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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on October 30, 2005

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A Sermon for Reformation Sunday

Sermon preached by

The Right Rev. J. C. Fricker

October 30, 2005


We have created, quite intentionally today a liturgical,ecumenical, musical, historical even gastronomical mixture of spiritual experiences. We have put together parts of a Lutheran eucharistic rite to accompany one of the several Bach Cantatas, both in recognition of important events that have shaped history. In so doing we commemorate the lives of two of the world’s highly celebrated individuals, a theologian and a composer; Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Martin Luther was a central figure of that great movement called the Protestant Reformation, which profoundly shook and shaped the Christian community of the 16th century. He has been described, rather unfairly I think, as “a poor,emaciated Roman Catholic monk”. Close to 500 years ago, on All Hallows eve, Luther posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, 95 theses in which he openly attached the Church which was mired in unscriptural traditions, represented notoriously by the sale of indulgences, by which the faithful purchased the eradication of their life of sin. Luther preached a new gospel of salvation by God’s grace, as God’s free gift to all humankind. Luther’s reformation was the instigation of a new period of religious freedom.

Another religious reformation took place a century later with the prolific musical compositions of another German, Johan Sebastian Bach, whose Cantatas, one of which our choirs will sing today not as a concert, but as an offering of praise to the God who endowed Bach with such immortal brilliance.

Martin Luther’s reformation, begun in Germany, eventually gave birth to the world wide Communion of Lutheran Churches, represented in this country by the Lutheran Church of America. It was a movement that found fertile soil in England in those movements of reformation and counter reformation which divided the Church of Western Christendom into the denominational diversity that has persisted to our own day. Except in Lutheran and Calvinist Churches, you probably won’t hear much, if anything at all, of this historic Reformation today. It just isn’t politically correct to commemorate a religious war, nor is it popular in these ecumenical times to assert Protestant doctrine. But without that Reformation of 5 centuries ago this cathedral of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Western New York would likely not be here, nor would we be hearing the Word of God proclaimed day by day in this place in peace and freedom.

We live today in a time and a reality of a new reformation. As the Reformation sparked by Martin Luther created a new manifestation of church in the 16th century, I believe a new manifestation of church is being born around us to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The evolution of this new church is part of a cosmic evolution of nations and consciences, one that is reshaping evolution of East and West, North and South, of humanity and environment. What is happening to the church is part of the entire work of God making all things new. The very fact that we can celebrate a eucharistic rite of the Lutheran Church in an Episcopal Church, and can do so because we are in full communion with that Church, is by itself an example of that new worlds God is creating and which we can celebrate.

The symbol of the Reformation which Luther sparked were those famous 95 theses. There is a new theses emerging today that are the key to today’s reformation. They convey the message that there is meaning and purpose in creation;that at the heart of creation is a loving,self-disclosing and self-giving Presence Who broods over it all, breathing life into the whole of it. That Divine Presence3 in life upholds meaning as opposed to meaninglessness. I believe this reformation is moving us from the Church of Christendom to the Church of God as we understand in incarnate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; a Church called to serve in and for this world of the 21st century.

A new church is being born. It may not be the church we expect or want. The church of the future may not include our favourite litugy or hymn, or even, may I say, our denomination. The form of the new world and new church is not in our hands. What is in our hands is the chance to respond to God’s call.

Now, to the glory of God, our choirs will sing Bach. Then we will break bread and drink wine, Lutheran style, at the end of which I invite you to a reception German style.

 

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2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York