Not done yet… – Sermon for Reformation Sunday

There’s some debate about how things unfolded in the early church as far as the relationship between weekly Sunday worship and Easter Sunday worship. Church historians used to suggest that what we do each Sunday in church is a “little Easter”—that we gather each week to remember the resurrection of Jesus and that we celebrate Easter each week we come together, reserving one big Sunday of the year for the big event, as it were.

And that’s true, in part. We do celebrate the resurrection every week. Each worship service we have is a celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and hell, but is each Sunday a derivative, or spin-off from the early church’s celebration of Easter Sunday in the spring? More recent research in Christian history, especially as far as Christian worship goes, seems to suggest the opposite. Easter Sunday, it would seem, gained importance as the primary feast day of the Christian year because of the importance weekly worship had. Sunday worship isn’t so much a little Easter as Easter Sunday is a big Sunday. The early church gathered weekly on the day of Jesus’ resurrection and remembered his death in the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine, his body and blood, and over time, they held the days around the Passover in significant esteem because they were the anniversary of the Jesus’ death and resurrection. But most immediately they continued living in relationship with Jesus and in community with one another in worship with the breaking of bread and sharing of wine.

Why is this important, today of all days, on this Reformation Sunday? It’s important for the simple reason of saying that things change over time. What once was isn’t the way that things necessarily are now nor will they necessarily remain. Things change. German philosopher Johann von Goethe once said, “constancy in change.” The only thing in life that is constant is change…The resurrection of Jesus was a reformation—a reformation of the way we saw the world in light of God’s relationship with us. Creation was a reformation—a reformation of darkness into light, disorder into order, chaos into life. Pentecost was a reformation—the reformation of confused, afraid disciples into purposeful champions for the sake of God’s good news. And so it is that reformation happens over and over again in life, and things change. And good comes about from it. It’s not always easy, but God uses all things for the building up of his purposes. As we go forward today and in the weeks to come, ask yourself how God is still at work forming and re-forming goodness in your own life and the life of the world around you. Do you see it?

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Annaliese had been teaching the kids in Sunday school the past few weeks about the events of Holy Week—how Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday, how he shared a special meal with his friends on Thursday, was betrayed by them, and how he was crucified, died, and was buried. The last lesson was about Easter Sunday morning. And so it was that she had them around the Sunday school table, and they were rambunctious like always. She finally got them settled down, and quickly reviewed with them the story up to this point. And then she said, “And so now we’re at the part in the story of the first Easter morning. Can anyone tell me what happened on the first Easter?” The kids got silent. Annaliese was pretty used to this when she asked a specific question, and she was ready to give them some help. “I’ll give you a hint,” she says. “It starts with the letter R.” Without missing a beat, Tommy, one of the more exuberant of the group, blurts out, “I know! I know! He recycled!” And so it was. The Lord separated his plastic from his paper…

All joking aside, maybe Tommy wasn’t too far off after all. On Easter Sunday morning, almost some two thousand years ago, Jesus rose from the dead, defeating once and for all everything that would stand in the way of us believing that God’s love for us knows no bounds and that it’s a free gift to us, purely given with no strings attached. “For I am convinced,” writes Saint Paul, in what might be the crispest, clearest, concisest formulation of the promise of God’s love in the whole Bible, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s the promise of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s what God made patently clear to us on that first Easter morning in Jesus’ resurrection, and that’s what we celebrate every Easter—and every Sunday, for that matter.

But what does it mean? What does it mean that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord? And why is Tommy not really wrong when he says that Jesus recycled on that first Easter morning?

In the beginning, before God created anything, chaos reigned. Darkness veiled the chaos. Things weren’t good—at least not to God’s liking. So God took action, but God took action in God’s way. God spoke. God spoke a Word, a single word, yehi`or—“let there be light.” And light explodes, rupturing the darkness, exposing the chaos for what it is. God sets to work and orders the chaos, and at the end of his work, he creates humankind in his image, male and female he created us, endowing us each with his own form and likeness—and he called all that he formed, including us, very good. God had formed something from nothing, and that thing was life in all its richness. And it was very good. God liked it. God loved what he had made—all of it, including human beings.

