You know what I loved as a kid growing up in the sixties?
No. I'm not a geeky “Trekkie” (my sincere apologies to you geeky Trekkies out there), I just liked the idea of a future filled with really cool stuff. I mean, there was space travel, for cryin' out loud! And little tiny boxes with flip-up lids that served as communicators. They had computers that could both talk and listen to you, whole libraries of information you could hold in the palm of your hand, and two-way video communication.
What's more, the future depicted in Star Trek was a world at peace. Russians and Americans worked together. Women and men were equal (okay, except for the miniskirts the women crew members wore—that was still a little sexist, wasn't it?), and racism seemed non-existent. They even got along with people from other planets. How cool was that?
In the almost half-century since the premier of Star Trek, lots of progress has been made down here on good ol' Planet Earth. We have the fancy computers and communicators prophetically suggested by that classic TV show. We've traveled to the moon and put a working probe on Mars. We've even made a little progress towards gender and racial equality (although we still have lots of room for improvement on those scores). The Cold War has ended, and we've made some progress towards welcoming people who once seemed very different from the mainstream. No space aliens yet, but if you've ever taught teens in Confirmation, you might think you've made extra-terrestrial contact.
But with all of this cool technology, we still live on a planet threatened by pollution and climate change. One in every eight people on this globe survive in the most degrading of poverty—living on about one US dollar per day. An almost equal number lack access to clean drinking water, and a person in the developing world is more likely to have a cellular phone than access to proper sewage sanitation. Malaria and HIV are still raging, as is human trafficking. 300,000 to 500,000 Americans are still homeless. Wars, revolution, and violence still fill the nightly news.
This planet still needs a reformation.
So what do we Lutherans have to celebrate on Reformation Day? For one thing,we celebrate that once a brave little monk had the courage to tell the truth. When Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on that October day in 1517, he was proclaiming the teaching of John 8:32:
“...and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
And what was that truth? We are all slaves to sin—to our selfish, greedy, inconsiderate, angry, stubborn natures. But God still—in spite of everything—loves us enough to die for us. And we are set free by the love of the Son, not by the edicts of the Church. Luther's audience was freed from the tyranny of an institution which sought to obtain obedience through the terror of conscience, and one which gave tacit approval to oppression, subjugation, and poverty. Luther taught his people that the gift of baptism:
“...brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it...” (Small Catechism, 1528)
This promise changed the course of Western history.
I wonder, however, what Luther would do with the Church of today? To what are we still slaves? I'd say it's to institutional survival. Either that, or to a preoccupation with individual salvation, a concern about our own spiritual comfort and a discomfort with anything which might be controversial.
But Luther saw a church which was constantly in the act of reforming, a church where all the people were priests doing the work of God. After almost 500 years, we still have a lot of work to do before God's law is written on all of our hearts and we all—from the least to the greatest—know and act on the transforming power of God's love.
I keep praying for an ongoing Reformation, and a Church with a constantly changing heart and mission to the poor and helpless of this world—a priesthood of all believers moving forward in the faith of a loving and mighty God. We can do this, people! We have the power to change things, to invent and imagine. Christ sets us free from our doubts, preoccupations and preconceptions about what is and is not possible. If we can break free from earth's gravity, we can break free from global poverty. With Christ's passion in our hearts, there is no limit to what the people of God can accomplish.
Thanks for dropping in, fellow priest.
PS-Here's a radical idea: In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation coming up in 2015, let's ask Pope Francis (he seems like a pretty cool guy) to invite Lutherans back to the table of Holy Communion. Let's show the world that what we Christians—Protestants and Catholics—have in common is more important than our tiny differences. Interested? Click on my petition here.