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Sermon of Reverend Susan Nagle
Pastor Nagle


Reformation Day - Sunday, October 30, 2016
John 8:31-36
30As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?”

34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever.

                                                                                                by Pastor Susan Nagle

At the beginning of the service, when I stood at the baptismal font, what did I say to you?  I said that I declare (that means to say out loud and mean it) the forgiveness of all your sins. It doesn’t mean that I forgive you.  I do, but that’s not enough. The God who created you and loves you says, “I forgive you,” and God asked me to declare it to you. 

You are forgiven.  Now almost 500 years ago, the church made a big mistake. Instead of saying “I declare to you the forgiveness of your sins”, the pastors were saying, “If you give me money, I’ll forgive some of your sins. If you give me MORE money, I’ll forgive you some more of them.”

God didn’t like that very much, and so God helped one man to see why that was wrong. The man’s name was Martin Luther.  And so the people who gathered around him and listened to HIM preach were called Lutherans. We’re still called that today. 

We take offerings in the church but it’s never so that you’ll be forgiven.
we take offerings so that there are good & helpful things we can do with the money: heat the building, and pay for electricity; pay the pastor because this is my job in life; send as much as we can to people who are poor, hungry, homeless, so they can have food, clothes and a place to live. 

And did you see the other thing I did this morning that I don’t usually do?
I touched the water and made the sign of the cross. Do you know why? Because this is the day I was baptized. It’s just like a birthday; I remember it every year and I thank God.  How about if we go to the font and I’ll make the sign of the cross for each of you and then you can go back to sit with your family.










This is our theme: the God we encounter in Jesus is not the God we expect – and that’s a good thing!

Jesus is the reason I have no patience with people who think that human beings invented God: because Jesus shows us a God that we would never have come up with on our own.

For Luther, the heart of the start of a Re-formation was the recognition that he had been worshiping and fearing the wrong sort of God. He was taught to see and fear a God of holiness and justice, a God who punishes the bad and rewards the good.  And if that’s your picture of God AND you can make a little money out of that, why not.  But Jesus, from this point of view, is only the one who stood in and took the beating we deserved.

Luther, agonizing over God’s righteousness, finally realized that righteousness isn’t the standard God sets for us, but rather is the gift God gave to us. I’ve heard it said, and maybe you’ve been one of those people, that some won’t come to communion because they think they’re not worthy.  Lutheran answer: none of us is worthy; that’s WHY God calls us to this table.   Righteousness isn’t a requirement but a promise.

The picture of God we would draw would be all about justice;
the God we meet in Jesus is all about love. Jesus, it turns out, didn’t die to make God forgiving but died to show us how forgiving God already is. The crucifixion shows us that if we picture God wrongly, we make God about payback,

And here’s an interesting point that fascinates me. If it’s just payback, we don’t really need the resurrection.  If it’s just to show us the beauty of eternal life, we don’t really need the crucifixion to have happened.  What we really have to say about atonement is that there is no limit to what God will endure to show us the amazing depth of the love God feels for us. And God overcomes our greatest fear by overcoming the power of death.

I’m a Lutheran because, …
(well probably because my mother’s family as far back as we know were Lutherans). But I’m a Lutheran even though my father’s sister tried to get me hooked on decision theology, because it turns my picture of God around 1800
in order to establish an amazing relationship in love.

 No wonder Luther would later describe meeting this unexpected God by saying it was like having the gates of heaven opened to him.

Let me tell you about two people: Megan was new to our congregation back in Jersey.  She and her family, with three beautiful girls, received a very warm welcome, and was delighted to keep coming back.  However, she had a sister who was about to move near her.  Her sister was a Christmas and Easter worshiper.  And she has purple hair, and multiple piercings and tattoos. I told the congregation ahead of time that she was coming to church, and that they were to welcome her, and not look askance.

She wasn’t coming to church to repent of funky style!  She came looking for a chance to worship.  I told them they were not to ask any member to account for their appearance.
The other person I want to tell you about is Mitch. He left our congregation and went to another church.  Some people, he reported, kept asking him questions about his personal life that he refused to answer.  They asked if he was gay.  Some expressed concern about him serving at the altar. Some were concerned about my invitation to him to help teach confirmation. It’s NOT ABOUT REPENTANCE. He came there looking for a chance to worship. He should have been welcomed.  We are not to ask any member to account for their sexuality.

You know what? He came back, and a member of the congregation told me that he had asked Mitch directly if he was gay, because he wanted to be able to celebrate yet another example of diversity in our congregation. That made Mitch’s jaw drop.

Human expectation of God sets certain standards, makes sure that they don’t exclude ourselves, and then proceed to list those whom God does not love, always giving them an entrance strategy, called Deciding for God. Isn’t it better for us, instead of judging, to see our own short-comings and rejoice that God accepts us all, anyway? Purple hair included?!

"In many churches, avoiding honest talk is one of the fees the faithful pay for entry. Only show your best side, admit only your small sins, hide your dirty laundry, pray for the godforsaken far away, and hide the presence of the godforsaken in your own house—these are often the rules. Congregants are tempted to hide their problems like junkies hide track marks."

We do in fact hide our worst sides and polish our best sides, and then having done so, we criticize everyone else who doesn’t shine like we do. 

But here’s my point for today, there’s no such thing as godforsaken.  Live with that.

I’ll repeat where I started, so that you can reflect on this. Once again, we don’t get the God we expect, but rather the one we need. Thanks be to God!