Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA
October 28, 2018
Pastor Robert McCarty
The Holy Spirit Re-FORMs Us Still Today
[Paragraph added to address violence at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.] The Christian Church has an obligation to speak clearly against hate in God’s creation. This week our nation saw two acts of violence motivated by hate in the sending of bombs through the mail to respected political voices and even more sadly another mass murder happening in a house of worship. Apparently, that attack was not just directed at a synagogue but also directed at Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. This group, similar to Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, assists people from all places and all faith backgrounds who come to make a home for themselves in America. Our Judeo-Christian scripture teaches that the foreigner in our midst deserves our care and protection. We cannot tolerate hate and need to speak up and speak against intimidation with words before it leads to intimidation with violence. God calls us to show compassion not just to the stranger but also to the foreigner in our midst.
Pray with me. [Come Lord Jesus...]
We wear the red of reformation. That red gives us identity on this Sunday. The ELCA has two tag lines that give shape to our national identity as the Lutheran Church. “God’s Work, Our Hands.” This one may actually serve as a simple mission statement that gives identity to how we function as church. We serve. My sermon last week, my newsletter message and my annual report embrace this call to Christian service. The ELCA wants the nation and the world to recognize that God calls us into a life of compassion and service.
On this Reformation Sunday, however, the second tag line catches my attention and I share that with you. “Always being made New” comes from our recent Campaign for the ELCA. “Always being made New,” I asked Brenda to use this as the artwork for our bulletin cover. You will notice the shift in font types. From the classic serif style font with feet and ligatures to the bold and crisp “New” font. The Holy Spirit lives in constant activity of re-NEW-ing and re-FORM-ing the church and especially, our church.
“Always being made new” however, is a hard sell in a Lutheran Church. It sounds like something close to “change.” How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb. Two answers to this joke. How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? “What Change No.”
How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb? Five. One to change the lightbulb and four to lament the loss of the lightbulb and comment on how much better old lightbulbs are than the newer ones. As far as lightbulbs, I agree with that sentiment, but so be it.
Have you ever noticed how the Lutheran Church uses the word Reformation. We have a word that describes the Holy Spirit re-form-ing us. “Re-form” describes Holy Spirit lead activity: forming, forming, forming again, re formed. Have you noticed how the Lutheran Church has taken this Holy Spirit lead verb and turned it into a dated noun that points backwards rather than forwards. We need to let go of “Reformation” as something Martin Luther did and embrace Reformation as an activity of the Holy Spirit even today. Reform is not something that has happened. Reform happens still today, even today.
“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.” That verse from Jeremiah begins our scripture reading for today. That new covenant, a new promise (and frankly a new relationship with God) begins with Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus brings to this covenant forgiveness and reconciliation, life and light, healing and hope. As we help people build this new relationship with God and with Jesus, we speak the truth of Christ and scripture when we speak in terms of forgiveness, reconciliation, life, light, healing and hope.
It would flow nicer if I could have created alliteration in the first pairing of forgiveness and reconciliation. I have two L words: life and light. I have two H words: healing and hope. Obviously, Forgiveness and Reconciliation do not line up. I thought about Forgiveness and Freedom, because both show up in our scripture reading. When you experience freedom however, you become free from something. Freed from tyranny for example, as our American Revolutionary forefathers went through. Freedom from slavery speaks to our African American brothers and sisters and their ancestors. It also speaks to the Israelites, who try to deny it. Abraham’s children were slaves in Egypt. Freedom from tyranny, freedom from slavery, freedom from sin. Freedom is separation from that which is bad and life denying. Freedom still holds great importance in our life. But what are we are freed? This is more important. We are freed for reconciliation. While we are freed from something, we are reconciled to someone, specifically you are reconciled to God through Christ Jesus. That is much more important. God re-forms your lives as forgiven and reconciled people who do not need violence in order to survive. This truth changes lives.
I read this week about the church response to the opioid epidemic. And I found this story about David in Missouri. David abused opioids for 24 years, went through rehab several times, 12 step programs several times, went to jail. He had a troubled youth, experienced abuse, and had a father who completed suicide. Opioids offered him an out. He was an atheist as well, an annoying one who liked to belittle Christians. But his Christian friends kept at him and he eventually gave in because they offered him (this is a quote). “live music and BBQ after church and I like to eat.” That lead to regular worship and Celebrate Recovery meetings for 6 months and new relationships. After 24 years of addiction, David hasn’t used in 8 years. Freed from addiction and reconciled to friends and to God.
David now works in recovery not-for-profits. He distributes Narcan, which is life saving medication that reverses opioid overdoses. Some Christian doctors call Narcan “grace in a syringe.” “The dead live. A sin is forgiven, The hopeless receive hope.” All three of those mantras together describe what it means to be “re-formed.” David “distributes Narcan to community organizations throughout the state and trains people how to recognize an overdose and save a life. He told Christianity Today magazine, “When a pastor or a Christian asks me, you know, ‘Why do I need this?’(my note: Narcan) I tell them, ‘Because dead people don’t get saved.’”
David’s life was re formed by the Holy Spirit and by Christ. A dramatic story of how reformation works today. Think about this, live music, and bbq and friends and Christ but has saved a multitude of additional lives in the state of Missouri. Here are the national statistics. In 2015, 47,000 people died because of opioid overdoses, but another 26,000 people lived because of someone had the syringe of Narcan handy and knew what to look for and what to do.1
Much as changed about the church over the years. Even today, whether we like it or not, we are “always being made new.” But, both before and after this newness we remain committed to life for all of the children of God. That is not just a Lutheran calling; that serves as a Christian calling that we live out with our compassion.
1 Quotes above and statistics from “Hope for America’s Opioid Epidemic is Grace in a Syringe” by Lindsay Stokes in Christianity Today, August 15, 2017. From www.ChristianityToday.com