The Invitation to Reformation

I preached on Sunday at Pacific Lutheran University as a part of my work at Luther Seminary. I was anxious about preaching because of a few reasons: 1) I am not Lutheran and was afraid I’d mess up Lutheran theology; 2) I wanted to do well; 3) I wanted to represent Luther Seminary well; and 4) I wanted to honor the importance of Reformation Sunday in the Lutheran Community.

Prepping took a lot of praying and a lot of breathing. It was good for me to have to face my insecurity and fear of failure. Here’s basically what I said (I always go off script…but it’s close!). Enjoy!

The Invitation to Reformation

Sermon for Pacific Lutheran University 10/28/12

Romans 3:19-28

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.


Good morning and Happy Reformation Sunday! My name is Sara Wilhelm Garbers. I am the Director of Admissions at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.

This Sunday we remember a significant moment in history: October 31, 1517…the eve of All Saints Day. All Saints is a christian holiday dating back to the 1st century. A day to remember those who have come before and the great cloud of Christian Witness

On this eve in 1517 a man named Martin Luther (you may have heard of him before?!) tacked 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg. What were these theses? For those who are unsure…they were fully titled “95 theses on the power and efficacy of indulgences.” Everyone got it? 🙂 I was thinking just preaching all 95 theses for my sermon but I thought we would be here all day if I read each of them…and I didn’t think you would want to come to Luther Seminary if I did that. 🙂

So here’s the recap in case you don’t know…Luther’s 95 theses were written in response to the Catholic practice of selling pardon (indulgences) which absolved the living and the dead of their sins. It was, essentially, a tax levy to finance the buildings and other needs of the church. For Martin Luther this practice was appalling because if flew in the face of gospel of grace that had transformed Luther’s life.

The reading today from Romans is representative of the message of grace that revolutionized Luther’s life. Luther said in his preface to the letter of St. Paul to the Romans: “This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel.”

Luther was a man keenly aware of his own sin. He had tried everything to free himself of the guilt he felt. So imagine when he read the passage which says: “21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” He read this book and passages such as the one from Romans 3:19-28 he experienced a freedom he had never known…that grace is a gift of God…not something that may be bought or earned. This changed his life: God’s grace was a gift!

And so he wrote his theses to say: “Church…come back to the message of this gospel of grace! Turn anew to the power of the cross.” Luther didn’t think he would start a revolution when he wrote his letter, rather it was just about faithfulness to a gospel which propelled and compelled him forward. This gospel of grace change him and he had no choice but to respond. This was a significant moment that launched forward the protestant faith. And today we remember the power of this legacy of faith.

A. Reformation is an invitation for today

I hear you saying: “Sara, that’s a nice history lesson, but what does it mean for us today?”

Well, I’ve already anticipated your question, and here’s what I want to say: On that eve of all Saints Luther did something that happened long before he was born and continues to this day: he lived reformation! Luther wasn’t a hellfire. He saw what he wrote as a scholarly critique. Indulgences violated the heart of the gospel to him; for him there was no other option. He had come face to face with the gospel and it forever changed him. The question I have for you today…what is your reformation? You know this deep within yourself…it is the place of deep grace where God has shown up and transformed you.

For you this may be when you, like Martin Luther read that all under the law have been saved by grace through faith…and you knew a deep freedom that God didn’t want or need your perfection; but that you were already wholly loved as the sinner and saint.

Perhaps it was understanding a gospel call to care for the widow and orphan that has demanded you to move into work of solidarity.

Perhaps it was knowing you are loved by God…that you are held in God’s grace.

Luther himself penned: “Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them”

Where has this gospel of grace intersected with your story and left you forever changed?

So today we don’t celebrate death or a static point in history…we celebrate the long, living witness of people who have lived out a response to the grace of God in Christ. We celebrate a baptism and a God who is still at work and still moving.

So what is your reformation? What are your theses? What do you write for or against? What rises up in you that you must speak about…these are your reformation moments.

And today reminds and invites us all to take our our pens…to pick up our phones and tweet…to do whatever wherever we can to speak out what the gospel has called us to live out.

Today is your invitation to reformation.

B. Reformation is an invitation for you

I can hear you: “Sara, that’s nice. The reformation is still happening…but Sara, you just don’t understand, I’m not Martin Luther.” Right…cuz I thought you were? 🙂 But here’s the thing…the world doesn’t need another Martin Luther; he already lived. It doesn’t need another Paul to write the book of Romans. It doesn’t need another MLK Jr. or a Ada Marie Isiaz Diaz…these saints have already gone before us. What we need as a community of saints is for you to respond to the gospel of grace that illuminates the world with more grace.

It may be working for immigration reform.

It may be opening marriage for all.

It may be solidarity with those most forgotten.

That Luther posted his theses on the eve of All Saints reminds us that though there are names we know well, like Luther’s, there have always been names obscured and forgotten. In the March edition of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics Kirsi Stjerna wrote a piece entitled “Women and Theological Writing during the Reformation.”

In it she told the story of Argula von Grumbach. She was a woman who lived out the reformation as well. Though you may not know her name, it doesn’t make her contribution less important.

For history does not remember everyone’s names…yet we stand on their shoulders. And even those who history remembers well…are they not also human? Do you think that Luther did not wrestle with his own vocation? He was beleaguered by demons and agonized over if he was moving forward in the ways God would desire. When he penned his theses I guarantee that he never imagined that we would be here today celebrating Reformation Sunday.

And this is the reformation narrative…it is of a people who live out faithfully a response to God’s grace. This is the story of both the named and the unnamed.

Marianne Williamson writes in her book A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Reformation is being faithful to our vocation. It is found in our responses to the gospel in our midst and our speaking boldly the truths that rise up within gives the world more hope and courage.

This is the reformation invitation…

The gospel had so transformed Luther he believed that the scriptures should be in the hands of all people…this changed the world. So who are you to not live out the good news and to live reformation?

C. Reformation is hard work…but you are not alone

“Ok Sara,” you say, “The reformation is happening still and maybe I am a part of it, but what if it is hard?” I hear you. So often is! When Luther wrote his theses he didn’t suddenly become a person with statues and a religion named after him. He was censured, risked loosing everything, including his life. He had the pope writing against him. No big deal, right?! But reformation reminds us that we are not alone. When Luther went and nailed his theses on the door he didn’t do so just as one man against the world. On the eve of all Saints he, in concert with the witness of those living and dead, spoke.

I had the opportunity to hear Bishop Hofstad of the Southwest Washington Synod speak on Friday. He said that the term “Lutheran” was actually a term of ridicule meant to mock people who stood with Luther. And you may know what is has meant to be called names or to be pained to the point of death. You are not alone. There is a great cloud of witnesses who stand in solidarity with you. It is then your invitation to take the names you have been called and to reclaim them to live out faithfully our own reformation story.


So today may you remember that we celebrate a history which invites us to live in response to a gospel:

Romans 3

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

This is an invitation to reformation: to the places deep within where you know you have a call to speak the gospel’s invitation.

What is your reformation?

What are your 95 theses?

And you, you and I together, with the whole of history have this invitation. It is not only for the names remembered by history, but it is the call and vocation of each one of us and you are living in a time where you voice might be heard around the world. If we but only would speak out together the good news of justice and love and grace might be heard.

And this journey will not be easy, but we have each other and we have the promises of a God in whom we live and move and have our being.

The world is waiting for reformation.

May you live out the reformation today.

And may this God of grace, compel and sustain you both now and always.


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