Sermon for Reformation Sunday, Year B
Based on Isa. 2:2-4; Ps. 133:1; Eph. 4:1-6;
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
†† Today, in Lutheran churches around the globe, we celebrate Reformation Sunday. This is the first Reformation celebration of the new century and new millennium. After all of these centuries of a Lutheran Churchóagainst Martin Lutherís own desire that Christians† do not name themselves after himóone wonders where our journey is leading us. In all four of our appointed scripture lessons today, I see at least three common themes and challenges for us as Lutheran Christians, and indeed, for all Christians. These three common themes and challenges are: First, a vision of Godís peace, Godís shalom, which ushers in a new era for all nations through Godís word and Godís people. Second, a vision of perfect unity among Godís people and among all Christians. Third, a recognition of the power, the efficacy, the authority of Godís Word to transform all Christians and the whole world.
†† First then, a vision of Godís peace, Godís shalom, which ushers in a new era for all nations through Godís word and Godís people. In our first lesson today, the prophet Isaiah provides us with one of the most beautiful visions of Godís peace, Godís shalom in all of scripture. He writes the following words to his own Israelite people who are suffering under the turbulent and violent political and military situation of his dayóhe encourages them and us with these words: ďAll nations shall stream to (the mountain of the LORDíS house). Many peoples shall come and say, ďCome, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.Ē He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.Ē
†† This beautiful vision of Isaiah of a new era of perfect shalom makes war and violence obsolete, non-existent, a non-entity. Notice too how this vision takes shape through the teaching of Godís ways and then by putting that into practice by walking in Godís ways. The power of Godís Word working within the hearts, minds, and lives of Godís people, enables them to walk in Godís ways.
†† It is interesting that, as Rabbi Alexander Feinsilver observes, in the Hebrew:
The root of the verb ďto repayĒ is the same as that for ďto make peace.Ē Both carry the sense of ďfulfillment.Ē1
†† This vision of shalom in our Isaiah passage has that sense of fulfillment; of repaying war and violence with the wages of making a lasting, God-desired peace. As Lutherans journeying into the 21st century, is it not time for us to repay all of our old wars and animosities and divisions by making peace? Could it be that God is calling us to be his servants of shalom in our own church, among other Christians, and in the world? Could it be that we are called and commissioned to be more actively involved in the work of reconciliation and peace among the churches and in the world? I believe that we are.
†† Desmond Tutu once pointed out how scandalous the division of Christendom are, when he made this passionate exhortation:
†† The real reason (for Church unity) is that our dividedness undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He came to bring reconciliation; he broke down the middle wall of partition. How can we, the Church of God, say to a sadly divided world that we have the remedy for your animosities, your hatreds, your separateness, when we are ourselves so sinfully divided?2
†† This leads us into the second common theme and challenge for us today: a vision of perfect unity among Godís people and among all Christians. Notice that in our Isaiah text, ďall the nationsĒ are involved in the new era of Godís shalom. In verse one of our psalm today, were are all exhorted with these words: ďHow very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!Ē The psalmist is referring here to the blessings that belong to us when we live in unity ~ namely: joy, peace, understanding, respect, and love. When we live our lives in unity, life becomes a celebration for us all, something to look forward to and enjoy with each new day.
†† Paul, in our second lesson, makes his passionate plea for unity by instructing the Christians at Ephesus with these words: ďmaking every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ē I wonder, are we as Lutheran Christians today making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Or are there areas, times, and opportunities for us to grow? I believe that there are ~ especially in light of the Reformation principle that the church is always in need of reforming. As long as we are pilgrims in this world, our sinful nature continues to prevent us from reaching the full, complete unity that God desires for us all. We need Godís help and grace in this journey now as much as ever! We are on the journey of learning from and repenting of our mistakes, our sins, and our divisions.
†† The apostle Paul develops his plea for the unity of Christians a step further when he emphasizes the oneness of the body of Christ, the Spirit, our hope, our Lord, our faith, our baptism, and† our God.† This oneness then reflects the very nature of God. Insofar as we maintain this oneness, we as Christians are witnesses of God to the world. Obviously, there is still room for us all to grow in our unity, peace, and oneness by making every effort to maintain it.
†† This leads us into our third common theme and challenge today: a recognition of the power, the efficacy, the authority of Godís Word to transform all Christians, and the whole world. As Lutheran Christians, we have, at our best, regarded Godís Word as multidimensional and primary to all else. The Word of God is, Luther said, Christ himself among us. Thus the Word is always a living Word, providing us with all thatís necessary for life.
†† In Martin Lutherís Treatise On Christian Liberty, he said it very well:
†† One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of ChristÖ.Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing.3
†† This insight of Luther, of insisting on the primacy of Godís Word, in all of its multidimensional forms, captures the essence of what Christ himself is saying in todayís gospel, as he prays for the unity of all Christians down through the ages. We note that in Christís high priestly prayer, he refers to how unity becomes a reality by means of Godís Word. He prays: ďSanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.Ē In this gospel, ďthe truthĒ is, of course personified, Jesus himself is the truth. In the Word then Jesus himself is present and sanctifies in truth because he is the truth. In this truth, we are able to live as he desires, in unity with one another as Christians. A little further into this prayer, Jesus, referring to his disciples and their preaching prays: ďI ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.Ē Notice it is reference here to the Word, which, in its power, efficacy and multidimensional presence is able to advance the cause of complete unity of all Christians.
† †Thanks to the workings of the Holy Spirit through the Word, Christians have made great advancements in unity. This unity is reflected in the ecumenical movement through, interestingly enough, the various Bible translations and organizations; through the academic study of the Bible among scholars of all denominations; through the work of the International Committee who compiled our Revised Common Lectionary of scripture readings. Every Sunday around the world, Christians of many denominations read, study and hear the preached Word of God, through the same appointed lessons for each Sunday. This is a significant expression of Christian unity around the world, which, at best, is a witness of Godís love to the world. For this unity in Godís Word, thanks be to God!
†† As we Lutherans celebrate this Reformation Sunday, may we be inspired by Godís Word to live more and more in peace and unity with all Christians. Amen. ††††
1 Alexander Feinsilver, The Talmud For Today (New York: St. Martinís Press, Inc., 1988) pp. 280-81.
2 Desmond Tutu, Crying In The Wilderness (London: Mowbray Books, 1990) pp. 89-90.
3 Cited from: John Dillenberger, editor, Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1961) pp. 54-55.
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