Reformation Sunday is an interesting event. In one sense, it has become an opportunity for all non-Catholic churches to celebrate their history that Luther and then others led in a break from the Roman influence in Europe. Some historians claim that it was on October 31 that Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door. So, this is the Sunday closest to that event.
It is important to note that The United Methodist Church is not a part of the Reform Church. Our origin is different, coming from the Church of England, which broke from the Roman Catholic Church for completely different reasons, having to do with a king who didn’t like pesky rules of marriage that the popes laid down. Technically, The United Methodist Church isn’t a Protestant Church. It is part of what is more properly called the Anglo-Catholic Tradition.
Now, is all that worth trying to explain to the congregation during worship this week? Probably not. Sending folks from worship with the word that they aren’t really Protestants might cause undue stress. However, as we are in full communion with the Lutheran Church (ELCA), we can join with them in celebration of this day and look to Luther for the trailblazing he took on and from which Wesley learned.
We can acknowledge the theology behind reform, however, and be reminded that what Luther was trying to do was to bring the church back to the basics of the faith, back to the Bible, back to Jesus. Every now and then, we all need to be reminded to keep the main thing the main thing in our worship. And what better way than to return to Jesus’ reminder of the core of our gospel. When asked what were the greatest commandments, his reply was simple: Love God and love neighbor.
That’s where we start this week, that foundational statement of who we are and how we’re supposed to be living. The loving God part of the equation is expressed in our worship. Sing songs of praise, of the attributes of God; sing about the presence and power of the God we worship. Show images of beauty that draw our hearts toward the creator; create artwork that echoes that same beauty. Fill the space or the screen with signs of God at work around you. Something as simple as a sunset, a flower in the midst of concrete, can be a witness to the God we love with our whole being.
Don’t neglect the second part, however. When Jesus says, “a second is like it,” he meant is essential to it, is a part of it. We cannot love God fully without loving neighbor. The two are inseparable in the end. So, how do we depict loving our neighbor? Bring the images of mission work within the congregation— that trip to Appalachia or out west, the labor provided to build or repair a home for a stranger in need, or the food collection, the Christmas gifting, wherever the people have been at work in the community. Include last year’s VBS or outdoor Sunday school effort. What children have been affected? Whose lives have been changed because of the love of the congregation? Tell the stories; show the photos; remind everyone that this is how we love, with our hands and with our generosity and hospitality.
Pray prayers to inspire us to love in action, confession for when we fall short, encouragement even in the face of rejection. Let our liturgy declare that we want to keep the main thing the main thing. A litany that would fit the second of the commandments would be The World Methodist Social Affirmation, 886, United Methodist Hymnal. This is a declaration of involvement in the world around us, our belief that God is experienced through living in the world, through caring and giving and healing.
Maybe it is time for your congregation to claim a reformation, to set aside the things that get in the way of being the church as Jesus describes it, the community that loves God and loves neighbor with commitment and passion. This is the way that we, as disciples and as a congregation, will press on.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.