Monday, October 25, 2010

Looking Ahead to October 31, 2010 -- 23rd Sunday After Pentecost, Reformation Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Psalm 130 (VU p.853)
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Sermon Title is Semper Reformanda

Early Thoughts: Maintain tradition or change? What is the best way?  Or is it really an either/or situation?  is reforming an institution about a little of both?

This Sunday is Reformation Day.  According to tradition and story, on October 31 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses (propositions for debate and discussion) to the church door in Wittenburg and thus began the Reformation.  Of course history is rarely that straightforward or simple, but it does make a convenient point on which to hang a history lesson.  There is a saying that grew out of the Protestant Reformation (and is equally applicable to the Roman Catholic church): ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda -- the church reformed, always reforming.  And so on this Reformation Day I ask:
  1. How is the church being reformed here and now?  What is changing?
  2. How "should" it be reformed?  What would you like to see changed?
  3. What is essential to keep, either as is or with some tweaking?
  4. What is your vision of how the church moves forward into the future?
In general, the longer an organization exists, the more it resists reforming.  This is true of the church.  Some of us say that the church as we know it is hopelessly bound by tradition and habit.  Some of us say that there is room for change.  (And some of us waver between those two depending on the day)  The reality is that traditions, those links to the past, have a place in our life together.  At the same time there is truth in the saying that the last words of any organization (especially the church) are "we never did it that way before".  We have to hold in tension the new and the old.  Change for the sake of change can be just as unhelpful or destructive as clinging to meaningless traditions.

Ezekiel had a vision of dry bones (skeletons for Halloween?) and the voice of God came to him asking "Mortal, can these bones live?".  We in the church need to ask ourselves (or let God ask us) the same question.  Can the bones of the church live?  Can we allow them to be reclothed with flesh and sinew?  Where is the breath of life blowing us as a church which is always being reformed by God?

I am third generation United Church of Canada leadership.  My paternal grandmother was a Presbytery Secretary in her day, and both she and my grandfather were active in their congregation wherever they lived.  As long as I can remember my parents have been active in the leadership of  my childhood congregation (I think between them they served on every committee at least once, sometimes 2 or 3 times).  I am in paid ministry.  The church in which I serve is not the same as the church in which my grandparents served.  It is not the same church in which I grew up.  The church my daughters will see when they are adults will be different again.  The church, whether it admits it or not, whether it eve recognizes it, is always changing.  The challenge is not to fight that change.  Nor is the challenge to see how fast we can throw away what we have inherited.  The challenge is to discern what needs to be kept, what needs to go, what new things to bring in, and what needs to change.

On Reformation Day, remembering that we have 2 millenia of tradition behind us, I am always remeinded of Jaroslav Pelikan's quote:
Tradition is the living faith of the dead.
Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.
As we serve this constantly reforming church may we be people of tradition but not traditionalists.  And may we keep our eyes and ears open for how the bones are being brought back to life.

Oh and be warned.  This Sunday you may even be asked to TALK about your vision of a reformed church.

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