Reformation: Everything comes back to grace.

In her spiritual memoir, “Pastrix,” ELCA pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber writes about how she experienced her own reformation and transformation into a Lutheran Christian in the basement of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA. There, during an adult confirmation class, Pastor Ross Merkle wrote the word “Grace” on the chalkboard and said, “Everything I’m going to tell you goes back to this.”

Here is what she learned:
  • God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to the gift.
  • No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual that we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement.
  • We are simultaneously saint and sinner, 100% of both, all the time.
  • The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.
  • The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist (holy communion) and in the stranger.
She then urges her readers to write out these bullet points and memorize them, which could save a person a ton of money instead of attending seminary!*

Almost 500 years ago, in 1517, Martin Luther and his colleagues began to formulate what would eventually turn into these bullet points above. They debated them among themselves presented them to the powers-that-be of the time, defended them in treatise and oral argument, and at times lived in exile in fear for their lives because of them. As many have said before, Luther and the other reformers never set out to create a new church body—they simply wanted to bring these things they understood to be so important back to the central focus of the Church. They also realized, as the Reformation began to take hold, that this was not a “once and done” proposition. The Church would always need to be re-formed. In fact that was one of their slogans in Latin “Ecclesia semper reformanda.”

Or, as Matthew Bolz-Weber (Nadia’s husband, also an ELCA pastor) put it later on about the state of the Church today: “There’s not enough wrong with it to leave, and just enough wrong with it to stay. Let’s fight to change it!”

As we approach Reformation Sunday, there is a temptation to use the occasion to revel in how different, or special or better we are as Lutherans. Instead, let’s use this celebration to remind ourselves, as Pastor Nadia says, “What makes Lutherans blessed is not, as I once thought, that they’re different from the people in the church where I was raised. Rather, what makes us all blessed is that…God comes and gets us, taps us on the shoulder, and says, “Pay attention, this is for you.”

Reformation. Grace. Blessing. This is for us all. Let’s pay attention.

Pastor Peter

*Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, pp. 49.