The Common Good

Reformation Day and You(2): Reformed and Always Reforming

391px-Martin_Luther_by_Lucas_Cranach_der_A?ltereWhen I was ordained as a "Minister of Word and Sacrament" in the Reformed Church in America, a denomination that began in 1628, I imagined that I was being ordained to a church that was "reformed and always reforming!" (Emphasis mine).

Reformata et semper reformanda was a theme of the Reformation, which Martin Luther kicked off on Oct. 31, 1517 when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to front door of Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany.

But rather than reviewing history from a half-millennia ago, let me explain what I hoped for 22 years ago, when I was ordained.

In 1989, apartheid was still going on in South Africa. The first I heard of such a thing was when my younger sister commended to my reading Alan Paton's book, Cry the Beloved Country. "Tutu" came to mean a bespectacled, spit-fire of an African bishop, rather than something worn by ballerinas.

And back then, of course, the Irish rock group U2 had made it "cool" to oppose apartheid.

As I would drive from tony Princeton to depressed Newark, I would turn on U2's album Rattle and Hum and blast the song, "Silver and Gold," that Bono wrote as a direct attack on apartheid.

About midway through the song, Bono, as he is wont to do pauses to talk it out. He says:

"Yep, silver and gold.
This song was written in a hotel room in New York City. . .
This is a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg.
A man who's sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa.
A man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms
against his oppressor.
A man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the west while
they argue and while they fail to support a man like bishop Tutu
and his request for economic sanctions against South Africa.
Am I buggin' you?
I don't mean to bug ya.

Ok Edge, play the blues."

The church is called to "bug ya."

Reformation Sunday's lectionary this year is from Matthew 23. It's a powerful text (read it in its entirety HERE), wherein Jesus cautions his followers to not become like the religious leaders:

"'But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. 'Woe to you, blind guides, who say, "Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath."

Ironically, Jesus Christ bothered more people than Bono and Tutu combined. And we in America don't even notice what we need to reform. Here is a smattering of ideas:

  • Today Bread for the World is calling people to demand that Senators don't decrease foreign aid funding. How often do we talk about Africa from our pulpits as a justice mandate? (And frankly, not just a place to send "missionaries"?)
  • At present 13.3 million are facing a "humanitarian emergency" in the Horn of Africa. What if even half of the estimated $2 billion dollars spent on Halloween candy went to Africa? What if (crazy thought) those of us who call ourselves "Christian" were to even cut in half the dollars we spent on candy and have a national Reformation next year, with the money going to those who have no food?
  • What if (this is SUCH a crazy idea!) we who call ourselves Christian were to work together more politically? Jim Wallis and Arthur Brooks (head of the American Enterprise Institute) have creative dialogues and both have said that they are beneficial and informative. Both are good men with very different ideas. But they both agree that poverty is not a virture and must be eradicated.

On Rattle and Hum, after "Silver and Gold," U2 segues into, "In the Name of Love," its tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., where Bono sings:

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life

They could not take your pride . . .
For the Rev. Martin Luther King, sing:

In the name of Love-what more in the name of Love?

On Reformation Day -- reformed and always reforming! (emphasis still mine) -- I offer this quote from the indomitable anti-apartheid reformer Allan Boesak, who wrote in his book Black and Reformed:

"The Christian church can take a stand, not because it possesses earthly power, or because it has 'control' over the situation. Over against the political, economic, and military powers that seek to rule this world, the Church remains weak and in a sense defenseless. But it takes this stand because it refuses to believe that the powers of oppression, death, and destruction have the last word. Even when facing these powers the church continues to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and, therefore, the life of the world. And it is this faith in the living One, this refusal to bow down to the false gods of death, that is the strength of the church."

In the name of Love . . .

Rev. Ruth Hawley-Lowry is a pastor in Michigan who is looking for the next place where she might "break the silence."

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