Gospel: John 8:31-36
1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
2nd Reading: Romans 3:19-28
Reform us, O God, reform us.
You made us very good, O God, in your image, generous and caring and compassionate, a beautiful creation working together with every other part. And you created us to be in relationship with you. But you also did not make us robots. You gave us free will, so we would be free to make our own choices. This freedom sometimes causes us great joy and sometimes causes us great harm. We give you thanks O God that we have minds of our own, that life is more interesting because it could go any number of directions, and that you stay in relationship with us, even when we wander away.
You made this beautiful child, Pepper. She reminds us of more innocent times, when life was simpler. She is certainly in your image, O God, good and loving and curious and creative, but as she moves through life, we teach her our bad habits. Her choices are currently mostly about getting her own needs met, which she needs to survive. She also already shows compassion and forgiveness to family and friends and acquaintances and strangers. We will try to guide her by being good examples, by teaching her our values of love and forgiveness, by reading to her stories from the Bible and helping her to understand the faith journey of those who have gone before and sharing the love of Jesus with her. Yet she will see that we make compromises, that we break your laws, that we are hypocrites. She will decide for herself, as she grows, which paths to take. She will bump up against decisions that don't have a right answer, in which someone will get hurt either way. She will take paths when the consequences aren't clear, otherwise she will be choosing to be paralyzed, which is a damaging path all on its own. She is beautiful and made in your image and will experience great joy in life and hopefully even change the world for the better, and she will bump up against people who will hurt her feelings, whose waste of resources make her life harder, who tempt her to go against her values, and she will sin and she will fall and she will have wounds and brokenness and eventually she will die. This is the path of all of us. But you will never abandon her, O God. That's your promise. You never abandon us. You continue to write your love upon our hearts and be our God, no matter how many times we go astray or ignore you or break your covenant.
We pray to you, whatever stage we are in life, to make a new covenant with us and reform us, O God, reform us.
You made your church, O God, of people—came among us as Jesus to be the head of the church. It started out a bunch of bumbling Disciples, people who knew your Son, people who wanted to hand down the stories so people would know your love for us through the life and death of Jesus. Sometimes the church was on track and sometimes it was not revealing your love and life. We give you thanks for the reformer Martin Luther, who spoke out against injustice in his time, the sin of the church which was charging people for salvation, taking the free gift of God's love and grace, and making people pay to spring their loved ones from purgatory into heaven. The church was not reflecting your love—it was too busy building fancy cathedrals, elevating corrupt clergy, and keeping the poor and illiterate afraid and ignorant. So at great risk to himself, because he couldn't participate in a system like this without endangering his soul or misusing the Gospel, Martin Luther spoke up. He tried to start a dialog. Many priests, several kings and princes, and many regular folks joined him in the dialogue. The Pope and those in power tried to squelch the conversation, excommunicated him, and called for his execution.
Today, we are proud of our history, but we cannot boast. It is excluded. We all fall short. You call us to repentance, again and again, to turn around, to be aware of our sins and errors, and to follow your Gospel way. Your servant, Martin Luther said that we must always be reforming, finding the injustices that we all participate in, the way we enslave and injure one another, the ways we deny the Gospel by our actions, and we must reform to better reflect your love and speak it clearly in our context to those who need it most.
Our congregation doesn't purposely injure anyone, but we are a long way from what you taught us. We have rooms downstairs in this building that sit empty, not serving those in need. We use language in worship that isn't straight-forward to people of our time. We use energy to heat this building that pollutes the earth and makes people sick. We expect people to come to us to hear the Gospel, when you told us to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We worship our own comfort, our money, our nice cars and clothes, our cupboards full of food. We mistake these for salvation and signs of your favor. Reform us, O God, reform us.
God, you created the heavens and earth beautiful and very good. This part of the world is especially beautiful to us—the green hills, the mountains, the rivers, the birds, the fish. And yet we lament the death of hundreds of species a day because of our carelessness and selfishness. We lament the pouring of poisons into our air and water. We lament the depletion of the soil, the handing over of power over our crops to a few corporations who do not have the best interest of your planet in mind. The poor bear the brunt of our ruin of your good creation, while the rich can move places that are cleaner and dump their waste far away. We lament our indifference, our helplessness, our unwillingness to be inconvenienced in order to renew creation so that life may abound, so that our children won't have to fight each other for the few resources that are left, so that Pepper can live in freedom and hope.
Reform us, O God, reform us.
God, you created us and the church and this world, this universe good. Yet, we all have sinned and fall short of your glory. And so our mouths are silenced, every mouth. What can we say, when we have broken the covenant, when we have betrayed your trust, when we have divorced you in order to follow others? We have no excuse. We have nothing to boast about.
Into this silence, God finally gets a word in edgewise. God says to us, “I will make a new covenant with you. I will be your God, and you will be my people, and I will forgive you and love you.”
In Romans God says to us that God doesn't give us the commandments so that we can brag that we fulfilled them all, but so that we realize how helpless we are and turn to God for help. All have fallen short, all have sinned, all are wounded. So all are granted a free gift, God's love, God's forgiveness, relationship with God. All fall short: all are justified by God's grace as a gift. “Justified” is an unfamiliar word. In this case, it means to declare innocent or guiltless; absolve; acquit. We are acquitted because of God's grace.
We all fall short. No one can brag or say they are better than anyone else. We all are acquitted, so we can't put anybody down. All are acquitted, not only the person who sinned worse than you sitting here in this room, or the other Christians who are mean and ruin it for the rest of us. All these are now justified, acquitted, but also included are Muslims and Jewish people, agnostics and athiests and Humanists, the rich and poor, the old and young, Republicans, Democrats, Green Party, Libertarians, and Independents. We know Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we know that even they are justified by God's grace as a gift. God claims absolutely everyone. Some say those other groups are left out because the Bible says here this is through faith in Jesus Christ, so it depends on our faith. However, verse 22 can also be translated this way, “through the faith of Jesus Christ.” Therefore it might not be our faith that does it, which we know waivers and isn't that reliable, and it seems more likely to me that it is the faith of Jesus Christ, which is strong and true which assures our place in God's family.
When we read this scripture, we are reminded that none of us can earn God's love, and that we all fall short. We find out that he loves, forgives, and accepts us as his own. Then we learn that everyone else is in the same boat, so when we meet other people on the journey of life, we would do well to see them as our equal, rather than boast or put them down. We are invited instead to see them as a child of God, just like we are.
We have been slaves to sin and all this bad news. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don't. A lot of times we are blind to our own slavery. We are often blind to sin of humanity, the church, and toward the creation. We often don't see how we are enslaved to our busy schedules, or to keeping up appearances, or to our possessions, worshiping them, focusing on them. God opens our eyes to our sin, not to make us feel bad and paralyze us, but to free us to act in the best interest of this broken world. We are freed from slavery to sin, freed from repeating the mistakes of trying to earn God's love. We are freed, not to do whatever we want, but to serve this broken and hurting world, and to be reformed again and again into God's image.
Reform us, O God, reform us!