Tag Archives: Reformation

Josiah’s Reform (Advent I) – November 29, 2015 (NL Week 12)

Sunday’s Reading:
2 Kings 22:1-23:3

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

Every so often over the past few years, I have found myself really missing Gettysburg Seminary, where I studied before moving to Falls City in June of 2011. I could talk about a lot of different things that I miss – the amazing friends that I made there, the learning environment, the sense of history, the proximity to places like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore – but one of the things I’ve missed the most, particularly this fall, was the fact that at Gettysburg I lived in rented housing. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here too – God has placed me and our family in a wonderful community, and I’m getting to share this amazing ministry with all of you – but truthfully, there are some times that owning a house can be a real pain. You have to keep up with all those little maintenance needs that pop up all over the place, and when you don’t it can cost you a lot of time and energy and money to take care of them. More than that, though, it seems that there’s something about the relationship between the condition of our house and the general feeling we have about our lives that is much more acute than it was when we were renting from the Seminary.

I thought about that relationship quite a bit this week as I reflected on the text before us on this First Sunday of Advent. Today’s Scripture reading begins with King Josiah’s need to catch up with deferred maintenance on the house of the Lord, the temple in Jerusalem built by his predecessor Solomon. The temple had fallen into some disrepair over the centuries, owing in part to the rapid succession of kings who had found the condition of the temple a matter of more or less importance depending on their commitment to the covenant that God had made with their people. In fact, I don’t think it would be wrong to say that the physical state of the temple largely mirrored the spiritual state of the people. That seems to be the case, at least, as the reign of Josiah begins. One of his most recent predecessors, Manasseh, is described by the writer of the Book of Kings as one of the wickedest men ever to rule over Judah, and by all accounts his son Amon wasn’t much better.

By the time Josiah takes over, the house of the Lord is in need of some serious work, and this king is determined to make sure that the needed work is completed so that God’s dwelling might be preserved for the worship and service of God’s people. If I’m right about the state of the temple mirroring the state of the people’s relationship with God, then I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that the “home improvement” project going on at the temple results in the “discovery” of the book of the Law. It seems fitting, in fact, that the renewal of God’s house would lead to the renewal of the people’s covenant with the one who had chosen to dwell among them. While both of these things are obviously important, it’s pretty clear that the writer of Kings sees Josiah’s recommitment to the law to be a much more significant event. After all, the people of Israel and Judah lived in relationship with God long before there was a temple in Jerusalem, and that relationship has continued long after the destruction of the temple centuries later. All of this is possible because of the preservation of the law, this gracious body of instruction that reminds those who read it and submit themselves to it what God desires for their lives. Where that instruction is absent, it is easy to stray from the path that God has set before God’s people; where it is cherished and made a part of the life of individuals and communities, God continues to direct the people to pursue what is good and right.

As Christians, of course, we are part of that people, and the same principle that applied to those who lived in Josiah’s day is also important for us to remember. Where the word of God remains  at the center of our lives, we are gifted with the ability to live the way that God desires; where we depart from it, we make it more difficult to discern God’s power and presence in our lives. What makes our situation different from Josiah’s is that we have a different relationship with the word. During Advent, we focus our minds and hearts on the coming of God’s Word into our world in the person of Jesus. Where Josiah’s life (and the lives of those around him) were changed by the discovery of the scroll that contained the Law, our lives (and the life of our world) has been changed by the advent of the Word-made-flesh, the one who spoke creation into being and then determined that he would become identified with that creation so closely that he would dwell among us in our likeness. Where Josiah’s reform consisted of restoring the instruction of God to the center of community life, our constant reformation as individuals and as a community consists of God’s decision to take up residence among us in the person of Jesus.

It is important to note, of course, that Josiah’s discovery and ours have something in common – neither of them has the effect of eliminating the experience of hardship and struggle. Despite Josiah’s best efforts – and despite the enthusiastic response made by the people at the public reading of the Law – Judah was still subjected to the humiliation of exile, the pain of being separated from the land that they called home. By the same token, the knowledge that Jesus dwells among us and promises to come again does not prevent any of us from experiencing heartache or sadness or suffering. In both cases, the presence of the law – or of the Word – helps us to make our way through times of suffering and loss with confidence in God’s goodness and love for us and for the whole creation.

These are fitting lessons for the beginning of this season of reflection and preparation. In Advent, we are more aware than ever that the world is not the way that God desires it to be, and yet we are also made aware of God’s promise to come again to make all things new and to restore everything to God’s design. As we continue to move through this season, let us pray that God will make us more aware of Christ’s presence in our midst. Let us pray that we might be freed from the stress and strain of life to focus our attention on Christ and the way that Christ calls us to live in relationship with God and with one another. Finally, let us pray that we might be inspired by Josiah to commit ourselves to the Word that forms us to be God’s people in the world, so that we might always be ready to welcome that Word in faith, hope, and love. Thanks be to God! Amen.

