Remember and Reform

The Door at the Castle Church in Wittenberg
The Door at the Castle Church in Wittenberg

“Remember and Reform”
John 8:31-36
Pastor Todd Buegler
October 24-25, 2015
Reformation Weekend
Trinity Lutheran Church

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world!  Amen.

The protestant reformation began on October 31st, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany, when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses, or 95 statements onto the church door.  Those statements set in motion events that not only changed the church forever, but changed the course of history.

Two weeks ago, I stood at the castle church at Wittenberg.  I literally stood at that door.  What was a large wooden door during Luther’s time is now a bronze door, with the 95 theses embedded in the metal, visible for all to see.  But I have to admit to being kind of surprised…maybe even underwhelmed.  Because it was just a door.  And not even a main door.  I’ve always had this vision of a big, tall, majestic heavy door at the top of a steep and long set of steps.  Not so much.  It was a side door…one that the community during Luther’s time used like a bulletin board, tacking up announcements:  garage sales, used cars and the like.  It was just a side entrance to the church…like this one over here.

But even this, I think, represents one of the basic principles of the reformation.  That from the ordinary…the everyday…God does the extraordinary; be it a door…or a feisty little monk…or you…or me…

Another central tenant of the reformation is located in our first scripture reading: That we are “justified”, or put right with God not because of the works that we do, but solely by the grace of God found in Jesus Christ.

Luther knew that the Bible was the source of knowledge about God, and his intense study of the Bible revealed to him the centrality of grace.  Luther translated the Bible into German, so that it could be read by everyone.  And reformation weekend, every year here at Trinity, we remember Martin Luther.  We remember this doctrine of grace, and we remember the primacy of the Bible.

We remember that we open the Bible, so that we will never forget the love and grace that are the center of our relationship with God.

In the novel 100 years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of a small town in South America.  The name of the town was Macondo.  And one day a little girl wandered into that town.  She was fleeing her village where there had been an outbreak of a plague that caused amnesia.  A family in Macondo took her in, but then noticed later that one of their daughters had symptoms.  The plague had followed the little girl to Macondo.  And then slowly but surely, people in the village began to forget things.

Now they fought this loss of memory by making signs that identified objects.  “This is a table.”  “This is a chair.”  “This is a clock, a door, a cow, a pig, and so on.”  Later it occurred to them that they might forget what those things were for.  So they made signs that were more elaborate.  The sign that they hung around the neck of a cow that said: “This is a cow.  You must milk it every morning to produce more milk.”

And then on the main street, where everyone could see it, they erected a larger sign…a huge sign…that said simply: “God exists,” to ensure that they would never forget.

And thus they went on living, Marquez writes, surrounded by signs; signs that described the things most necessary for life.  But it was only a matter of time before they would forget everything.

Memory is so important.  Because if we don’t remember the past, we can’t know what to do in the present and we will always be afraid of the future.

The Bible is how, as Christians, we remember.

The Old Testament tells the story of how God created the heavens and the earth; of Abraham and Sarah; of God releasing the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt; of Moses and the 10 Commandments.  It is the story of God giving Israel these wonderful gifts:  Land, security, abundance, prosperity.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman says that it’s the memory of those gifts, and the memory of that relationship, that was the glue that bound the Israelites together.

Remembering these stories, they could face the hard work that lay ahead, assured of God’s presence, God’s love, God’s guidance and God’s strength.  Remembering what God had done for them in the past allowed them to have confidence in the future.

But as the years passed, the Israelites grew careless and cynical about their faith.  “Prosperity causes amnesia,” Bruegemann writes.  And people with amnesia don’t know who they are, don’t know what they’re expected to do and don’t know to whom they’re accountable.  And eventually the Israelites had wandered so far from God and had forgotten so much about their faith that there was a huge gap between the way God wanted them to live and the way they were living.

They didn’t remember who they were.  And the nation of Israel collapsed.

Now I sometimes wonder if something similar couldn’t happen to us.  Because I think people today are growing careless and cynical about their faith.

