Editorial Note: David Stein is the past-president of the Daystar community. With a Ph.D. in rhetoric he taught at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. Later he served as pastor at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. There he hosted the second meeting of the Daystar community. Since his retirement he has preached across the country as well as in Kenya. He was asked to write a Reformation sermon for the Daystar Journal. We thank him for his message.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear People of God:
Do you remember when Yaweh vented about his works of creation? The biblical record [Genesis 6] places this imprecatory outburst after Noah had attained the age of 500 years. God Yaweh saw the wickedness of the people and was sorry he had created humankind; it “grieved his heart,” so the text authenticates. And thus he speaks: “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
But suddenly Yaweh makes a “U-turn.” He finds favor with the aging Noah who was half of a thousand years old and with his sons, daughters-in-law and wife. It was as if God decided to re-form all he had created, restore humankind to creative perfection, re-new his covenant with hope that this time it would work, and reconcile himself to the realities of sin and evil and death.
Yahweh, the re-former, the restorer, the re-newer, the reconciler recasts his image [imago dei] which was given to the first family Adam and Eve with the hope that Noah could start it all over again in a righteous and sinless state. But the history of God’s people weaves a different tapestry. Skip to the Davidic kingdom – look into the living example of the shepherd boy’s righteousness when upon the throne of Israel he is confronted by the prophet Nathan and must seek restoration, reformation, and reconciliation with Yaweh and we listen to David’s cry: “Re-form me, Oh God! Have mercy on me according to your never-ending love; according to the abundance of your mercy erase the sins that condemn me. Bathe me, clean me up for I am a real mess and I need more than a touch of moral deodorant.
“I deserve no justice; my life is more than evil in your sight. I cannot blame you, Oh my God for the sentence you render. I am rightfully condemned ! I know I was born with guilt even as my mother conceived me.
“Dear God, close your eyes – hide even your face from me; my sins are so transparent; and for heaven’s sake cover up my horrible behaviors. Reform me, re-shape me with a clean heart and new Spirit. I beg you not to desert me now nor withhold your spirit from me.
“From restoration to re-formation, let the joy of salvation return, dear God, for yes, I am broken, contrite and wanting. Please do not despise me now that I need you for the renewal of my life.”
We could spend all day reflecting on the sins of the mothers and fathers of the ancient scriptures; we would unexpectedly discover the same themes in the second testament of the sacred texts. Many names come to mind, but especially Saul of Tarsus, prolific author of first century manuscripts under the pseudonym, Saint Paul, who before his dramatic conversation on the way to Damascus was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” [Acts 9:1]
Perhaps we should cease to name or mention key biblical personalities whose public records would today be tabloid headlines and engage the opportunity to celebrate the heritage of the protestant reformation and the reformer Martin Luther from whom we derive our faith tradition moniker, Lutheran. One cannot do justice to the person of Luther or the impact of his tenacious theological confrontation with Rome and the Papacy. Nearly 500 years ago God lifted up an Augustinian monk, a catholic [small c] intellectual scholar and priest whose legacy is known as or has been called the protestant reformation. Luther confronted the theological abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. What followed in the wake of threats to his life and the tragedies of the peasant’s war distinguish this period of church history with divisiveness and the separation of various faith traditions of the church holy, catholic and apostolic.
There are those among protestant traditions and yes, even branches and splinter groupings of Lutherans who celebrate this day triumphantly, who advocate a re-formed theology of glory and victory. There are reformation rallies and convocations that still sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God” like a national anthem.
My dear listeners, today is an opportune time to see the festival of the reformation as a time to renew our commitment to preach and teach a theology of the cross rather than a theology of glory.
God is incarnate in Christ; God is discovered in suffering and in weakness. Can we say that God has hidden in these things as a suffering servant, as One who knows our vulnerabilities; that God entered our humanity even as the divine Lord over all?
How often we are cautioned against the celebration of a pure doctrine of glory where we would see God in self-serving works of righteousness, prosperity and strength. We can became busy with and attribute our works as worthy of God’s grace rather than accepting the mercy and grace of God as gifts undeserved.
The Word of the cross on the other hand teaches us that through the law and through suffering we become nothing and that through the acknowledgement of our sinfulness the suffering Christ becomes everything in us and for us.
I have often thought what it must have been like to be one of the disciples invited to the mount of transfiguration. They were privileged to see the exalted, glorified and spiritually changed Moses and Elijah. Peter, James and John must have been transformed for the dusty and challenging pathways of learning as Jesus healed the sick, challenged the religious establishment, raised the dead and readied himself for the shame of the cross, the highest ornament of the Christian faith, the altar of the ultimate victory over sin and death eternal.
As we give thanks to God for all who have been called into the re-formation of God’s perfect creation, we acknowledge his redeeming sacrifice of love; for ”He died for all” and is ”not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Perhaps there is no better way to bring a doxology to this day of recollections and reformation thoughts and theology than to cite the gifted Henry F. Lyte [1793-1847] who was graced by his heavenly call the year The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod was chartered. The closing stanza of Henry’s evening prayer says it all for me and I pray for you.
“Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”
Remember Jesus Christ, the re-former, the restorer, the re-newer, the reconciler recasts us daily in the regenerating waters of holy baptism, the sinless Son of God who has redeemed us by his holy body and his precious blood and who promises to be with us even to the end of the ages.
Amen and Amen !