On October 31, 500 years ago, a young monk posted a treatise on the local bulletin board in order to start a conversation to reform certain practices within the church. Little did he know that his effort at dialogue and reform would change the landscape of Western Christianity. This year we participate with churches throughout the world in celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the movement that Martin Luther began when he posted the 95 Theses on the chapel door in Wittenburg, Germany.
Throughout this year you will hear more about how Epiphany Lutheran Church will celebrate the Reformation. We will do so by focusing on Luther’s Small Catechism in worship during Lent. We will do so by exploring what it means to be a passionate follower of Jesus in “Not a Fan” small groups during Lent. We will do so as we partner together with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters as our two churches have made a major step forward in dialogue with the “Declaration on the Way” agreement adopted by the ELCA in 2016. And we will especially do so as we build up toward a major celebration here at Epiphany in October.
Our upcoming celebration of the Reformation also allows us an opportunity to reflect on this past year and how we as Epiphany Lutheran Church are living out the central themes of the Reformation, themes that we as the ELCA are called to emphasize.
- We are justified by grace through faith alone. Everything we do is called to reflect God’s love for us. Every person is created in the image of God. Every person is a child of God. There is nothing that we have done to earn God’s love. Rather, God shows that incredible love for us through Jesus: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
As a church we show that love and grace when we recognize the dignity and worth of each person. We show that grace to the children that attend our preschool and Parents Morning Out program or who come to Real Kids Afterschool program. We teach that grace through Sunday School, Bible studies, confirmation, or our youth program. We demonstrate that grace when we reach out, recognize, and listen to our neighbors of other faiths, whether Jewish, Muslim, or Sikh.
The grace of God must be the foundation of all that we are and all that we do. As in our past, so God continues to call us to be shaped by the awesome, amazing, transformative power of God’s love.
- We proclaim a “theology of the cross.” God in Jesus did not come to us in power and glory but in weakness and suffering and even death. The suffering and death of Jesus continues to go against any cultural emphasis of power and success. Paul put it this way: “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24) This means in part that we do not look for the face of Jesus in the rich and powerful. Rather, like Jesus we identify with and reach out to those who are suffering, those who are poor or needy.
As a church we continue to proclaim a theology of the cross when we welcome families to our church in Family Promise, as we show them hospitality. We witness to a theology of the cross when we walk for the hungry in the Hunger Walk. We live out a theology of the cross with Stephen Ministry and as we begin to explore how we can best serve the health needs of our older members.
- We are a priesthood of all believers. There is no hierarchy in God’s kingdom. Paul uses the image of the body to emphasize this point: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) A “call” is not limited to the pastor. Every person is called to discover their place in the body, in the Kingdom of God.
When you consider all that has been done at Epiphany, we live out that priesthood of all believers. Ministries such as Stephen Ministry, Family Promise, Parents Morning Out, and Epiphany Lutheran Preschool would never have happened if it were not for the passion and leadership of different individuals in this church. In the same way, I encourage all of us to be open to how the Spirit might be nudging us now. What idea has God stirred up in your heart? Might that be a new wind and new direction that God is taking Epiphany Lutheran Church?
We also live out the priesthood of all believers when we realize that worship, service and ministry would not happen if people did not step into those roles and functions. So when you sing in the choir, assist in worship, read the lessons, teach Sunday School, serve a Fellowship brunch, stay overnight with Family Promise, or provide items for Backpack Buddies, you live out the priesthood of all believers.
- We are a church that is always reforming. Reformation did not stop 500 years ago. We continue to ask ourselves how we are called to be the people of God in this time and place. We listen to ourselves, to others and most especially to God, in order to understand how we can live out God’s presence.
That is why I have been excited about the “Declaration on the Way” that was approved by the ELCA last summer. This agreement represents a major step forward in our dialogue and working together with the Roman Catholic Church. The agreement helps us realize that we do not have to be bound by the problems of the past, but we can move forward with others to serve God and be God’s presence.
I see that reforming spirit when we work with other churches in Family Promise or in our ecumenical Thanksgiving service. I see that reforming spirit when we recognize and welcome those of other faiths. I see that reforming spirit when our leadership asks questions about what we can do with this place and with our ministries. My prayer is that we never stop asking questions about how we are called to serve God through Jesus Christ.