Pastor Paul’s Thoughts

An Article from: LIVING LUTHERAN

Looking out for the Reformation: Expanding our vision

Part 4 of 4

By Paul Lutter October 24, 2017

Although it is sometimes revealed in our midst, reformation is often hidden in a world weary, uncertain and afraid. In a certain way, the problem reformation poses wraps around our senses.

Our eyes are certain we know what reformation looks like when it appears before us. Our ears are tuned for the crisp newness of a word that we are sure we’ll know when we hear it. Our noses wait for wafts of what we understand as reformation. Our hands fumble as grace passes through them. Our tongues ready themselves for freedom, healing and hope that we remember tasting once, long ago.

When reformation meets the world, though, our senses are set no longer to what we once knew but rather to something surprising. What we once knew is put on the back burner, making room for “what actually is,” as Luther described it—a new reality in which God is found precisely where we were otherwise convinced God couldn’t be found, even with a magnifying glass and a flashlight.

In places and spaces where people are separated from the fabric of the world because their race or sexual orientation or socioeconomic status are disregarded—through the senses of those who are certain they know where God is and isn’t found to be at work in the world—where they are pushed not only into the margins but also headlong into the abyss, it is easy to hide ourselves, to give into the narrative that declares these populations to be problematic, expendable.

Reformation, though, will not have it.

Reformation also expands how God is at work in the world: not only with a select few, but for the whole world.

For Dietrich Bonhoeffer—the German Lutheran pastor and theologian perhaps best known for the part he played in an assassination attempt on Hitler—reformation shook him loose from what he thought he knew, where he thought God was to be found, and opened him, instead, to seeing God present and at work in the world in a whole new way.

There was the time when Bonhoeffer refused to perform the marriage between his sister and his Jewish soon-to-be brother-in-law—something for which he would later repent, saying, “I wish I would have responded differently.” This sentence alone shows the way reformation sneaks into the senses and turns them on end, upright. In this case, reformation didn’t allow him to stay in fear and weariness; instead, it expands his capacity to see God’s presence and work in the world.

Toward the end of his life, in a letter to his best friend, Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer describes the expansiveness of reformation, saying that when one pays attention to those whom the world has otherwise casted off, that is the experience of “throwing oneself into the arms of God in the world.”

Reformation expands who God is, what God does, where God is present, when God is at work. Reformation also expands how God is at work in the world: not only with a select few, but for the whole world.

Reformation expands our vision as well.

Looking out for the Reformation: Flowing on in endless song

By Pastor Paul Lutter October 17, 2017

Reformation is more than a historic moment, a time and space fixed around the drama of the 16th century that resulted in a deeper division in a corrupted church and a world torn apart by chaos. Reformation is more than a word under whose banner people gather to celebrate identity, purpose, mission. (And reformation happens equally in churches and denominations that identify as something other than Lutheran, too.) Reformation is more than having our heads turned from heaven to earth to find God’s presence and work, hidden and revealed.

Reformation is all these things. Yet, in the chaos of life—where, out of nowhere, guns blaze against the night sky, and lives are lost; where people fear and grow weary of senseless violence; where scenes of rows of caskets finding their place in fresh graves and clips of pastors trying to help people make sense of it all flash across our screens—Reformation is, in another sense, more than these things.

Reformation happens not only in the body’s neck, but also in its feet publicly walking into the world, not away from it. Reformation opens our eyes, waking us from delusion, showing us “what a thing actually is,” as Luther put it. Reformation opens the mouth, out of which the body cries in pain and protest, in despair and hope, instead of remaining silent, appearing to approve of the trauma unfolding. It stands with those whom others push into the margins and out of the country.

Reformation takes its hands out of its pockets and reaches out in the world. Reformation accompanies.

Reformation takes shoulders that signal resignation and forms them into steady presence—upon which, together, we carry the weight of the world because the world needs our shoulders, our hands, our feet, our voices, our lives.

Something that has its source in a love larger and deeper than our own, a mercy wider than we could conceive on our own, a forgiveness and reconciliation that flows through us in ways that surprise us.

Reformation is a movement in the church catholic, on the loose in the world God so loves, because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us and the Spirit’s reformatory power in and through us.

When we point to those whom we call reformers, we do so not because they are Lutheran, but because, through their ordinary lives, God’s grace has done something amazing. Something that has its source in a love larger and deeper than our own, a mercy wider than we could conceive on our own, a forgiveness and reconciliation that flows through us in ways that surprise us.

Reformation continues; it “flows on, in endless song,” the hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing?” proclaims. It finds us, who are “lost in wonder, love and praise,” the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” declares.

Reformation invites us into the sweep of what God is doing in the world. Reformation opens our hearts and stirs our imaginations. Reformation shows us who we are. Reformation shows us who the world is.

Author and theologian Fredrick Buechner said, “Where your deep gladness and the world’s deep need intersect, that is your vocation.” Reformation draws the circle wider; not only your “deep gladness,” but also the fullness of who you are—all of it.

