Worship Service, October 25, 2020, “Reformation with Refuge”

Worship Service, October 25, 2020, "Reformation with Refuge"

Join Holy Trinity Church members and Pastor Erik

Sunday morning via YouTube

 

The message for October 25, 2020 by Pastor Erik,

Reformation with Refuge” 

can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday.

 

 

“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” These can sound like inspiring words from Jesus. Knowing the truth and being set free sound like pretty good things, right? The problem is that when we hear these words, there is an implication that perhaps we don’t fully know the truth yet. It sounds like we are not fully free yet. To hear these words from Jesus could make us feel uncomfortable or confused. It could cause us to stop and think if there are lies that we have been believing. It could cause us to wonder if there is something from which we need to be set free.

The listeners of Jesus in the story may have been feeling this based on their response. When Jesus says “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” they reply by saying “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’ ” It sounds like the listeners of Jesus are confused by his words. Depending upon what the inflection of their voices were, they may have also been scoffing at what Jesus as in “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone” or defensive, “What do you mean we will be made free?!?”

I think their reaction has to with the fact that Jesus is implying that these people who say they believe in him, are not yet where they need to be. He seems to be saying that to be his disciples, they might need to make a change. Jesus tells them If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth and you will be set free. He tells them that whether or not they are literal slaves, they are still slaves to sin. That means something needs to change.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that the only constant in life is change. Even though we know change is a part of life, it is still often a hard thing to deal with. We often like things the way they are, and we don’t want to mess with them, or we want things back to the way they were, because we somehow think they were better back then.

There is a joke that says, “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?”…. It takes five. One to put in the light bulb and four to sit around and complain about how much better the old one was. Or, there’s this version: “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” ….. What?!? Change?!?

We can poke fun at ourselves about how much we might be resistant to change, but it is also a serious matter. We cannot experience growth if we are not willing make adjustments, learn new things, or have different experiences. I find it ironic when we, as Lutherans sometimes talk about not liking or not wanting change, because our Protestant denomination was birthed out of Martin Luther’s call for change. The reformation began as he was seeking to make changes in the Catholic church.

“Semper reformanda” was a key phrase that Martin Luther used. It means “always reforming.” His 95 theses nailed to the Wittenburg Church door in 1517 signaled a call to be a church that is always forming and re-forming itself. But what does that mean?

It means that we are a forming church in that we are always teaching and learning and passing on the faith. It means that we are also re-forming in that we are always trying to be a community and individuals who seek to follow Christ today and in our current context. This might mean our worship or our approach to faith may look different or change depending on where we are, or who we are trying to reach.

As individuals, I think there are certain times when we tend to think about the idea of making a change or “re-forming” our lives more than others. When the New Year rolls around, it might give us pause to wonder about what we could do differently in our lives. When we have a birthday, that takes us into a new decade we might think about doing something new. When a crisis hits us, we can also be convicted to shift our thoughts or behavior.

Right now our nation is preparing for an election. Important moments like this for our society can also cause us to wrestle with the concept of change. Which direction should our county go in the next four years? While it is a great privilege to be able to vote, it can be both exciting and stressful to know that we as citizens can play a part in making decisions and influencing the direction of our nation.

The people of Israel also felt both excited and anxious when they were first given their freedom and were called to start a new nation. It’s interesting in today’s Gospel that the Jewish listeners of Jesus say that they have never been slaves. That may be true for them, but it certainly wasn’t true in terms of their ancestors. The descendants of Abraham, as they refer to themselves, were actually enslaved for several hundred years in Egypt.

They had suffered under the yoke of Pharaoh until God heard their cry and sent Moses to lead them. One of the most pivotal stories in the Hebrew Scripture was when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army was destroyed.

The Israelites had been set free by God! They were excited and overjoyed with their new found freedom! Yet it didn’t take long for them to feel stressed and anxious as they faced life in the wilderness. They had gone through a great change which was positive, but as they experienced the struggles in crossing the desert, their attitudes became more negative. They complained to Moses. They even went so far as to say they wished they were back in Egypt where at least they had a couple meals a day. Had they forgotten they were also slaves back then? This is what nostalgia does when we are going through change. It causes us to think that things were somehow better back in the past while leaving out the parts that were bad.

God gets angry with the complaining from the people, but with intercessions from Moses, God calms down and provides relief for them when they need it. This is part of the good news we see in the story, that it the midst of the difficult transition, God takes care of the people so that they can deal with the change.

God provides manna from heaven, water from a rock and protection from their enemies. In the midst of the forming and the re-forming of the Israelites in the wilderness, God also provides refuge.

We hear this same word of good news in the first reading today from Psalm 46 as the writer says, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea…The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. In case we still didn’t get it, the writer says again at the end of the Psalm, The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Three times within just eleven verses we hear how in the midst of struggles and changes in the earth and among the nations, God will be our refuge. The Psalm reminds us that with the challenge of reformation also comes the comfort of refuge. This is good news because whether we choose it or not, when change happens, it can be a source of anxiety and uncertainty. But with God as our refuge, it can also be an opportunity to learn and grow.

As we go through this time of dealing with COVID-19, the church has had to go through some re-forming. It has been stressful for us as a church to not be able to meet and to try and figure out how we do our ministry while still staying safe during this pandemic. At the same time, we have been forced to think outside of the box, to do church in different ways. We have learned new things about videoconferencing and filming worship and memorial services that have helped us grow in how we can expand our outreach to both members and perhaps curious seekers online as well.

When the early church was faced with the difficulty of change, its leaders wrote to remind the believers that there was a constant that they could depend on. Even when different things came up, there was a foundation that they could come back to. We read about this in the book of Hebrews, where the writer comforts their listeners by reminding them, “We can say with confidence ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid’ [for] Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by strange teachings, for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace…” (Hebrews 13:6-9)

Although leaders may change and different teachings may arise, the basis of the enduring faith of the church is the same: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This provides a rootedness for us so that we will not be blow away by the winds of change, but can remain grounded in our faith which can allow us to grow even through difficulties we did not choose.

-Pastor Erik Goehner

 

You may view any previous worship services by visiting the

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Thousand Oaks YouTube channel.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwXH9eTSk8ev8t7sg4lm_rw

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