David Anointed King (Reformation Sunday) – October 25, 2015 (NL Week 7)

Sunday’s Reading:
2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

On October 31, 1517, a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther changed the course of history and the direction of Western civilization when he defiantly nailed his 95 Theses – properly titled “A Disputation on the Power an Efficacy of Indulgences” – to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg in Germany. At least, that’s the short, simple, and triumphant version of the story that we Lutheran Christians tell ourselves when we celebrate the anniversary of beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Many of us gather on this Reformation Sunday with that story firmly implanted in our minds, and we are met in worship today by a similarly triumphant story from Scripture centered on a vital figure in the history of God’s people. After the failure of Israel’s first king – a man named Saul whose tragic story was sadly passed over in this year’s telling of the Biblical story – the people of Israel and Judah were eager to place their lives and their fortunes in the hands of the one who had been anointed by God to succeed Saul. David, once a young shepherd whose musical talent, rugged good looks, and valor in warfare had endeared him to his people, now stood at the pinnacle of power in the eastern Mediterranean, having been given charge over the twelve tribes of Israel as the ruler of an unprecedented “united kingdom”. His reign as king became legendary, and long after his death David continued to be the model for every king who would follow him, both in terms of faithfulness to God and in terms of skillful and discerning leadership.

Two men. Two significant eras in the history of God’s people. Two leaders lionized for their boldness and courage in the face of opposition. David and Luther certainly share a number of characteristics in the popular imagination, although I’m not sure that most of those characteristics are terribly helpful for our reflection, especially because many of them don’t actually match the historical record. If, however, we cut through the myths, I think there are lessons to be learned from the lives of these two figures who loom large in our collective memories, and those lessons are capable of drawing us beyond “hero worship” to a proper understanding of God’s movement in their lives (and ours).

On the positive side, both Luther’s reformation project and David’s rise to the monarchy have in common a desire to place God at the center of community life. In today’s reading, we hear the account of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant, the visible symbol of God’s presence among the people of Israel, back into the midst of the people. The new king was convinced that keeping the nation together and making it strong would require the people to acknowledge God as the source of their blessings and their common life. So we have this evocative scene in which David leads a procession containing the Ark into the city of Jerusalem, the newly established capital of the United Kingdom, accompanied by dancing and music and wild celebration. At its core, then, the story of David’s ascent to the throne is also a story of gratitude and remembrance of God’s gracious favor poured out upon him and the entire nation, and that is certainly worthy of being lifted up as an example for us.

In the same way, if we cut through the mythology around Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, which was surely less dramatic than we commonly imagine, we recognize the truly profound impact of this young priest and university professor calling the church to take Christ’s command to be a repentant and forgiven people seriously. Where some within the church had lost their proper focus, Luther called the whole church to remember that – in the words of one of those famous Theses –  “[t]he true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. (Thesis 62, “The 95 Theses”, Luther’s Works, vol. 31, p. 31)

While we rightly celebrate these defining events in the church’s history, we also do well to remember that both of these men were flawed, and that the stories we tell ourselves about them are demonstrably false if we leave out their faults and failings in the interest of advancing our own interests. So, for example, David was described as being “a man after God’s own heart,” but he was also the perpetrator of one of the most heinous abuses of power in the entire Old Testament. His assault of Bathsheba, his violation of her marriage to Uriah the Hittite, and his treachery in sending Uriah to the front lines of battle to be killed at the hands of the Ammonites, all of these are reminders of David’s humanity, including his inability to place his own desires aside for the sake of holiness or godliness. Luther’s life is also rife with examples of his fallibility. His fierce polemic against other Christian groups – from the Roman Catholic church to the Anabaptist and Reformed churches – became the justification for the slaughter of tens of thousands, and his rhetoric about the Jewish people has had an even more devastating impact upon that community through the centuries. In trying to serve the cause of God as he understood it, Luther’s frequent lack of humility did great harm to the Church and to society in general.

As Christians – those who have been grafted onto God’s chosen people and given a share in God’s grace – and particularly as Lutheran Christians, what can we take away from the stories of Martin Luther and King David? On the one hand, there is much to be emulated as we look at the lives of these two saints of God. David’s desire to seek after God’s heart and God’s will is certainly a desire that we should share. His symbolic act of placing the Ark back at the center of Israel’s common life is one that we might ponder as we are pulled to and fro by all the people and things that demand our attention. Likewise, Luther’s pursuit of the gracious God revealed in Holy Scripture is a part of our DNA as those who have inherited his legacy, and to the extent that we set our minds to pursuing the truth about God in Christ for ourselves, we embody one of the Reformation’s most enduring projects. By the same token, the very idea of reformation, of being continually shaped by the Holy Spirit’s movement in our midst, is an idea and worthy of being recalled regularly for the sake of our life together.

On the other hand, of course, some of the most significant learnings we might take from these two figures are examples of what not to do. We do well to remember the excesses of David’s leadership, and his abuse of that leadership to satisfy his own needs and desires. We also do well to avoid the hubris that led Luther to espouse a rhetoric which has done profound and lasting damage to the unity of the Church, and with which we are still coming to terms as heirs of the Reformation. As we examine that lives of David and Luther, we are called to be discerning about those parts of their legacies that are praiseworthy, and to learn the lessons of those parts that are worthy of criticism so that we can avoid their mistakes.

On this Reformation Sunday, brothers and sisters, let us give thanks for the lives of our forerunners in the faith – David and Martin – and for the example they set in seeking to be faithful to God in word and deed. Let us pray for the wisdom to see their failures for what they are, and the grace to avoid them so that God might be glorified. Finally, let us pray that God’s Holy Spirit would continue to move in our midst, forming us to be God’s people in the world, and drawing us ever closer to one another in the bonds of love and peace, for the sake of the church and the world that God loves. Amen.