Sermon for Reformation Sunday 2017: “Re:Formation”

Sermon for October 29, 2017: “Re:Formation”

Today marks Reformation Sunday.
For many years, the word “Reformation” didn’t mean that much to me.
Which is probably what you don’t want your pastor to admit.
But then I stopped pronouncing it “Reformation” and came up with another pronunciation.

Re: meaning “Anew”
“A new formation.”
And I came up with this new pronunciation thanks to three moments in my life when I personally had God re-form who I was.
Re-Form Moment One:
It was the Spring of 1999.
I was in my apartment in Raleigh working on a “thank you” email to my mom and dad.
They had sent me a nice gift and I was letting them know I got it.
I started to think how awesome my parents were.
And all that they were doing for me.
That was when a light went off in my head,
But more importantly,
I heard the door to my heart swing open.

My mind started racing back to the previous ten years of my life.
Especially my junior and senior years in High School.
High School was not great for me.
When I was a junior, I had people I called my friends hurt me.
They turned their back on me, and in a very public way.
That moment led me down a long period in my life when I had no self-esteem, no trust, and no motivation.
What made it worse was this happened at church.
In the church Youth group.
Because of where it happened my faith took a hit.
Yes I believed in God.
I knew there was a God.
But I felt like God just didn’t care about me.
I started to think of God as a Watchmaker.
Someone who made the watch, wound it up, and then set it on its way.
So God made me, pointed me in a direction, and then said, “Well. Take care, Jonathan.”
And He went on to more important things.
But during that time in my life, there were two people in my life who had my back.
Who loved me no matter what and sought many ways to make me feel better and recover.
My mom and dad.
When I didn’t love myself they loved me more.
When I couldn’t pray, they prayed more and harder.
When asked questions, they answered or just said, “I don’t know.
When I was lost, they helped me find direction.
All those memories were coming back to me, and so on that Spring day in 1999,
I realized that:
When I THOUGHT God did not care,
When I THOUGHT God had left me behind,

My parents, through their love and devotion, showed me that God never left my side.
They showed me that God DID care for me.
They showed me THEY were two of the best gifts that a young guy could have ever asked for.

In that moment, I felt and believed that God had broken down my heart and Re-formed it.
Because not only did I realize God loved me, but that I loved God.
So instead of writing an email, I called my mom.

And I told her, “Thank you.” Not for the gift. But for all the gifts that she and my dad had given me.
And I told her “Mom, I thank God for you and dad.”

Re-Form Moment Two:
I had been dating Kristen for a month. Things were going great. At that time, Kristen was about to take an important test.
So being the awesome boyfriend I thought I was, sent her a nice little e-greeting card that featured a cute animal and sparklers the morning of her test.
Soon as I hit the “send” button I gave myself a “self-high-five” and waiting for the adoration to come.
I literally was singing “I wanna hold your hand.” Out loud.
Then right around lunchtime I got the expected email from Kristen.
“That was so sweet. The test went well.
By the way, who’s Heather?”

So I went and looked at the card I sent her.
And then I saw it.
You know in movies when someone in a very dramatic moment yells “Nooooo!” and it comes out very slowly?
That was my moment.
I screamed “Oh no!” because Heather was the name of the girl I had dated before meeting Kristen.
Let the record show Heather and I broke up MONTHS before I even met Kristen!

I thought I was doomed. And it didn’t help when I shared what I did with my senior pastor and secretary. They both laughed at me (let me put that into the record) and said, “Uh oh. Someone is in trouble.”
I was starting to sing another Beatles songs, “Yesterday. All my troubles seemed so far away…”
So I called and left a voicemail message to Kristen, begging for forgiveness.
Looking back it sounded like a country western song.
I waited what seemed like forever for Kristen to call me back.
In hindsight it was like 30 minutes at most.
But call back she did, and I was ready.
I was ready for the “goodbye” call.
But instead of yelling and screaming,
I heard laughing.
From Kristen.
She was laughing at the card and also the sad voice mail I had left.
Once she stopped laughing, she did the one thing I never expected:
She forgave me.
She thought my voice mail was actually cute in a desperate “For the love of God don’t leave me” kind of way.
So we made plans to meet for dinner that night.
I hung up the phone.
I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.
And…there was feeling again…
I could feel God was working on my brain and my heart.
And the heart opened up.
I had been re-formed again.
This time I realized that God had sent me an amazing woman.
The one I had been looking for all my life.
It was the moment when I knew Kristen was the one
My purpose in life had changed.
And that the only that mattered to me was not my happiness but hers.
So to me, Reformation is really about RE-Formation.

