Reformation (21st Sunday after Pentecost – Year B - Lutheran Worship readings)
Saturday, October 28, and Sunday, October 29, 2006
Today we celebrate the Reformation. As the notes on the front of the bulletin remind us, the Reformation began on October 31, 1517, the day when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg church; 95 statements which questioned the teaching of the Church especially when it came to indulgences.
Indulgences were pieces of paper being sold by the Church that freed people from a certain amount of time in purgatory. Purgatory itself isn’t even in Scripture, but the people had been taught that if they weren’t good enough to go to heaven, they would have to go to purgatory, an in-between place where they’d have to work off their sins. Well, if they bought indulgences, they could get out of some of those years in purgatory.
Luther realized through the Gospel in the Bible that this whole teaching of indulgences and purgatory went against Scripture. It caused people to be afraid of God, and it was causing the poor to spend all of their money on getting these indulgences.
I’d like you to see one scene from Luther, the 2003 film. You’ll see Hanna, a poor woman in Wittenberg, as she comes to tell her priest, Martin Luther, that she just bought an indulgence for her crippled daughter. After their conversation, you’ll see how it leads toward Luther putting up the “95 Theses.”
(Clip: first 2-3 minutes of Chapter 8 of DVD)
In that clip, you see two monks reading Thesis 43 that you have on the front of your bulletins, “Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying indulgences.” Every year we celebrate the Reformation, about how Luther re-discovered the Gospel, that salvation is a gift of God through faith in Jesus. However, I don’t even think I remember how much of his motivation came from wanting to help the poor.
As you saw in the scene with Hanna, it troubled Luther that the poor people were being cheated out of their money to buy worthless pieces of paper. Indulgences weren’t just a false teaching; they were also causing suffering for the poor.
So that’s how we find a connection between Luther and the Old Testament reading today from the prophet Amos. Amos says,
“You trample on the poor/and force him to give you grain. I know how many are your offenses/and how great your sins./You oppress the righteous and take bribes/and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.”
Like Luther who was concerned about the poor, Amos had preached a message against the people’s sins that were causing suffering for the poor. Like Luther who came to call people back to the truth of God’s Word, Amos had wanted people to remember who God is, but both Luther and Amos also saw that knowing God, believing in God, being God’s people means living in such a way as to support the poor and needy.
So today, Reformation Day, is about more than getting our theology right; it’s also about getting our practice right, our daily living—which brings us to the gate.
(A gate has been set up on the chancel steps)
Amos says, “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate;/it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,/will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Establish justice in the gate.
The gate of the city was where the ancient Israelites had their court. There weren’t official government judges like ours today. Instead, people who were accusing each other of crimes would bring their cases to be heard by a group of elders, or perhaps a judge selected by the elders. The gate was in the thick wall of the city, and court was either held in the opening or in a room inside of the wall.
So when Amos says, “Establish justice in the gate,” he’s calling on the people to live out their faith, to follow in the ways of God, and seek justice and righteousness. Instead of cheating the system, bribing judges, making it so that the poor didn’t have voice, instead of avoiding justice, Amos is calling on God’s people to show the justice of God in the way they live their lives.
It’s kind of like Amos got the people “gate trapped.” He told them to “establish justice in the gate,” but he also pointed out their sins that were happening on either side of the gate.
Amos said, “Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,/you will not live in them;/though you have planted lush vineyards,/you will not drink their wine.”
You look at this punishment, and you realize it “gate traps” the people. They weren’t going to go inside the gate into the city where they had built their elaborate houses; their homes would be taken from them or destroyed. And they weren’t going to go outside the gate into the vineyards where they had great crops; their vineyards would be taken from them or destroyed. So they were “gate trapped”; they weren’t going in or out. God’s punishment would show the people that they couldn’t trust in things inside the gate or outside the gate; instead, they needed to focus on living in God’s way, on establishing justice, on seeking good—and that started in the gate, with the community, looking for ways to support the poor, needy, oppressed, troubled, and cheated. The people needed to be “gate trapped,” so that they could see their own sin, how justice meant that they too had to be punished.
I think it’s good for us to be “gate trapped,” too. We need to see how we trust in our belongings, our jobs, our way of life; we need to see how all of those things can be taken away from us so easily. By bringing us back to the gate, by bringing us back to see how we can support others, by bringing us before His court to see how we’ve sinned, God is getting us back to a community focus, seeing that our lives as Christians are meant to reflect God’s justice, righteousness, mercy, and love.
