Dear Members and Friends of Glory!
When I issued my “reformation challenge” to you in the Spring of 2016 to read the Bible every day until October 31st of this year, the idea was to form a habit in us that would slowly but surely influence our lives, our thinking, our faith, our church, and radiate outward into the surrounding community. How hard was that!? I know of one person who has almost read the entire Bible! Some of you said that you struggled, and a few I heard had given up. Habits are difficult to establish and difficult to break, but they are essential. Because we are creatures of habit.
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation this month is an important date marked by many interesting events. But the Reformation itself was not so much an event as it was a process. Martin Luther was certainly an amazing man, and his posting of the famous 95 theses concerning indulgences was an important event. However, the re-formation of Luther’s own life began much earlier, through deliberate and careful study and prayer, and through years of struggle with his conscience. October 31st, 1517 was a milestone, but the process of reforming the church didn’t begin there nor end there.
In the 13th century, a man named Francis of Assisi began a reform movement to restore the ideal of living in Christ-like poverty and of preaching to people about Jesus. In the 14th century a theologian named Catherine of Siena worked to restore unity to the church and helped the exiled pope to return from France to Italy. In the 15th century, Jan Hus of Bohemia began to reform worship in his homeland using the everyday language of the people and restoring holy communion to include bread and wine for everyone. Luther owed a lot to those who came before him. And of course, the Reformation did not end with Luther. Friends like his younger colleague Philip Melanchthon carried on his work after his death. The Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli and the French reformer Jean Calvin took Luther’s initiatives into new and different directions. Most importantly, the reformation involved the everyday lives of people who began to read Scripture in their mother tongue, study and memorize the catechism, renew their devotional and worship life, establish social ministries to help the poor. There were musicians who composed new music for worship, artists who illustrated the catechism, and educators who organized schools for children. Even though the Catholic church split in the 16th century, that part which remained loyal to Rome has gone through a reformation of its own (sometimes called the counter-reformation), starting with the council of Trent in the 16th and continuing with Vatican II in the 20th century. And the church’s reformation continues to this day. “Ecclesia semper reformanda est” is the Latin phrase for this on-going process. The church is always in reformation-mode. Every time you read the Bible, pray, worship, meditate on God’s grace, talk and discuss faith, you are giving God an opportunity to re-form you, and with you the church. Because you are a member of the body of Christ, crucified and risen, and continuing to die and rise again all the time, until we are fully formed in the image of God, the shape of the One who loves us.
I invite you to take advantage of the many events offered in and around our community to learn about and commemorate the 16th century Reformation. More than that, I encourage you to engage in the habits that have the potential to shape us into the people we are meant to be.
As we enter Holy Week, we are drawn into the turbulent events of the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. We join the parade on Palm Sunday, watch him drive merchants and money-changers out of the temple, teach his disciples and dispute with the authorities. We gather with him for the final Passover, we taste the mystery of being one with him in bread and wine. We go to the olive grove, we try to keep awake. We sleep, he prays. We draw the sword, he tells us No, we run away, we feel the betrayal. We slink to the judgement hall, we feel the accusations, the angry crowds, shouts of “crucify” in the air, our resolve crumbling. The whip’s cracking, the soldiers’ mocking, the women’s weeping, the Savior’s groaning. We stumble after Jesus carrying the wood on his bloody back, see him fall, try to help, feeling small. Our eyes averted, our ears ringing, our hands tied, as hammers pound, nails are driven, flesh is torn. We stand apart, we cry with him, my God – Why? God abandon yourself! – for you for me, so that I might never be abandoned.
We wait, we watch, we shudder, we listen. Come down! Come down! Save the world! Save the world! No reply, only darkness, only promise: today, you’ll see… you’ll be… in paradise… with me!
Like Joseph, we plead with Pilate: Just the body, the honor, please! We watch with love, the Savior’s body, taken with care, a flood of tears, placed in a tomb, sealed with a stone. We wait, we rest, like God: There was evening and there was morning, the seventh day. We mourn, until morning. Then we sing: Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The water in the creek has started to flow mightily. A pair of geese are anxiously looking to make a nest by the pond, maybe on the beaver island! Song birds are busily singing and mating and building. The bees are buzzing and feeding on the pollen their keepers have provided for them. Only the herons have yet to return… The mysteries of creation we observe as the season changes is a tangible reminder of the resurrection life we are celebrating at Easter: always renewing us with grace and mercy, always surprising us beyond our expectations, always calling us to participate in the work of salvation. What a privilege, and responsibility, to live and worship here!
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.
In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
thinking that he would never wake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;
love is come again like wheat arising green. (ELW 379)
Reformation Challenge Update
More than forty people signed up last spring for the challenge of reading Scripture for 500 days until the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Maybe you have found it difficult to keep up with the suggested daily readings. Maybe you never got started. No worries. October is a good month to make a new start. Here are some reading plans picked out of the hundreds available on-line. As with any exercise, there will always be days you don’t feel like it. What’s important is that you settle on one plan and stick with it.
The 5x5x5 plan. Five minutes, five days a week, and five suggestions on how to dig deeper. (you can use the remaining two days to catch up or “rest”) This plan will be printed out and put on the table in the narthex. It takes you through the New Testament in one year.
The Discipleship plan. Two readings each day, 25 days a month, with five days to “rest”, reflect, or to catch up. Through the entire Bible in one year. Printed on flyer available in the narthex.
