Semper Reformanda – A Sermon for Reformation Sunday

The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, 22nd Chapter.
Relevant lectionary readings here.


Grace and peace to you from God and from our Savior in Jesus Christ, Amen.

Jesus the Reformer!  Martin Luther the Reformer! Brought together. Face to face, on one day. I mean really, this is like the Lutheran super bowl, right? Reformation Reddddddd!!! This is Lutheran Country and here we bleed… well, red.

These two, Jesus and Luther, are certainly not equal. Luther was deeply flawed especially in his views of Judaism, which may have come from texts like our Gospel reading from Matthew. Martin Luther, Like most of us, contains a multitude; he is a Combination of Sinner and Saint. Yet we are fiercely proud that 499 years 363 days ago, Luther did his best to follow in Jesus’s footsteps by speaking truth to power. We continue that legacy to this day, Semper Reformanda. There are groups, some from LSTC, in our current age who continue in the holy and sacramental work of reformation.

In every age there have been those who stand up and face unjust authorities; Jesus being the ultimate example of challenging injustice and unrighteous authority. But there are also those who assimilate… who buy in… who sell out…Sometimes to survive. They associate with the unjust powers in order to gleaned power and gain privilege over their peers.  In Jesus’s day, Rome was the absolute power and the people ciphering power from Rome were the Jewish religious aristocracy.

In this text, the Jewish aristocracy is made up of three different factions and they were all fighting over who correctly interpreted the Law and had the right to enforce it. Rome, because of its military dominance, controlled the ability to assign that privilege and all other privileges. Rome also controlled their rights to be classified as a roman citizen, their ability to collect taxes, equip and lead armies, practice self-governance and their own religion, and flat out just exist.

A common tactic of those in ultimate privilege like Rome, when faced with multiple oppressed groups all struggling to gain power, is to dangle a small piece of privileged in front of them to make the other fight each other rather than the ones holding the privilege.

The religious aristocracy’s strife was put on pause when they were presented with a singular threat to the relative power they had attained. They were unified by their common enemy, Jesus.

When presented with a common enemy, one that threatens their tiny scraps of privilege and power they have managed to gather, they are able to put differences aside in order solidify they position. Jesus was stirring up the people, which was dangerous because he could potentially anger the Romans. Romans would crucify people who threatened the status quo and “peace”. Rome was an occupying empire, ruthless in cutting down its enemies and squashing rebellions.

So it is no wonder the Jewish religious elite did not want to be associated with the commotion Jesus was causing; they feared for their lives. So they sought ways in which to trap Jesus legally and bring down the wrath on the Empire on him and far away from their selves.

In our text they sent a lawyer, someone who’s business is the law, to ask Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” I can’t image he didn’t have his own answer to the question, this was his whole life. No they wanted to trap him.

If Jesus answered Jewish law, they could paint him as an insurrectionist and turn him over to the Romans, but it he answered Roman law, he would lose support of the people. Jesus reaches back to Leviticus saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And “love your neighbor as yourself”

That second one is a stinger. They have dedicated their lives to studying the law and the know the context of those passages. Immediately before “love your neighbor” is: “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people.” This speaks directly to the religious aristocracy’s own struggles with one another, their struggle power and privilege given by the Roman empire over common people, and securely asserts Jesus as one of their kinsman.

Jesus is using the law, the basics, fundamentals to show them how far they’ve gotten off track. He is reclaiming the Law for Love. He is turning a mirror on them? “Which side are you, Friend?” He is breaking the cycle of abuse. The oppressed do not have to be the oppressor in order to better their situation. Jesus is calling for a cooperation, not a competition.  A better way to live…

Martin Luther, like Jesus, does the same thing.

Martin Luther, approached the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation.[1] His Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences criticized the Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X’s use of the selling of indulgences and doctrinal policies about purgatoryparticular judgment, and the authority of the pope.[2]

These people had forgotten what it was all about. They were using their power and privilege to wrongfully collect money from the vast majority of poor working people.  They, like the religious leaders of Jesus’s day, had forgotten God’s Law to care for one another.

Oh it’s easy to point fingers and say, “Shame, Shame! How could they?” However, Things are not that different today. What would we see if we hold a mirror up to ourselves?

Our Church, the ELCA, maintains a Congregational model in which churches must be independently “financially sustainable” in order to survive. This models serves the rich, affluent areas that have benefited from racism, capitalism, and the cis hetero patriarchy while churches in areas devastated by oppression, that are under resourced and under-served are force to scale back, combine, or close.

Or, In the same breath that we fervently damn Christopher Columbus and the Doctrine of Discovery which made it possible from him to “Discover” the America’s and oppress the people’s already living here, we silence the voices of those urging us to consider land repatriation or reparations.

Black, Queer, and women pastors and seminarians, on average, all wait longer for calls in the ELCA because they do not “fit” the traditional model of what a pastor “is”. Despite having been called, entranced, endorsed, and approved the are forced to wait until a congregation is willing to take them on.

Capitalism is built into our denomination’s current congregational model. (pause) We are benefiting from the Colonialism of white Europeans. (pause) Prejudices and systemic economic injustices keeps talented ministers on the bench and out of our pulpits.

We are flawed. Just like the Jewish Aristocracy. Just like Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X. Even Martin Luther. Some of us more than others (point to self). But we are covered by Grace, Amazing grace. Ephesians 2, a favorite of both mine and Luther’s, says, “For by grace [we] have been saved through faith, and this is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

But, where do we start? How do we start?

We are not alone, there is a great cloud of witnesses from the past, saints that have beaten down the path to show us the way.  There are reformers in our present, accompanying us on the journey. Groups like Proclaim and Thesis96 and Reconciling Works are working help support both LGBTQIA+ pastors and congregations. Naked and Unashamed is a movement started at LSTC to promote health sexuality and works to undo the harm caused by oppressive sexual ethics in Vision and Expectations. #DecolonizeLutheranism breaks down the German and Scandinavian Lutheran myth and exposes us to intersectional Lutheran expressions from all races and cultures and experiences. These groups are bravely striving to reform broken systems in the name of Love.

We as Lutherans have a remarkable history of speaking truth to power. From Jesus to Luther to Proclaim, protesting injustice is part of our baptismal DNA. Every time we take communion we are fed with the body and blood of Jesus which empowers us with God’s grace to up hold the Law (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind And love your neighbor as yourself”) and proclaim the Gospel, (“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!) So let us be bold and join with Jesus and Luther and the Reformers of today, to continue the good work God has prepared for us. Let us work for Justice in the face of oppression and be the Reformers of our future, and love our neighbor as ourselves.





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