October 29, 2017 (Reformation Sunday)
(Deuteronomy 34:1-12, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46)
Being sent to reform school is not something to be proud of, right? And yet, isn’t that what we do each Sunday when we gather? We are looking to have our thinking reformed as we desire to live in the way of Jesus. That was the idea behind the first Reformation Day which took place 500 years ago this weekend, when Martin Luther nailed his objections on the Castle Church door in Wittenburg, Germany. Part of what Luther was objecting to was errant church teaching (at the time) that suggested people’s sins could be forgiven by making an offering to the church. The passages shared in church this morning from Deuteronomy, 1 Thessalonians, and Matthew point to the challenge of reforming thought.
From Deuteronomy we are reminded of the end of Moses’ life, as the Israelites made plans to (finally!) enter the Promised Land. Think of the role of Moses during those decades as he led the people from slavery in Egypt to the brink of entry into Canaan. It seems he was continually working to reform the minds and attitudes of the people during those years, pointing to the faithfulness and provision of God during their journey together. Through Moses, God provided the 10 Commandments as a way to reform their thinking and living.
1 Thessalonians features a letter from Paul to the church at Thessalonica, which was a large city where several trade routes and roads converged. Planting a church here would be key as converts would take the message out into the territories from this large city. The people in the city, both residents and visitors, brought a wide variety of religious thought to the region including idol worship and paganism. After some success at evangelizing in the synagogue, local officials sought to arrest and even kill Paul; even in the midst of this Paul worked to reform people’s thinking while pointing them to God’s revelation through Jesus. Must have been a tall order!
From the Matthew passage we find Jesus reforming people’s emphasis regarding which commandment was most important. An expert in the law asked Jesus to name the most important commandment (out of the hundreds of laws and commandments that had come into existence by this time.) In his reply, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, saying: “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”….and, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus explained that all of the laws and commandments provided by the scriptures could be summarized in this one commandment.
As the church today, we have our own reformation work to do. Let’s face it, the reputation of the church suffers due to misconceptions, and frankly, due to some bad actors who have misrepresented what the church is to be about. The most powerful witness we can provide is through our own words and deeds. How will we reform this perception? By being real, by being loving, by being grace-filled, by standing with our arms open to others. May we be inspired to follow the example of Martin Luther as we note the 500th anniversary of his work, seeking together to be people of reformation.