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The Gift of the Reformation

On Tuesday afternoon I was back at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey for my 20th class reunion. It was humbling and wonderful to be back on campus. The topic of the panel discussion on Tuesday was the 500th anniversary of the reformation being celebrated around the world this year in October. The best question and answer of the day for me was, what was the most important contribution of the reformation for today’s world. Dr. Kenneth Appold, a newly installed Professor of Reformation History, responded very simply, “reconciliation and forgiveness.” He pointed out that in our culture today we are quick to condescend, quick to judge, quick to eviscerate our conversation partners, quick to demonize and quick to isolate ourselves in self-righteousness. I was, of course, like many in the room, convicted.

It prompted me to reflect that we as Lutherans in particular, do indeed have a resource at our disposal for this day and age. (For any day and age really, since human sinfulness seems to be timeless.) Each Sunday at the beginning of our worship service we engage with one another in what is officially called the “brief order for confession and forgiveness.” We confess that, “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” In turn the pastor declares, “As a called and ordained minister of the church of God I therefore forgive you of all your sins, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” As heirs of the reformation, we weekly remember that we are flawed, limited, self-centered, and ego-driven beings. We offend God and each other regularly. As heirs of the reformation we also celebrate that promise that God loves and forgives us.

In Luther’s small catechism he includes a section on individual confession and forgiveness. While most people believe that Lutheran’s don’t practice regular confession, Luther did include the possibility in his most important basic teaching document, the small catechism. I might suggest that in order to fulfill our vision of becoming a connected family of faith, inspired by God to positively impact our community and world, a daily practice of confession and forgiveness would be helpful for all of us. A daily reminder to ourselves that we are not perfect may temper our quick anger. A daily reminder of our shortsightedness, God willing, may draw us closer to one another in the realization that we need each other’s eyes and ears to see and hear a larger view of the world. We may indeed positively impact our world with fewer words of division and instead be inspired to speak additional words of humility, grace and forgiveness.

Gracious God, we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. Fill us with a sense of your love and forgiveness, that we might be slow to anger and abounding in mercy, grace and love. In your love, teach us to listen, to learn, to grow and rest in your forgiving care. In a deeply divided world, this may indeed, draw us closer to God and closer to one another. Thanks be to God for the gifts given in history and the anniversary of the reformation.

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