes commonplace. It’s not enough simply to say you are a disciple; you actually have to jump.”

I was baptized as an infant at St. Mary’s Catholic Church right here in Bismarck, but I don’t think I had the courage to jump until I was in my mid-20’s. I knew that I was God’s child before my mid-20’s. I knew that in baptism I was claimed as God’s child forever. I didn’t have some supernatural out of body experience in my 20’s or finally say a magic prayer that would give God my contact information so I could begin to be loved by Jesus.

“You must be born again.” Jesus tells Nicodemus.

Here’s a few ideas for what I think that might look like.Image result for born again

When you give up your own will and follow the will of God, you are made new – born again.
Instead of having control, you give up power – born again.
Instead of knowing your destination, you are faithful during the journey – born again.
Instead of being sure of yourself, you become sure of God’s presence in you life – born again.

Image result for mary poppinsWhen Mary Poppins and the others jump through the sidewalk chalk drawing, they take on the colors of their new world. They are born again in a world that touches their old world and yet is wondrously different. In that new world there is space not just for work, but for wonder; not just for darkness, but for light. 

When I finally jumped into a new world like that in my 20’s, everything changed.

Before that, just like Nicodemus, I was meeting Jesus in the darkness looking for the correct answer. Looking for the four quick and easy steps to be the best Christian I could possibly be kind of answers. Just like Nicodemus, I needed to see that if I wanted to follow this Jesus – the world around me and the way I thought about the world around me and the way I lived in the world around me, needed to change.

Abram was 75 when this happened.

The apostle Paul was blinded before it happened.

By the end of the gospel of John, I believe that Nicodemus moved from darkness to light to become a disciple of Jesus in every way.

If God is truly gracious and merciful, I pray that these ancient stories of God’s children moving from darkness to light will move each of us as well.

That movement from darkness to light has caused me to experience the evil of childhood cancer in new ways over the past few weeks. Ways that caused me to jump and lose a little hair temporarily in the process.

Image result for jumpAs you jump into the light with Abram, Paul, Nicodemus, and even Mary Poppins during your Lenten journey this year, may Jesus’ closing words in today’s gospel shine brightly upon your path.

As Jesus says you once again today, “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This week, let’s jump like we’ve never jumped before. Amen.