Because it is on this day we celebrate the moment that God re-formed a person and not a church.
I share with you my Re-formation stories because I want to draw you a picture of what re-formation looks like when it happens in real life and in real time.

Martin Luther was a complex man.
And he thought God hated him.
He thought that no matter how many confessions he shared or how many good works he did, nothing he did satisfied God and earned God’s love.

And when Martin struggled with this,
his Father Confessor (a man named Staupitz) {an unsung hero]
pleaded with Martin to “look to the cross!”

And THEN Martin stopped looking at the cross and started looking at the PERSON on the cross.
And then it happened.
Martin stopped looking down at the ground and keeping his eyes away from God.
He looked up.
He looked to the cross.
And that was when God went to work on him.
God broke Luther’s heart.
I believe God broke Luther’s will.
And he re-formed Luther’s heart.

And that is when Martin finally FINALLY realized that not only did God love him.
But that God ALWAYS HAD loved him!
God was not keeping His love away from Martin.
God was giving HIS love away TO Martin.

That is what started what we now call the Reformation.
It was the RE-formation of a man’s belief, and more importantly, a man’s love for his God.
And it was a love that gave Martin a vision and purpose.
That this love, this grace, had to be shared and proclaimed from every pulpit.
Every church.
Every preacher.
Today we celebrate Martin Luther’s vision and purpose.
And today we also ask ourselves, “Have I been re-formed?”
“Am I ready to be re-formed?”
Because let me tell you from personal experience, once that re-formation starts, there is no turning back.
Not from us,
And certainly not from God.

Because God is in this for the long haul.

When we feel bad.
When we sin.
When we feel unworthy.

We are blessed with the Memory of a God who Forgets. (SLOWLY)
He forgets WHAT we have done,
BUT He remembers WHO we are.
In this verse we are introduced to an utter NEWNESS of the relationship.
We get to start over with God.
In a way, this is what a Reformation is all about.
It is a time to REFORM our lives around the Love God has given us.
It is a time to REFORM and RESHAPE our lives around the grace that God is so determined to show us.
God is about Reforming. Revealing. Revealing His own righteousness.
We don’t celebrate Reformation because Luther nailed thesis to a church door, but because Jesus was nailed to a cross.
God has thrown in all He has to have a relationship with us.
A relationship that is based on love (mutual) and service.
And that service is what God has done.
And what God has called us to do on His behalf.
But what are we freed for?
To remain in Jesus’ word is not merely passive, as in to remain, to stay, or to wait.
The word pushes also toward the active: to abide, to live, to continue. 
The resounding call of Reformation Day is both to celebrate the good news that we are free from sin and to move from celebration to action as Jesus’ agents in the world.
We can be freed from something, but we can also be freed for something.
A Final Re-form moment.
The most recent one.
By the way, God doesn’t stop re-forming us.
It’s a constant act on His part.

A few weeks ago, I had my week planned out.
Get ahead on sermons.
Plan on visits.
Work on my committee reports.
And then it happened.
I got the call from daycare.
Paul was sick.
All my plans went away.
On the inside I said, “Well there goes the day.”
So I picked up Paul and took him home.
While we were home, I kept looking at this box of work I wanted to get done, but every time I reached for it, Paul would say, “Daddy! Or want to watch a show with me, Daddy?”
I would sit down and hold him.
And then Paul said the sweetest thing.
“I’m glad you’re here, daddy.”

Yep. You guessed.
God was doing that re-forming thing with my heart again.
I realized the office work. The paper work could wait. But at that moment I was a dad. I was a father. And the time I was given to be with my boy was more precious than anything else.
So when Paul said he was glad I was there, I said, “There’s nowhere else I want to be.”

Folks, there is nowhere else God wants to be than right here with you.
Loving you.
Caring for you.
Re-Forming you.
And sending you out into His world.

Re-formation is not a day.
It’s a state of mind.