On texts for Oct. 31, 2021 | Reformation Sunday
Dear Working Preacher,
A blessed Reformation to you—and if you don’t celebrate or commemorate the Reformation, please accept my Reformation greetings as a fellow follower of Jesus.
The Reformation is the commemoration of how one monk—who was really a Psalms professor at a backwater university in Saxony—changed the world with nothing other than words. With the Word. And that’s what you do, Working Preacher—you change people’s worlds with nothing other than words. Thank you for doing that.
Return. Renewal. Reformation. Restoration. Reawakening. Revival. Recommitment. Throughout time, from time to time, the Spirit of God stirs the people to re-creation. There was the return of the people to the land in the Exodus; the renewal of the covenant that Joshua led; David’s rescue of the ark of the covenant, with the reformations that first Hezekiah and later Josiah led during Israel’s monarchy; the return to the land and covenant renewals under Zerubbabel and Ezra; the Protestant Reformation; the great awakening and further re-awakenings; the Azusa street revival. And so on.
In many instances of renewal and reformation, the pattern was the same. There existed for a time what the prophet Amos called a famine of the word of God. Then the Spirit moved to awaken the church, usually through a powerful reengagement with the Word of God itself. Such was the case with the Exodus, with the covenant renewal under Joshua, with the reformations of both Hezekiah and Josiah, with the public reading of the Torah by Ezra, with Luther’s rediscovery of the gracious God of the Scripture, and so on.
What we commemorate annually on Reformation Day is not Marin Luther, not even the Lutheran or Protestant Reformation.
We celebrate the Holy Spirit, who in the midst of a time of a famine of the Word of God, showered down grace from heaven. We celebrate the Spirit who broke through centuries of dying and finally dead human tradition, to resurrect, renew, and recreate the church.
We do not celebrate a monk in Wittenberg; the Reformed do not celebrate a lawyer in Geneva or a pastor in Zürich; and the Methodists do not celebrate an evangelist whose heart was strangely warmed when he read Luther’s commentary on Romans.
We all commonly celebrate the Holy Spirit, who from time to time shakes free from the bonds of tradition, and as in the days of Joshua, addresses us face-to-face saying, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” The false gods of your ancestors—that is of tradition—or the living Lord. And we may say, “We too will serve the Lord.” But then we hear Joshua say, “You cannot serve the Lord.”
And we know that Joshua is right. We cannot serve the Lord. We cannot through our own strength and understanding believe in the Lord, come to him, or serve him. And so in addition to celebrating the Holy Spirit’s breaking through to us, we also confess our weakness and our sin—the we cannot serve the Lord. And we dare to hope that the Holy Spirit—who has called us through the gospel, enlightened us through the sacraments, and daily keeps us and makes us holy—will overcome that weakness too and will rain down grace even into the famine of the Word in our own hearts.
And I celebrate and thank God for you, Working Preacher. For your preaching, which the Holy Spirit uses as instrument to play the music of eternity and to break through into the hearts of your flock.
God bless you—and God bless your proclamation of the word.