Worship attendance is declining across the country.  Less than 20% of Christians go to church each week.  And among all denominations, every 7 days, 80 churches close their doors.

Now surveys show that the Bible is still nominally important, and that the average household has 4 Bibles.  But a recent Huffington headline warned, “Americans love the Bible…but they don’t read it much.”  In the article it said that only one in five read the Bible regularly.

We read the Bible so that we will remember.  But what happens when we don’t do those things anymore?  Will we lose our memory?

When we think about memory loss, we think first of Alzheimer’s.  I’m guessing that all of us have had encounters with people who have Alzheimer’s.

We have all seen with great sorrow what it looks like when people begin to forget.  I’ve had grandparents who experienced it.  I remember visiting my grandmother, and I remember when she began to forget who I was.  I remember when she would call me “Jerry,” my father’s name.  It broke my heart.

And I remember what it was like when she realized that she didn’t remember.  Her eyes would grow sad, and she’d look away, and would change the subject.  Because when we can’t remember, nothing else matters.

Alzheimer’s is a disease without yet a cure.  But there is an antidote to forgetting the important truths about God.

Martin Luther says that the Bible is the primary way God speaks to us.  So if we’re going to remember God’s truths, then the Bible is going to be important.  And I think for some of us that will mean taking our Bibles down from wherever they are sitting, and beginning to read them.

I’ll just say…today…it would be a great time to start.  And I’m recommending that you sit down and read Mark’s gospel.  This is the earliest account that we have of Jesus’ life.  And depending on how fast you read, it would only take you an hour or an hour and a half to read the whole book.  Do that this afternoon instead of watching the football game, you’ll be much happier!  Read the Gospel of Mark.

Admittedly, the Bible is not always easy to understand.  Nothing worth doing is easy, by the way.  So get someone to help you.  Kids…read with your parents.  Everyone else…go to a Bible study.  Go to one of our adult faith formation forums.  Find a class, or a group.  Search out resources online.  Read, so that we never forget.

David sings these words in the psalms:  “Give thanks to the Lord.  Remember the wonderful works God has done.”  And that is great advice.  Remember the wonderful works God has done.  Because when you remember those stories, like the Jewish people of the Old Testament, you can face the hard work that lays ahead, assured of God’s presence, God’s love, God’s guidance and God’s strength.

Remembering what God has done in the past, you can trust and have hope for what God will do in the future.  And so remember:

  • Remember creation.
  • Remember Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
  • Remember Moses and the 10 commandments.
  • Remember Mary and Joseph and the stable.
  • Remember Jesus’ baptism.
  • Remember the beatitudes and the Prodigal Son.
  • Remember the Good Samaritan.
  • Remember that it is by grace that we are saved through faith.
  • Remember that God exists.

We come to church in order to remember.  We remember that this is the altar.  The altar where the body and blood of Christ, Holy Communion is prepared and served.  This is the altar.

Remember.  Remember that this is the pulpit.  This is the pulpit where God’s word is proclaimed each week.

And remember that over here…this is the baptismal font.  This is the baptismal font where the waters of life are poured over us.  Remember.

And remember that this is the Bible.  The Bible is the book that is filled with stories of people who have encountered God.  Those people are our people.  Those stories are our stories.  We read these stories because we want to remember who we are, to remember who God is, to remember what we believe.  We read the Bible so that we remember how to live; we remember what Jesus did.  We remember that it is by grace through faith that we are saved.  We remember.

This is why we have Bibles here in the sanctuary.  This is why we are intentional about opening the Bible each week in worship.  And here’s the thing.  Do you not have a Bible?  Do you need one?  Then take one of the Bibles here in the pew with you today.  Take it! It’s a gift; a free gift.   We’re a church…trust me, we can get more.

This is reformation weekend!  We want you to read these Bibles… to read these stories…we want you to remember who you are, because in remembering, our hearts…our spirits will be reformed.  We want you to remember that you are a child of God, loved beyond measure.  And that Jesus, the reformer of our relationship with God, will write his words of love and grace not on a door, but upon your heart.

Amen.

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