If I had a hammer...

Sermon by Rev. Tuhina Rasche preached on Reformation Sunday 2017

Inspired by Matthew 22:34-46 and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

When you think of Reformation Sunday, what comes to your mind? This is not a rhetorical question.

In thinking about Reformation Sunday for today, I couldn’t help but think of a song.
            If I had a hammer,
            I'd hammer in the morning,
            I'd hammer in the evening,
            All over this land,
            I'd hammer out danger,
            I'd hammer out a warning,
            I'd hammer out love between,
            My brothers and my sisters,
            All over this land.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, there have been so many ways that the Protestant church has rejoiced. Ecumenical services, particularly with our Catholic siblings. Choir concerts. Oktoberfests. Carnivals. Reenactments. But looking back over the past 500 years, I cannot help but think, does this matter? Is the Reformation over?

It does matter. I mean, we’re all gathered here today, right? We’re baptizing a beautiful child on this day that the Lord has made. It’s pretty amazing to think about what a hammer and some nails could do, because Luther’s hammer and nails helped bring us to today. Were it not for the catalyst of the Reformation, I wouldn’t be standing in the pulpit today. I marvel at how something about Luther nailing something to a door brought us here today; not as being classified as Protestants, but instead being classified as Reformers. This is not a party to say, “Woohoo, we’re not Catholic!” 

We’re really celebrating the amazing works of the Holy Spirit in the world. The Spirit that meets us when we gather together. The Spirit that meets is in the sacraments. The Spirit in which we baptize. Being a reformer is about challenging the systems that are in place through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is always challenging us to find new and bold ways to be the body of Christ in the world, to bring about the reign of the kingdom of God, to profess the radical and controversial peace of the Gospel message. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. 

The action of the hammer hitting the nail on a church door is not a stagnant event. What happened afterwards is what leads us here. But it’s not just Luther vandalizing a church door that brings us here today. Hammers hitting nails and the ramifications in another event changed the course of history. Hammers hitting the nails, crucifying Christ on the cross. It’s gut wrenching to think of that broken flesh... because the crucifixion was a disturbing event. With this being Reformation Sunday, I couldn’t help but turn to the words of Luther and his words on Christ’s crucifixion in a devotional titled “A Meditation on Christ’s Passion.” Luther writes:

“For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ’s passion. This earnest mirror, Christ, will not lie or trifle, and whatever it points out will come to pass in full measure.”

Um. Wow. You might be thinking, we’re never trusting Pastor Ron with selecting a guest preacher ever again. Let’s be honest, there is an uneasiness about Luther’s words. It’s easy to think, oh, Christ’s crucifixion happened a couple of thousand years ago. Other people did it to him. What is unsettling about Luther’s meditation is that Christ’s crucifixion becomes personal. It’s today. You did it. I did it. We’re all culpable. And that is horrifying.

But do not despair. Luther does not leave us hanging. He continues on to say:

“Sin cannot remain on Christ, since it is swallowed up by his resurrection. Now you see no wounds, no pain in him, and no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul [the apostle] declares that “Christ died for our sin and rose for our justification.” That is to say, in his suffering Christ makes our sin known and thus destroys it, but through his resurrection he justifies us and delivers us from all sin, if we believe this.”

We live within a fine line, with a tension between life and death. In this Meditation of Christ’s Passion, Luther talks about sin, our sins, being the nails that cause Christ’s crucifixion, making us aware of our brokenness. Hammers and nails led to Christ crucified on the cross, Christ’s death. But these nails also led to the resurrected Christ, the resurrected Christ who bore the scars of what happened, who took on so much for you and for me out of love for us and for the world.

Hammers and nails didn’t end with the crucifixion and resurrection. Luther’s actions on the door in Wittenberg also show us that hammers, nails, and wood are on the side of new life. We live within this fine line between life and death. The nails of the cross and the nails of the reformation show us this fine line. We are a people of death, but ultimately, we are also a people of life.  

The hammer and nails of Christ’s crucifixion are very much tied to who we are as Christians, and the risk God took in expressing God’s love for us in the person of Christ. The hammer and nails of Martin Luther formed who we are today in this place and are also tied to our Christian identity.           

As a Reformation people, we are a people of the crucified, yes, but also risen Lord. We are a Reformation people who know how the story ends. We know how that story ends because of God’s actions in the world through Christ and the cross. It is in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ that is the ultimate Reformation act of all. It is God’s ultimate act of reformation of who God is in the world. It is the ultimate act of reformation of how God interacts with the world. How God loves the world. How God calls us to love one another. It is the ultimate act of reformation of the stories of our lives, and how we interact with the world, how we take an incredible risk to love our neighbors... and risk to love ourselves.

Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are the ultimate acts of reformation that call for our response. Not in some “works righteousness” sort of way, but in a way to risk to love as God has so loved us, to respond to love our neighbor, to respond to reform and challenge the status quo of the way things are in the world, and to respond to reform the church and the body of Christ... not just for the sake of reforming, but instead by living into what the Holy Spirit calls us to do as the body of Christ in the world today. To reflect the love God has for the full diversity of the entirety of God’s creation.

Ultimately, the spirit of this day is not about us. The spirit of this day is not about Martin Luther. The spirit of this day is about the Creator God, Redeemer Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit that calls us to reform the church to represent the living Body of Christ in the world today. So no, the reformation is not over. The ultimate act of reformation came in God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus. The reformation came with Christ’s life... and death by crucifixion. The ultimate act of reformation came with the resurrection, showing us that death and sin and the devil do not have the final say. We are given a rich legacy and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to continue this act of reformation; not just for the sake of reformation, but for the sake of being moved by the Spirit to be the body of Christ today, to love one another as God loves us today so that we may live our baptismal promises and nurture the body of Christ tomorrow. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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