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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Reformation Day & Confirmation Sunday 10/31

Today is Reformation Day, it’s Confirmation Sunday and it’s Halloween, as we hit on something of a trifecta.  It doesn’t happen that often as October 31st doesn’t usually fall on a Sunday so normally we just celebrate the Reformation along with Confirmation on the Sunday before the 31st and Halloween we just don’t pay much attention to at all in church but today they all come together which causes me to want to look for connections.

The lessons for today, and they’re the same every year on Reformation Sunday, the lessons are all reflective of Martin Luther’s theology, which is an appropriate thing to reflect on today, especially the passage from Romans 3, “Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  In his struggle with the Catholic Church, that was a key verse for Luther in his protest against the sale of indulgences, by which the church was in essence selling salvation. 

For our confirmands today or for any Lutheran, if someone asks for Luther in a nutshell, his emphasis on God’s grace was and continues to be the central point of his theology.  He didn’t invent grace; it was always there, but he was relentless in his claim that it was only by God’s grace that anyone has hope.  No one can be good enough; no one can perform enough acts of penance or purchase enough indulgences to save themselves.   We are justified by grace as a gift, period.

In addition to the Romans passage, Psalm 46 was the inspiration for “A Mighty Fortress is our God” which is of course the quintessential Lutheran Reformation hymn; the passage from John with the call from Jesus to continue in his word was the inspiration for another of Luther’s great hymns, “Lord Keep us Steadfast in Your Word.” 

It’s good to remember Luther’s theology today and these readings call us to that, but then again we remember or we should remember Luther’s theology on just about every Sunday of the year.  As Lutherans it is through that lens of grace that we look at the scripture readings all year long so in that regard today isn’t all that different from other Sundays.  In addition to that, pretty much every Christian church places emphasis on God’s grace, it’s not unique to the Lutheran church; Lutheran’s and Catholics signed a Joint Declaration on Justification on Reformation Day, 1999, a declaration that focused on grace, more or less burying the hatchet on what Luther had protested about back in 1517.  Theologically there is much that we share with other denominations and because of that some have suggested that it’s time to remove Reformation Day from our liturgical calendar because, they say, in a time when we’re trying to come to points of agreement and full communion with other church bodies, celebrating the Reformation just serves to emphasize division rather than unity.

I agree with that sentiment in that I don’t think Luther’s theology, as important as it is, is reason enough to continue to celebrate Reformation Day, nor is his theology alone a good reason to confirm young people on this day.  However, I do think it’s good to celebrate the Reformation for other reasons, and for those other reasons I think it’s also the perfect day to celebrate confirmation. 

It’s hard to know for sure what Martin Luther thought he was doing when he posted the 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg.  Movies about Luther portray it as a dramatic, emotional event, but in reality he was probably just doing what scholars did in those days.  He distributed his propositions, his theses to others in the academic community, he sent a copy to his diocesan bishop as a matter of respect and he posted them publicly on the church door as a way to invite those who were interested to engage him in dialog or dispute about them, all of which was quite ordinary.  The rest though, is history, history which is perhaps most notable for the fact it didn’t end with Luther being burned at the stake.  He wasn’t the first one to challenge the authority of the church, but with a mix of supporters in the church and in the political realm, by the grace of God Luther survived and he did affect change.

What Luther’s “success” accomplished, more than anything, was to legitimize a tradition of questioning and challenge and that I think is the reason to continue to have a day called Reformation Day and it is also the reason why this is the perfect day to celebrate confirmation.  Luther would not “check his brains at the door” as we say.  He would not accept that the higher church authorities knew more than he did so that all their pronouncements were true and not to be questioned.  He would not and could not accept that when his study of scripture told him that another interpretation was possible. 

Whether he knew it or not, whether he intended it or not, Luther’s success established a tradition of interpretation and questions.  Quite honestly I don’t think that’s what he intended because he wound up being pretty nasty to those who disagreed with him, but the genie was out of the bottle and it wasn’t going back in.  Just as Luther questioned the authority of the church, others questioned him, from all sides, and the questioning continues, the reformation of the church continues.  It didn’t end 500 years ago; it goes on.

It makes things messy sometimes; it creates controversy sometimes; but for those who don’t mind a little messiness, for those whose minds can’t help but ask questions, it’s not a bad place to be and that’s what I offer to the confirmands this morning.  I invite you to continue your journey of faith in a church where we engage God with heart, soul and mind.  We talk about a lot of things, we disagree sometimes, but at our best, despite whatever we disagree on, come Sunday morning we say, “Oh, it’s time for church, and despite our differences we all gather together to worship the God revealed in Jesus Christ and to celebrate his real presence with us in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  We are able to find unity in our diversity and as I said, that’s not a bad place to be, in fact it’s a very good place to be.  For the confirmands I hope that this church is place for you to continue your journey of faith, a place that you always feel welcome and comfortable because nothing ends today; the journey goes on.

So it’s not that hard to connect Reformation and Confirmation.  But it’s also Halloween.  Is there any connection to be made there?  Maybe not so much with Reformation.  Halloween does have religious roots as the eve of All Saints Day but in the various biographies I have of Luther I couldn’t find any suggestion that he chose this day in particular to post the 95 theses, in fact there is some question as to whether or not October 31st is actually the day the event took place.  So I couldn’t come up with much of a connection as far as that goes.

I think there’s more of a connection between Halloween and Confirmation.  Whatever its religious roots, there is little or no connection between those roots and the way Halloween is observed these days.  What’s interesting is how much of an adult holiday Halloween has become.  It’s not just a children’s festival of make believe and dress up anymore and the adult part of the holiday is not just parents dressing up to go trick or treating with their kids.  Costume parties for adults have become a big part of things to the point where Halloween is second only to Christmas as a consumer spending holiday.  Sociologists then try to figure out what it is that adults find appealing about dressing up and pretending to be something they aren’t. 

On your day of Confirmation, you young ladies are not dressed up pretending to be something you aren’t.  You’re dressed up to be something that you are.  You’re dressed up to be children of God and as such you can do the same thing that’s done on Halloween, which is to venture into the darkness and mock and laugh at the danger that lurks out there.  You can do that because the God of Luther’s mighty fortress walks with you, the God in whom there is no darkness walks with you.  In baptism Christ has claimed you and the evil and darkness that lurk out there can’t overcome that baptismal power, that baptismal connection. 

Today you affirm your baptism; you affirm your identity as a child of God and you’re dressed up to do it.  But it’s not make believe.  It’s not pretend like Halloween.  Pretend is for later this afternoon and evening.  This morning, it’s for real.

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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