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The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Throughout the world today, churches large and small are marking the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation; remembering that moment, five hundred years ago, this Tuesday, when, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther is reported to have nailed his ninety-five thoughts about the church to the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany; launching a movement which eventually divided the church into Catholics and Protestants; the “Protestant Reformation.”
Five hundred years later, perhaps it is time for another reformation; a new reformation which might unite what the last reformation divided; a reformation grounded in, and rising from, this morning’s gospel lesson, where Jesus, when asked which of the commandments in scripture mattered most, said, There are two commandments which matter more than any others, and all the others are to be interpreted in the light of those two, which are, “Love the Lord your God with all that is in you” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That is the ground from which another reformation might rise; a reformation which might unite what the last reformation divided, because all Christians, Catholic and Protestant, who are walking in the Holy Spirit, want nothing more than for what mattered most to Jesus to matter most to us. And, according to this morning’s gospel lesson, what mattered most to Jesus is that we love God with all that is in us, and love others as we love ourselves.
That is the ground from which the next reformation might rise; a reformation which is already uniting Catholics and Protestants. Indeed, just this morning, I began this Reformation Sunday by calling Father Mike O’Brien to express my deep gratitude for the Catholic church. Where would we be without Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Pope Francis, and countless other Catholic spiritual guides and friends?
And, truthful speech requires me to say that I believe that this reformation, the new one, rising from love for God and love for neighbor, might ultimately unite, not only Catholics and Protestants, within Christianity, but, also, people of other faiths, beyond Christianity.
When E. Stanley Jones, the great evangelical Christian missionary, said that Gandhi, a Hindu, embodied more of the spirit of Jesus than any Christian he had ever met, it was because Gandhi was living a life of love for God and love for neighbor. That is why, when you are in the presence of people of other faiths who are living lives of love and kindness, you feel a more intimate spiritual connection, to them, than you feel to harsh, hard, graceless people of your own faith; because all persons who are living lives of love for God and love for others are bound to one another by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit recognizes no denomination or religion, but flows into, and out through, all souls who live to embody the love of God.
In fact, I am so optimistic that a new reformation might be ready to rise from love for God and love for neighbor, that, this Tuesday, October 31, 2017, on the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s door nail, I am going to find some doors in Jackson, Mississippi, where groups, ministries and congregations are daily striving to embody love for God and love for neighbor, and nail to as many of those doors as I can reach (or, attach to those doors with that kind of tape that won’t peel paint) the two commandments which Jesus said matter most; “Love God with all that is in you,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” along with a word of thanksgiving for their ministry, because I believe that, five hundred years after the first reformation, another reformation, built on nothing but gratitude and love, might be ready to rise.
Needless to say, it isn’t that simple. We all know how complex and complicated “loving the world” can become. As Stanley Hauerwas once wrote, “To be a Christian is to be called to a life of love, but that calling is a lifelong task which requires our willingness to be surprised by what love turns out to be.”
But, difficult or not, this is the life for which God is redeeming us, and to which the Holy Spirit is beckoning us; an up-to-God, out-to-others, simultaneously vertical and horizontal, cross-shaped life of love for God and love for others; the life Jesus himself said matters most, loving God with all that is in us, and loving all others as we love our own selves; the ground from which the next reformation is ready to rise.