Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Reformation Sunday - 10/28

           If you’ve paid attention at all to listings of community events during the past couple of weeks you may have noticed that there is no shortage of haunted experiences available to help you celebrate Halloween.  There’s the usual haunted houses, but also haunted hayrides and haunted bog walks, haunted walks through old town Negaunee and Marquette and I’m sure there’s more.  ‘Tis the season to be haunted.

          I didn’t hear about any haunted churches though; plenty of churches hosting Halloween parties, but they weren’t publicized as “Come to the haunted church.”  But…as we celebrate Reformation Sunday, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea; maybe we should make “Come to the haunted church” part of our listing in the Mining Journal; it probably would get people’s attention.  Even more that that though, it might be a good idea…because I think Luther was haunted…and I think he would have us be haunted too…which makes us a haunted church.

          I do find it kind of amusing that Reformation Day and Halloween are the same day; in church we celebrate the Reformation on the closest Sunday before the 31st of October but the actual day that Luther posted the 95 theses was the 31st, Halloween.  I don’t think he meant anything by that; I doubt that Halloween in those days was the big to do that it is today.  More likely that just happened to be the day he finished writing those statements that challenged some of what was going on in the church at that time so, being pretty impulsive it was the day he posted them.  However, it’s still kind of ironic, because I do think Luther was haunted.

          If you look up haunted in the dictionary there’s two definitions.  The first one is the Halloween definition; “Supposedly frequented by ghosts or other spectral beings.”  The other definition is “Obsessed by a constantly recurring memory or thought.”  Luther might have been haunted in the first sense because reading about him it does seem like he thought the devil or demons or something was after him.  But he was definitely haunted in the second sense.

          He was haunted in his quest for a God that he could love and a God that could love him;  he was haunted by God’s word, the Bible; he was haunted by the idea that the God he was looking for could be found in those words of scripture.  Luther was haunted by God’s word, and while it’s always a little risky to assume we know what Luther would think about something, I do think he would want us to be similarly haunted.

          The voice of the Bible is a haunting one as it offers promises, issues commands, tells stories, utters poetic oracles, gives voice to pain and also gives voice to hope.  Luther struggled with it and we struggle with it because we believe it to be the voice of God with all its majesty and holiness as well as its grace and compassion.  It’s haunting because of its truth; in that truth we see our own imperfections…commands not obeyed, neighbors not loved our desire to love God unfulfilled; but the truth of this text is also haunting because there are sometimes apparent imperfections or inconsistencies in God,  promises not yet kept, the world not what it should be and God seeming to be unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

          Luther was haunted and would have us be haunted by this text, by the God behind the text.  Our struggle isn’t exactly the same as his but as those who follow in Luther’s footsteps, we’re haunted, because we believe that this text reveals the God made known in Jesus, who is the truth that forgives us and makes us free.

          My question to our confirmands this morning and indirectly to the rest of you is, “Do you want to be part of a haunted church?” because again, in my opinion, that’s what Luther would want churches that call themselves Lutheran to be.  Luther came up with some insights and answers that guided him and we benefit from his work; but he didn’t settle everything 500 years ago.  The text of the Bible is the living word of God; it doesn’t go away and it is never silent.  It speaks new things to new people in new situations so as heirs of the Reformation we are destined to be haunted people, in haunted churches, hearing voices that provoke us to consider how we are to follow this haunting God.

          Hasn’t that always been the way of it though?  From the biblical patriarchs through reformers like Luther and on to us people have struggled to understand God and the relationship we are called to.  Fortunately, we do have those voices from the Bible that help us along just as they helped Luther.  Consider Jeremiah, the prophetic voice we get on every Reformation Sunday.  Jeremiah was someone to whom the word of the Lord had come and Jeremiah was haunted by those words because they weren’t easy ones.  He was called to preach dangerous words that would shatter old ways and old understandings, to announce that the Lord had limits, that he would pluck up and break down when those limits were crossed.  But Jeremiah was also inspired by God to imagine that things could be different, that they would be different.

          That’s what today’s announcement of the new covenant is.  Jeremiah imagines a forgiven world.  “I will be their God and they will be my people.  I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”  To use Brueggemann language, we’re not left in the abyss of being plucked up and broken down; there is a way out, but first, with the help of prophets like Jeremiah, we have to imagine it.  This haunting God, while he has limits, will break the cycle of absence.  Something new is possible.  Haunted by the word, we still look for that newness, sometimes we might even wrestle with God for it; and then we do it again.

          The apostle Paul was as haunted as any character we find in the Bible.  The Spirit of the living Christ took hold of him, possessed him, and things were never the same.  But it was in Paul’s voice, more than any other, that Luther found words of grace, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  Luther was haunted by the conviction that this was the truth that made him and all people free, haunted by the same God as Jeremiah, the God whose love and grace is revealed in Jesus, the God of new gifts, new hope and new possibilities.

          It would not be inappropriate to view confirmation, affirmation of baptism as an invitation to be haunted, haunted in that sense of being obsessed with the constantly recurring memory or thought of God and God’s word, haunted, but not scared.  I think Luther was scared not just of the church powers out to get him, but also scared of God; until he found the God of grace.

          I hope that all of you, but especially Seth and Matt and Ali and Kenny and Kristina, I hope that all of you know the God of grace who accepts you as you are.  I hope you know the freedom in Christ that Luther struggled so hard to find and understand.  But I hope you are haunted by that grace and freedom.  I hope that this day haunts you, that the word of God haunts you so that your Bible doesn’t just sit on the shelf now but that you open it and try to make sense of what God is calling you to do, what God is calling us to do as a church.  The answers though are often not immediately easy or obvious, that’s why it’s haunting.       

          But know that you are haunted beyond yourselves because you are haunted by the God who authored this text, a text which is sometimes troubling, but endlessly promising.   Welcome to the haunted church. 


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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