A 365 day plan using the NIV translation. Daily continuous readings from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Psalm or Proverbs. It can be started anywhere on the list. http://www.biblica.com/en-us/bible/reading-plans/
An audio version, read in a pleasant British accent. Three readings every day. Through the entire Bible in one year. Easy to use site, with read-a-long option. Uses NIV translation. http://listenersbible.com/devotionals/biy/
A good translation is important. It must be accurate and in a language you understand. One translation that is both contemporary and accurate is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), which tries to be very faithful to the words and meanings of the original text, and is also gender inclusive. So for example where the original says “brothers”, the NRSV will say “brothers and sisters”. Another very good translation is the Good News Bible, also called Today’s English Version (TEV), which uses a less literal approach to translation (so not always accurate word for word), but is easy to read. For example, in Genesis 1, where “God saw that the light was good” (NRSV), the Good News Bible says “God was pleased with what he saw”
Bible translation is very important work, because every translation is also an interpretation. Since we don’t speak the language of Isaiah or Paul, we rely on those who understand these languages to give us the sense of what they were writing. Nonetheless, some concepts, words and meanings always get “lost in translation”, while others get added. That’s why Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible was so important. Luther, his friend Philip Melanchthon, and many other scholars of the day, did tremendous linguistic work, researching the meaning of the ancient texts of the Bible and comparing existing translations. They spent years learning Hebrew and Greek, a life time praying and thinking about what God was trying to tell them, and sometimes days searching for a particular word, before putting pen to paper. The Luther Bible became extremely influential because of its freshness of expression, its faithfulness to the text, its universal appeal, and its inspired choice of words. I think Martin Luther would be thrilled to know that today there are literally dozens of English translations, and hundreds of translations of the Bible available in other languages. I think he would be even more thrilled to know that people are reading it daily.
Summer time is vacation time. Children and students are out of school. Many of us will take time off work, spending time in the back yard or doing fun things in the community. Some will take a tent or pull a trailer or move to a cabin by the lake, go hiking or fishing, or go on a longer trip somewhere else. Even retired people go on vacation, because, as some say, they are busier than ever. Whoever, where ever and whatever it is, I wonder whether we really understand what’s going on when we vacation. Are we resting from work? Or are we re-treading the tires?
A pastor in New York by the name of Peter Scazzero has written extensively about the topic of Sabbath and the need for a weekly day of rest. I want to share some of this thoughts with you, because I believe they also apply to vacation. A brief definition of Sabbath-rest Scazzero gives is: “Stop, rest, delight, and contemplate God for a 24-hour period”. Think about what that might look like in the context of vacation. For me it involves long hikes by myself through the trees or in the mountains, with stops to eat lunch, read a book, pray, and contemplate nature.
Resting, according to Scazzero, means saying “No to Perfectionism. Sabbath is first and foremost a day of “stopping” – even with our to-do lists unfinished. We embrace our limits. And we trust God.” I find this a hard one. I always have a huge list of stuff I feel I need to complete before I can go away. I don’t even trust myself to actually lock the door behind me. Better go back and check again…
Scazzero links Sabbath with scripture. “We need time and space to meditate on the biblical text so that it becomes part of us. We need time and space to hear God speak and to transform our lives through the text.” In the small catechism, Luther says that keeping Sabbath is to “fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” Make plans to take your Bible and reading plan with you on vacation, and find a church on Sunday, so that you can be reminded of God’s love for you!
Here is an aspect I found particularly challenging: “Sabbath by its very nature humbles us. We become acutely aware of our frailty as humans. [ …] we are a work in progress with enormous limits in our perspective and experience in life.” Vacation is about embracing our limits and accepting our dependence. Sometimes, however, our vacation times themselves become so busy and exhausting they seem more like an achievement, rather than a reminder of our limits. I will try to remember this the next time I want to hike further than is good for me.
In other words, “Sabbath is about being before we do. Sabbath is essentially about how much we cannot do because we are not God.” How often do we structure our days off and vacation time by doing more? Collecting “air reward miles” during months of hard work, and then “rewarding” ourselves by flying to some exotic destination in the hope feeling “divine”, is not what Sabbath is about. Besides that, we always fall short of the goal. How much easier, and better, if we would strive to learn our limits and use vacation to try and feel human instead of divine! For that we don’t need to go anywhere, we just have to do less and be more. We are after all human beings, not human doings.
Wishing you a summer that includes delightful, restful vacation time,
Pastor Markus Wilhelm
(Quotes are from Pete Scazzero’s May 24th e-Newsletter “Preaching out of Sabbath Rest”)
At the annual meeting I was asked what is the one thing I would like to see happen in our congregation. What is one hope for Glory? I answered spontaneously: that we would all read the Bible regularly; that we would be a biblically literate congregation and would thereby grow in faith.
As you know by now, church council has adopted the Reformation Bible Reading Challenge, and you are invited to participate. We will be reading scripture everyday for 500 days in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation in October 2017. We will read at least five minutes a day, and we will all read the same short three passages. It may seem like a small thing, but even small changes take commitment and discipline. So you are invited to sign a pledge card and bring it to the church to be placed in a special box for the 500 days. The pledge cards are available on Sunday with your bulletin. Let's see how many of us will make and keep the commitment!
Transformation happens from the inside out. As we commit with our hearts to engage our minds by reading daily in God's word, we will see ourselves transformed, growing in faith and mission. The Reformation began with scripture. As heirs of Martin Luther, we do well to follow the pattern.
So dust off that old Bible, or purchase a new one. Or go online to bible.oremus.org or to www.biblegateway.com.
The passages we are reading can be found in this newsletter on Page 11, or by going online to http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=C