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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Reformation reminder

“A Living church of the dead, not a dead church of the living”
                                                                           Jaroslav Pelikan

I remember when my teacher first shared this idea with me from his teacher. It’s not only catchy, but it reveals a deeply hidden truth that often can get forgotten in congregations: we are here now. A congregation can get so caught up with its past that it is dead to today. What happened in the past becomes more important than living today. The other side of the coin, naturally, is that the past is completely forgotten, and with unstable foundations and dreams of opaque shade, the living today becomes fraught with nervousness and tension. No one knows where we are from or where we are headed to, and things get tense.

Congregations become dead, or seem dead to others, when they are not living in the “now.” Living today. Informed by a past, and guided by a future, congregations live best when they take seriously the realities of today. 500 years ago, when Martin Luther offered this advice, the congregations that began living in “today” became what you and I know as the Reformation. Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is not a remembrance of days past, but rather guidance for the present day.



Luther is dead, but many of his ideas might bear great fruit in 2017 and beyond. For example, Luther believed that God’s grace was stronger than all that “sin, death, and the devil” could muster to the battle. Therefore, he didn’t care about the devil. He assumed the devil would always try to sway him away from Jesus, and after a while he just got bored and tired of the devil. What if we treated all the negativity heaped upon us, not as something we must overcome, but rather as stuff that is finally only in the hands of Jesus, and pretty boring to us? What if, instead of worrying about something, we turn it over to Jesus, ignore the devil’s prodding us to worry, and get on with helping our neighbors, friends, and enemies?


Such an idea was fairly radical in Luther’s time, and maybe even more so today? Can the church of “now and today” even imagine Jesus Christ might save a situation? Would we be willing to lose, to go bankrupt, and to suffer loss of privilege, if that is what it takes to be a “living church?” Remember this little nugget about the Reformation as we celebrate its heritage and importance in the next year: we remember Luther not because he won, but because he lost. And God turned that loss into 500 years of witness to the gospel.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.