For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
(Romans 3:22b-24, 28)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
For much of the Protestant world, Sunday was Reformation Sunday. In churches around the world, organs thundered out the fight song of the Reformation, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," as festival worship services commemorated the actions of an Augustinian monk who was simply looking for some theological debate...a monk named Martin Luther who, by the act of posting 95 discussion-points of his disagreement with the Roman church, ignited the Protestant Reformation.
It's kind of humorous, I guess...but here in Hyde Park, on the south side of Chicago, the Lutheran churches have wised up: there are no wooden doors to which anything could be nailed, either at the seminary or at the Lutheran campus ministry across the street. In fact, any incensed Lutheran theologian at LSTC would have to walk across our common courtyard to the massive wooden doors of McCormick Theological Seminary to perpetrate an act of dissent (and one could only imagine what the Presbyterian reaction to defacing those beautiful doors might be).
History books will tell you that the Reformation officially began on October 31, 1517 when Luther nailed his "95 theses" to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, and ran in various phases for 150 years, give or take. But I would suggest that the need for reformation - for re-forming and re-creating the church, the culture, and the individual - is as critical today as it was 487 years ago.
I've seen it in the churches I've visited recently - where religiosity has once again become a comfortable hiding place for those who claim the name of a radical Savior. I've seen it in the stories of my fellow seminarians, striving to follow their call to the ministry of Christ, and finding their sense of call all but smothered by the gatekeepers of the very church they have chosen to serve. But I also see the Breath of Life being breathed into dry bones...and virtual nails being driven through virtual parchment into virtual doors, as groups worldwide are calling forth "the emergent church" in homes, in traditional and in unusual physical locations, as well as by digital disciples on the Web.
But for me, the importance of this day comes back to these two slivers of Scripture - and the incredible promise they have for a ragamuffin and perennial prodigal like me. I see the ongoing need for re-formation and re-shaping in my own life - in my ongoing need to renew my prayer life, my devotional life, and my physical and financial self. But no matter how I complicate my work, my recovery, my call or my life, in the end it all leads back to this truth: I'm saved, redeemed...and there was nothing I could do (or needed to do) to do it. Justification by faith is a free gift from God, irrespective of the strength or durability of my own faith.
For years before I came back to church on Reformation Day 1990, I held the belief that I needed to "have enough faith" to justify my justification - a hopeless circular-reference nightmare. I simply believed that I didn't have enough faith to be justified-by-faith - and trapped by that delusion, I walked in darkness for far too many years. So on this day, I give thanks for Pastor Peter Brown, formerly of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Toledo, who (on the Wednesday before Reformation Sunday) gave me both the Good News and the invitation to join the fellowship of sinners that Christ died to save.
I walked into Epiphany Lutheran that Sunday convinced that I was more in need of reforming than anyone else in the place. The difference today is that I realize I'm not more in need of reformation than anyone else - but exactly as much as anyone else. As a friend in recovery often says, "Yup, Steve, you're terminally unique - just like everybody else."
Lord God, you are the Potter, and I am the clay...and I really do desire to be re-formed, to be shaped according to your will. My prayer to you this day comes from a 60's song by The American Breed:
Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me -Amen.
Long as You love me, it's all right;
Bend me, shape me, any way You want me,
You've got the power to turn on the Light.