In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Friends,

Some of us, I am sure, may be surprised, even startled, to note that today the Cathedral is celebrating the Festival of the Reformation. Why celebrate that? You may ask. Or, at least, I would like to ask.

Episcopalians among us may wonder “When did the Reformation become a Holy Day in the Book of Common Prayer?’ The answer, of course, is that it didn’t. Today’s festival isn’t in the current Prayer Book so admittedly what we are doing here is an ecumenical adventure if not exactly liturgically illegal.

Roman Catholics among us may ask “Why on earth celebrate the Reformation of all things? Isn’t that when Christ’s Church Militant was so tragically split? Doesn’t that violence still echo today-Ireland, for example?’ Some answers, of course, are that (1) the Catholic Church has undergone many reformations including the Catholic Reformation as directed by the Council of Trent and that (2) alas, violence has infected the life of all major Christian churches whether or not they ever have embraced any reformation at all.

Finally, the liberal Protestants among us may ask “Why make such a fuss about the dreary past anyway? Let’s get on to the issues of our time. Who needs a history lesson when we come to church? Some answers to that, of course, are that (1) the issues of our time are rooted in the past and can’t be understood if one is unaware of their source. And (2) as for thinking historically, Abraham Lincoln said it best: “We cannot escape history.” And that’s as true of religion as it is of any living reality.

Whether any of these answers carry any weight, you’ll have to decide for yourself. But I think that however you react to this uncertainty about the significance of “reformation,” we probably do actually agree on what is basic here. “Reformation” is an old Latin word that means primarily, and most importantly, “to change for the better!’ It’s pretty hard to object to that. The Festival of the Reformation is not an antiquarian preoccupation, it is a celebration of the central fact of the gospel: namely that we, you and 1, and the whole holy Church, can be changed, changed that is, for the better. That’s a breathtaking promise. That’s a rejuvenating hope. It turns out, perhaps to our surprise, that we are not incorrigible after all!

That promise has been around for a long time. You may recall, for example that the fifth book in the Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy, is a rigorous and inspiring call to—reformation—in the Jerusalem temple during the time of King Josiah back in 621 BC. And, as you may know, there is a growing consensus among scholars of all traditions that the ministries of Jesus of Nazareth, and Paul of Tarsus, are related efforts at—reform -within the dominant rabbinic Judaism of the first century. AD

Moving into the later European story, perhaps the greatest achievement of the 13th century Christianity was the work of two enormously effective-reformers-who Iabored to purify and transform a needy church. St. Francs’ vision was to do this by preaching a simple gospel and living a simple life. St. Dominic’s project was to do it by adopting a rigorous discipline of scholarship and learning.

Still later, when the renaissance got underway, it became inevitable that it too would challenge and seek- to reform- traditional Christianity. The general call of the renaissance was that one should overcome the ignorance and superstition of medieval life by returning to the sources of western culture, the treasure trove of classical antiquity.

Fast forward three hundred years, and we find that in the church generally, clergy & laity on every side are calling for “a change for the better.” It is not surprising that in academic centers especially the notion that a return to the literary sources of Christianity, the Scriptures, seemed the most promising strategy. In a small, recently established university in Saxony, one Augustinian monk proposed a thoroughly traditional proposition: The best way to get a reform, a change for the better in the life of the people of God, would be to recognize the prophetic and apostolic witness of the Scriptures as having primary authority in the life of the church. Indeed, they should be freshly translated into the vernacular so that all could read them. That meant, of course, that schools for boys-and girls -would need to be established so that everyone could have access to these foundational documents of the church. In attempts to deal with the problems of the day these basic Sources should carry decisive weight and be seen as more important the derivative traditions of the medieval church .. Three centuries later in the United States, scholars came to call this proposal the foundation of the Conservative Reformation.

But how about modern times? William Temple, an archbishop of Canterbury, declared that in the 20th century, the primary transformative event in the life of the church, our change for the better, is the ecumenical movement. Ecumenism is designed to address the most significant failure of the 16th century reformation-its well known if unintended legacy of splitting up of Christianity into mutually hostile camps. Ecumenism is this new desire for unity among Christians on the basis of their faith in Christ and their baptism into his life. The archbishop was right. The ecumenical movement is indeed the new and decisive form of reformation in our time.

