Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
October 31, 1517… a monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 ideas (called theses) to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. He was a professor of Bible Studies at Wittenberg University who wrestled with what the Bible had to say about grace, God’s unconditional love, and forgiveness. Luther learned that heaven isn’t a reward for doing good things on earth or being a good person. God is not sitting in heaven with a score card with your name on it, sins on one side and good works on the other. We can’t earn our place with God after we die. Instead, grace – God’s love and forgiveness – is a gift that God gives because God loves us.
Jesus showed us that kind of love all the way to the cross. God loves you! God loves me! And BECAUSE God loves you and me, our good works DO matter. They just don’t save us. Because God loves us, we love God in return. And because we love God, we love one another. That is what Jesus would have us do.
This way of thinking was a real shift in Martin Luther’s time. He nailed his ideas on the door because there was no internet, and Luther wanted to begin a conversation. He was on a mission to share his understanding with the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the ONLY Christian tradition at the time. The Church leaders in Martin Luther’s time had no interest in conversation. They had their own ideas and traditions, and understandings of God, and changing them was not an option! What resulted is what has become known as the Reformation. Luther’s followers became known as Lutherans, and were the beginning of a great upheaval.
That’s what happens when God mixes with humanity. The Spirit brings change. Change, transformation, is always uncomfortable. Change, even good change, involves loss and grieving. Yet, it is in the challenges that we grow and mature, emotionally, and spiritually, not just personally but as a congregation. And today, we hear from Jesus, as Martin Luther heard so long ago, that we are NOT alone in this venture. Jesus says, “If you continue in my Word, you are my disciples, my followers. You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
God is guiding us through the words in Scripture, and the soft and sometimes not so soft voice of the Holy Spirit, deep in our hearts as we pray. We know the truth. It begins with God’s love. God’s love for all people. Jesus shows us what that love looks like in his life, death and Resurrection. It’s that love that compelled Martin Luther to find life-giving words in the Scripture. It’s that love that continues today, to urge us to ever deeper relationship with the One who loves us.
We have two readings this morning. One from 1 Kings about the completion of the temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon, and the other from the Gospel of John, Chapter 8. In Kings, we hear about Solomon providing a dwelling place for God in Jerusalem. The temple was grand and beautiful, filled with the finest gold and silver, made with the finest wood. Yet even Solomon said in a later speech about this temple, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” And in John’s Gospel, Jesus says that God cannot be contained in any place, because God is in our hearts when we remain in the Word. And the Word is Jesus.
The Jewish leaders have been listening to Jesus and they are beginning to believe in him, but they are stuck in the past. They claim Abraham as their father, but they cannot see beyond the limitation they are putting on God. When God promised Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky, and that all nations would be blessed because of him, that included all people as God's children. Jesus is trying to make them understand that God is the God of Abraham, but also the God of all people. We remember Abraham who was able to trust in God and move beyond his own understanding and follow God.
We all can get stuck in the place where we believe that God doesn’t do new things. But we have to remember that God is active, and leading us to places we have never been. Just as Martin Luther saw that the church needed to be Reformed in how it understood how God's love worked, we too need to accept that God is doing a new thing in our time as well. I am not saying I know what that new thing will be, but we need not be blinded by fear so much that we aren’t able to recognize God with us, ever reforming our hearts, and showing us a new way to love God and our neighbors. Amen.