But of course, we know how the story goes on. God’s creation is corrupted. Chaos comes back to play, if you will. The serpent tempts Eve into believing that God’s Word, his promise that she is made in his image, is somehow wrong—or not to be trusted. And so the serpent convinces her that if she eats of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, she will be like God—even though God has already told her she is formed in his image. And so she eats. And she shares the fruit with Adam, who also is tempted by the false words of the serpent, and he eats. Their innocent relationship, formed in trust in God’s Word, is broken. God recognizes this, and so goes the rest of history with its suffering, pain, agony, and worry. Sin had come into the world and sought to undo all that God had done in creating a good creation, a creation formed out of love and held together in harmony as God first designed it.

But God wasn’t done. God didn’t give up. And that’s where recycling comes in. God first formed the world, first created it in perfection, but when it fell into corruption, he didn’t chuck it aside—destroying it to oblivion. He kept on working with it. He found ways to keep life going. Wickedness became so pervasive, he cleansed the world, literally washing away all the corruption across the world. Yet in that, God renewed a promise to Noah and his family never to again wipe away all life with water. Later, God promised to form a huge family for his special friend Abraham—creating bonded relationships that stretch down through time to this very day. Again, that same family God redeemed from captivity under the hand of Pharoah through his servant Moses, forming the special covenant of laws at Sinai. Still later, God raised up a king in David to shepherd his people, forming yet again another special relationship with his people, meant to form their lives around the good order he first envisioned. God later called prophets to remind the people of their special relationship with God and to call them back to faithfulness, forming yet again another connection with his chosen people and reminding them, “I am your God, and you are my people.”

Time and time again, God is at work, busy and active, in the life of creation, especially though his chosen people, bringing life out of deathful places and circumstances. Never has God abandoned what he has made, and never has God abandoned his people. God is faithful, even if it means working nonstop. The cycle of life keeps re-cycling…over and over and over again. Because God won’t give up on life. Nothing will stand in his way—because at the heart of it all is God’s unmitigated, unremitting love. God is love.

And through history, as God has called up different people from vastly different backgrounds to do his work, to speak his Word, and in these ways, God has spoken to his people—in real words through real people. But in a particular time and a particular place, God spoke differently. God didn’t just speak reality into being, but became real, in Jesus, the same Word who first formed the formless chaos into ordered creation and called forth light and life. That same Word took on bones, blood, eyes, lungs, and skin—a whole body!—and lived among us in Jesus, full of grace and truth. And it’s that Word, that Word of God who became a real human being like you and like me, who showed us once and for all the extent to which God will go to keep his relationship alive with us.

During that week leading up to the first Easter, Jesus went to hell and back—literally. He suffered the worst kind of pain imaginable, God himself feeling godforsaken on the cross, and died. In death, he descended to hell, ripping the shackles of death asunder once and for all, and on that first Easter, he rose to life again in a glorious resurrection, again bursting forth to life amid dazzling light as at the moment of the first creation.

The cycle of life that God had first designed re-cycled again. God’s love won out of over what would stand against it. God once again formed order from disarray. No longer do we ask, “What will become of us?” with trepidation and worry because we know that all things work together for God for good those who love God, and that nothing, nothing in all creation, will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord—the one, the very Word who first call forth life, who for us and for our sake came down from his heavenly splendor and joined life with us, to be in relationship with us, loving relationship, that one never abandons us.

Whatever it takes. God will keep at it. God will cycle back and try a new thing. But God is with us, always. By whatever means necessary. God does not abandon us. He will keep recycling, reforming, and recreating. Maybe we call it the cycle of resurrection…or the cycle of life…or the cycle of love. Whatever the case may be, God isn’t done with life yet, with us or anything, really, and never will be. The kingdom’s ours forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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