What does this mean? Well, if Reformation means “to change for the better” what is more obvious than that Christians—a people who claim they are reconciled to God and to each other in Christ are really obliged to live out that reconciliation in their daily lives? What is more compelling than that their institutions, especially their churches, become agents-not of hostility-of reconciliation? Perhaps the most surprising thing about ecumenism, after its shaky, modest beginnings less than a century ago is the profound transformation it has already achieved in the lives of Christian people and their churches across the world. This has not been easy. For every few steps forward, there has been a step or so sideways or, sometimes, backward. But the general progress is striking. No church has paid a higher price for ecumenical reform than the Roman Catholic Church and no church has profited more fully from that vision. Two years ago a Roman Catholic Bishop stood in this very pulpit at a Lutheran service of choral evening prayer and declared his—and his church’s—embrace of modern day followers of that 16 th century excommunicated Augustinian monk, Martin Luther.

How can this be? How could a celebration of Protestant and Catholic reconciliation take place our Cathedral? Only because that bishop’s church and Marth’s church now, for the first time, have agreed on what was—after all—the central point of the 16 th century reformation: They declared jointly: We are indeed justified -saved—by the grace of god and not by our human striving. And, through the power of the Spirit, that grace shall shine forth in our moral life-most especially in our works of love.

As churches become committed to the disciplines of change for the sake of what is better, they discover they have become caught up in the powers of self criticism, imagination, and the fruit of the Spirit. And thus, future miracles can be expected.

Is this not good news? It turns out that Christians are not incorrigible after all. The churches as well as we as individuals can change for the better—even if that hurts. We are not frozen in an icy status quo.

To be sure, change can be frightening. Significant change implies self criticism, what we religious folks call “repentance.” Sometimes, however as you may have noticed, religious people are the most reluctant to admit to their need for self-criticism. Sore Kierkegaard put it best, I think. He observed that people generally find it easy to be subjective about themselves and objective about other people. That is, it is easy to feel personally involved in your own private world and to regard other people as objects who exist for your use. The hard part-which Kierkegaard thought was the Christian way—is to be objective about yourself and subjective about other people. That is, its hard to regard yourself in terms of rational, objective, fair-minded standards and at the same time see other people in terms of their personal struggles and fears.. That is indeed, a kind of “leap of faith” for the imagination.

Surely very few of us would admit publicly that we are opposed to ’change for something better.” But the problem, of course, is how do you determine whether the change will really be for something better rather than for something worse? Faith, after all, is not a logical conclusion you draw after looking at all the relevant data. You don’t need faith to draw logical conclusions. A grasp of mathematics will do just fine. So how do you make wise choices for change when there are no money back guarantees? How do you choose to marry, and then how do you chose to bear and nurture children? How do you chose to be a nurse or a bartender? How do you chose between living in South Carolina or in South Africa? How do you really know that any of those choices will be changes for something better?

Clearly, every decision to make a change for the better involves an act of faith. And that is true whether you believe in God or not.

It is commonly overlooked that the major thrust of the proposals for ‘change for the better” offered by the first Protestants dealt primarily with what we today call ethics, the moral life. This will have to be my final point this morning. The fundamental importance of freedom had been neglected in medieval Christianity. Recall that back in the first century, “St Paul had said:

for freedom christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. …you were called to freedom,, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but become servants to one another through love.

In his little essay, “On Christian Liberty” Martin recovered this apostolic insight. The basic moral meaning of human life, your life, is freedom. God has made us to be free. Christ has saved us to be free. The Spirit empowers us to embody freedom. And what is freedom? Not, as so many propose, an exercise in self indulgence. (That’s a bondage to whims and self idolatry.) Freedom is the power to connect to other people by serving them in love.

Today we are engaged, we are told, in a global war. The enemy is not a nation nor a religion. The contest is between incompatible systems of values. Freedom-that gift and task- lines through the reformations of many centuries. God grant that our present struggle will not see its defeat. It is not enough merely to praise freedom. Our task and our opportunity, are to show how we actually use our powers to serve one another in love. Now would not that be, without any doubt, a change for something better for us all?