So God’s Word comes to us today, pointing out our sin, showing us how we don’t always seek to do good and establish justice for all people. God’s Word comes and “gate traps” us today, and there in the gate God also comes to find us and hand down his final judgment. He is the judge, and he will tell us what will happen to us because of our crimes, our sins against Him.
And here is God’s verdict for us who are “gate trapped”: “You are forgiven, you are pardoned, you are free, you are innocent and holy in My eyes, because Jesus took your punishment on the cross.” God shows mercy in the gate.
Amos spoke God’s judgment on the people, “gate trapping” them, showing them how they had neglected their faith and other people, but God was working through those words of Amos to call people to repent, to turn away from their sin, to ask for forgiveness, to call out from the gate and ask God to show mercy. And God does; He shows mercy to those who call on Him.
Luther spoke God’s judgment on the Church and Empire leaders, “gate trapping” them, showing them how they had corrupted the Bible and caused fear and suffering for the people, but God was working through those words of Luther to call people to repent, to turn away form their sin, to ask for forgiveness, to call out from the gate and ask God to show mercy. And God does; He shows mercy to those who call on Him.
Today I spoke God’s judgment on us, “gate trapping” us, showing us how we don’t always live God’s ways, how we forget the poor, needy, and others who need our help, but God works today to call us to repent, to turn away form our sin, to ask for forgiveness, to call out from the gate and ask God to show mercy. And God does; He shows mercy to those who call on Him.
So again, let me remind you of God’s verdict today. He’s heard your testimony, your confession of sins; he’s heard you say that you don’t always seek good or serve other people. And this is God’s verdict: “You are forgiven, you are pardoned, you are free, you are innocent and holy in My eyes, because Jesus took your punishment on the cross.”
To experience the power of that verdict, the incredible forgiveness that God offers us, to experience that, we’ve got to go to the gate, appear before God’s court ourselves, and admit how we haven’t established justice in the gate. If we want to call ourselves Christians, if we say we are followers of Jesus, then we will need to look at ourselves honestly and admit where we don’t always seek justice. Where do we ignore the needs of the poor and needy? Where do we cause suffering for the poor? Do we live in a such way as to avoid justice, cheat the system, make someone else pay?
Are we doing anything about the great tragedy in the Darfur region of Sudan, a genocide of epic proportions? Do we forget that there are Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, who suffer the same consequences as the minority of terrorists, suffering from closed borders, little work, and a broken down economy?
Do we really consider how our actions affect the poor in our community? As a congregation, we support Peter’s Pantry and other efforts, but could we do more? Do we really think about issues of justice, making sure that people—even the poor—are given a fair-hearing, getting all of the same protections of the law? As a congregation, we support the Domestic Violence Center, which helps women and men make sure they receive the protection they need, but could we do more?
When we come to God’s gate, we hear these difficult questions, questions that bore right into our souls. They are questions that find where we keep our sins of selfishness, pride, and blindness to the needs of others. When we come to God’s gate, we realize we may not want to be there, and yet, God “gate traps” us. He shows us how nothing inside or outside of the gate will help us; being saved won’t come from anything or anyone except from the judge who sits in the gate. The Lord is His Name.
Listen again as God’s establishes His justice in the gate—a justice that punishes Jesus for our sins, but how God also establishes mercy and forgiveness in gate. Listen again to God’s verdict on our sins: “You are forgiven, you are pardoned, you are free, you are innocent and holy in My eyes, because Jesus took your punishment on the cross.”
You are free; you are no longer “gate trapped” by God’s word of judgment. However, God’s Word actually invites us to stay in the gate. Instead of going inside the gate or outside the gate, instead of returning to our houses or going out to our vineyards, in other words, instead of going back to trusting in our belongings, instead of going in or out, God’s Word invites us to stay in the gate.
The gate is where the community gathered to establish justice. The gate is where people found ways to support the poor, the needy, the victims in society. The gate is where people worked together.
In that same way, stay in the gate. Yes, you are free, you are forgiven, you are no longer “gate trapped,” facing God’s judgment on your sin, but now, God’s Word works in your heart to lead your actions. While we are free to enjoy all of the gifts that God has given us in life, our houses, our vineyards, our belongings, our jobs, our hobbies, our world, while we are free to enjoy these things, God’s Word asks us to stay in the gate in our minds. Stay in the gate, share that freedom of forgiveness with others, tell them what they’ll find in the gate of God, look for ways to support the poor, needy, sick, depressed, troubled, and victims of crime. We seek to do good; we want to establish justice; we want to use our lives to serve others.
You are free; stay in the gate.