So, how should a small Lutheran church like FLC observe the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation?
Already, activities are underway around the world in anticipation of October 30, 2017, 500 years after the German Martin Luther posted 95 points for discussion on a church door. The controversy that ensued would lead to the split between Catholic and Protestant Christians, along with major changes in society and culture generally.
There’s good reason for our observation to include lament about religious division: on October 30, 2016 the Pope himself will take part in what looks to be a fairly serious worship service of reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics.
It’s also important that we take ‘Reformation 500’ as an opportunity to learn more about the history. But it’s not just history. I don’t know that I need to put on the black beret like Luther himself and reenact the drama: “here I stand, I can do no other!” (It does sound fun, and I’ve got the physique ….)
Church people like me believe it’s important to reclaim the treasured heritage of the past, but Luther’s basic concern, as I understand it, was how God’s love might reach people in new ways in the present. New hymns were composed, new technology put to use. The Bible and worship needed no longer be stuck in the traditional religious language of Latin, but translated into the everyday language of his contemporaries. The wine of communion needed no longer be reserved for the priests who would be less likely to spill it, but given for messy people to take and drink and eat with the bread, blood and body of Christ, given for us.
In my thinking about a theme for FLC this year, I am particularly drawn to Luther’s belief that common people could themselves serve as the vessels for God’s love, poured out. It needed no longer be said that only monks and priests had a “vocation” or sacred calling. To be a worshipper, a parent, a farmer, a government official – these were also vocations.
Our work doesn’t define our worth, it shouldn’t dominate our lives, and it isn’t just what we do to get by. We are called to actually take part in God’s creative love for the world, by our simple action and presence.
I am drawn to what our national church body, the ELCA, says on its Reformation 500 website: “The Reformation teaching that Christ’s life flows through faith into a life of service to the neighbor is especially liberating in our culture today. The evangelical Lutheran Reformation offers the promise of God’s love that makes possible a life of “living, daring confidence in God’s grace.”
What does it mean to live confident in grace? How do we discern our callings in daily life and as a church of busy people in Palo Alto? How do we deal with stress and burnout? Find renewal and meaning? In a wild election year and in the face of global changes that can leave us feeling helpless, what can we do to participate in God’s mercy reaching all people? These are some of the questions I suggest we bring to this “Reformation 500” year.