We are lost and need a new reformation
When you think about Oct. 31, the first thought in your head is likely Halloween with all its ghouls and goblins, witches and costumes. Children roaming the neighborhood looking for candy. Fun get-togethers with friends. Yet, Oct. 31 also is the date when another event is remembered. It was on Oct. 31, 1517, that the Catholic priest Martin Luther nailed 95 complaints about the Catholic Church to the door of the old church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act is remembered as the unofficial beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
The work and actions of Martin Luther and other reformers pointed out how the church had wandered from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and begun to use its massive power to exploit and abuse the faithful it was supposed to be serving. For 500 years, those humble beginnings have continued to inspire a tradition of examining scripture and calling people to personal relationships with God.
Five hundred years is a long time. How’s the church going? Are things good, or could we use some improving? Perhaps it’s time for another reformation. Time to listen to the wild voice that is the Holy Spirit. Time to recognize that we have gotten used to being in positions of power and privilege here in American society, that that comfort has allowed us to wander from the central callings of Christ himself. We are indeed in need of a wake-up call, in need of reformation once again. We need to be reminded who Jesus was, what he taught, lived, and died for.
We need to remember that our faith comes from a Jewish Rabbi who came to wake us up, to reform the practices and beliefs that were leading the people astray. We need to recall how that Rabbi healed people on the Sabbath (in direct violation of God’s word). How he overturned tables in the temple, how he set people free from what oppressed and imprisoned them. We who call ourselves Christians do so in recognition that we look to Christ, to that Rabbi, to that reformer, as the example for our lives, our faith. We, as followers of the Christ, should be people of reformation. We should be listening for the Spirit to open to us new understandings, new paths; we must be willing to leave our places of comfort, and venture out into the wild, often uncharted places the Spirit is calling us.
Yet, it seems we are unable, or unwilling to do what we are called to. We have refused to listen to the spirit calling us to move beyond our boundaries, the lines we have drawn in the sand, refusing to become what God is calling us to become.
I believe we have lost our way, lost touch with the Gospel of Christ, who brought good news to the poor and outcast, liberation to those who were oppressed, healed the blind and lame, and set the prisoners free. Rather than being the image of Christ in the world, we have instead embraced our power and position, creating a false consumer driven, capitalistic, Gospel of materialistic values. Far too many faith leaders are more concerned with being in the same social circles as politicians and business leaders, than giving all that we have to help the least of those around us. We have stopped hearing the voice of Jesus calling us to humble ourselves, to take the form of a servant, to sacrifice all that we are for the good of our neighbors (and our enemies!) Instead, we grasp a hold of our power and privilege, doing all we can to ensure that it is our voice, our wants, our beliefs that rise above all others.
Is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I do not believe it is. We have created a false gospel, and thus a false image of God. Liberals and conservatives alike have created a god that differs from the One revealed in Jesus. We have created a god who supports our beliefs, who values those like us, who sees us as the chosen ones; a god who is so limited as to only be present among and for those who fit nicely into the box we have created for our god to dwell within.
But, the God revealed in Jesus is entirely different. His was a God unique and without borders. A God who made the immensity of the universe itself, down to the last molecule. A God seen first, not in glorious temples or moving worship, but in human hands, in the faces of those around us — our neighbors and our enemies. A living God, who lives and speaks and works through us. We are in need of reformation.
When we live in a time when the rejection of families and religious communities lead LGBTQ young people to suicide, we must reform.
When the name of Christ has become synonymous with triumphalism and domination, we must reform.
When entire denominations have been formed that twist scripture to oppress women, support discrimination, or justify immoral behavior, we must reform.
We follow Christ, the great reformer; and we are called to reformation.
This new reformation, I’m sure, is one of the Spirit. It’s an awakening that begins with us stopping and listening, truly listening, to that still small voice within, calling us to move forward into a broader, fuller incarnation of the Kingdom of God.
We are all in need of reforming our lives. Our churches are in need of reformation and our communities are in need of reformation. It’s our job and calling to be agents of that reformation. It’s not the job of the religious leaders, or politicians. No, the Spirit is calling you to be part of a reformation of expansion, inclusion and redemption.
Each and every day we are called to look out into the world around us and ask, “Where is the Spirit leading me today to bring reformation and renewal?” That is our task, that is our calling. We are reformers who follow in the footsteps of reformers who went before. We are all, through Christ, the agents of changing the world.
May we as followers of Christ, always be reforming and be reformed — for the sake of the world, for the sake of each other and for the sake of the Gospel.
(Breddin is the pastor of the Zion United Church of Christ in Steubenville)