Part 2

Looking out for the Reformation: An open gate

By Pastor Paul Lutter October 10, 2017

Although the angels turned their heads from heaven to earth following Jesus’ ascension (as discussed in part one), it would not be long until the disciples again would look upward, desperately searching for God in heaven instead of in the world. Peoples’ heads easily and often drifted toward heaven, dreaming up schemes for escape from the world and entrance into blissful eternity, often leaving them deflated.

For all the good intentions behind them, schemes causing disciples to look up in heaven instead of among them had only one effect: Staring up into heaven, the disciples were dizzy. Once he arrived on the scene, Martin Luther grew dizzy as well.

Making his way “up the down staircase,” as author Gerhard Forde describes the scheme, doing things to make God love him more, to forgive him more, to heal him more, Luther was breathless. There had to be another way. And there was—there is—but it doesn’t come by way of confessing sins until you’re out of breath, confessing things that aren’t sins just so that you can take one more step up the ladder to God or confessing out of fear without confessing one’s fear.

People want meaning and purpose to their lives. So, too, did Luther. Climbing their way to God by making themselves busy for the sake of earning God’s love isn’t about meaning or purpose, though.

It’s dizziness.

How surprised Luther was when coming to the realization while reading Scripture that there’s nothing we can do, not one thing at all, to win God’s favor, forgiveness, love. Oh, we can make ourselves as dizzy as we’d like. In the end, though, only one thing will deliver the kind of love, forgiveness and freedom that creates meaning and purpose.

How stunned Luther was when this realization came complete with a gate that he didn’t have to climb but that opened for him—that set him, as he wrote, “completely free.”

The only one who can deliver this is Jesus Christ, who isn’t high atop a staircase waiting for us to climb. Instead, he comes down to Luther, to us.

How stunned Luther was when this realization came complete with a gate that he didn’t have to climb but that opened for him—that set him, as he wrote, “completely free.”

What about this freedom, though? There is a complexity to this in Luther’s thinking. On the one hand, Jesus Christ sets us free from what he called “the unholy trinity” of sin, death and the devil. To be fair, though, this can look like so many things—including an incessant gazing at me, myself and I.

This freedom takes the air out of our gaze toward heaven, clearing the way for what happens when we look where God is found—both in ways hidden “under the sign of the opposite,” Luther said, and revealed in the word preached and sacraments administered in a world broken, traumatized, afraid.

Looking out into the world, we are confronted with a promise. Gerhard Forde puts it thus: “What are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything at all?”

Luther responds, “God doesn’t need your good works. Your neighbor does.” And, earlier, “A Christian is a servant, completely attentive to the needs of all.”

Where and how will you live out your freedom, marked with the cross and sealed by the Spirit, forever?

Part 1

Looking out for the Reformation: Our work in the world

By Pastor Paul Lutter October 3, 2017

Before hammer and nails made public a challenge to practices that pulled allegiance from Christ toward the church; before the gospel’s good news flung open Martin Luther’s life; before he left law school and followed God’s call down a different path; the apostles watch as Jesus’ feet climb into heaven, their eyes transfixed upward, their fear and trepidation rising alongside Jesus as he ascends. When will Jesus come back? Where do we go from here? What are we going to do?

The angels hear their cries. When they appear to those who watch Jesus ascend from their midst, they do an amazing thing. Through their conversation with the apostles, the angels turn their gaze away from heaven and into the world. Jesus will come back, they tell the apostles. Jesus will return. “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11)

The angels turn the apostles’ eyes from heaven to earth; from despair to hope; from nostalgia to resilience; from fear to forgiveness and reconciliation. Though they are to keep in mind all that Jesus had said to them, they are at the same time called to do so in the world (Matthew 28).

Turning the eyes, necks, hearts and lives of the apostles, the angels’ call is to look out for reformation: to see where Jesus shows up (not where they expect him to); to experience how Jesus shows up (in work that brings about forgiveness, reconciliation and healing); to witness among those for whom Jesus shows up (not first to the powerful, but rather to those whose voices are silenced—whose experience is negated, whose lives seem not to matter); to see why Jesus shows up (not for the sake of entitlement, but for the sake of a love that pours itself out over and over again into a deep, dusty well of pain and sorrow, alienation and distance).

Reformation has a beginning, but it has no end.

This is reformation, that Jesus pours himself out “that I may be his own,” as Luther wrote. This, too, is reformation, that Jesus shows up unexpectedly to open our imaginations to the possibility that the places, spaces and lives that others condemn are, in fact, exactly where a new thing happens.

In ways hidden and revealed, Jesus wakes us up to his work in the world. This, also, is reformation, that our eyes, necks, hearts and lives are turned, tuned to the beat of God’s love let loose in the world.

Reformation has a beginning, but it has no end. While in popular opinion Luther has been understood as a “rebel” for his work as a reformer, the work of reformation expands further back and continues until the end of the world.

In addition to looking up into the sky or down into the depths of hell, and sliding one’s eyes along the timelines of the world’s existence, reformation is found where it is promised: in the world God so loves. Promised in the preached word and sacraments extended, reformation reaches clear through into lives broken, hopes shattered and hearts undone by experiences of injustice, abuse, neglect, hunger, homelessness, socioeconomic inequality, racial divide.