Preaching and Teaching This Reformation Sunday

After spending quite a bit of time in various pulpits last year, I’ve had a nice long break from writing sermons. But that’ll end soon: in addition to a Bethel Chapel talk coming up on November 8th, I’ll be preaching and teaching this Sunday, October 27th, at First Covenant Church in St. Paul, MN.

They’ll be celebrating Reformation Sunday, so both the class and sermon will prominently feature Martin Luther.

• We’ll start with worship at 9:30am, when I’ll preach on Psalm 46, the text that famously inspired Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress.” Much as I love the “battle hymn of the Reformation,” I’ve been thinking about the ways that it tempts us to misunderstand what it means that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

• Then after a coffee break, I’ll have the chance to teach on “Reformation Lessons for Life Together” during the spiritual growth hour. I’m planning to retell the story of the Reformation from the point of view of both Luther and Erasmus, the Christian humanist who both inspired and angered early Protestants. I’ll suggest that both men are essential to understanding “reformation” — especially for modern-day Pietists who have inherited emphases that the two reformers shared… and two that drove them apart.

Psalm 46, with books by David Fitch and Michael MassingPreparing for Sunday morning has been a good spur to do some fresh reading. I found the Psalms volume in InterVarsity Press’ Reformation Commentary on Scripture to be a huge help for the sermon, and journalist Michael Massing’s dual biography of Erasmus and Luther is both comprehensive and gripping.

Then I’ve also taken some inspiration from David Fitch’s The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith That Feeds on Making Enemies, which has been a common text at First Covenant-St. Paul this fall. Not only does his critique of Christian “enemy-making machines” inform my response to Luther’s hymn, but I’m trying to take to heart his challenge to preachers who would point Christians to a “space beyond enemies”:

…let us do more than merely offer information to be used by people to improve their Christian lives, which they can either accept, debate, or ignore. The Bible as Grand Drama demands something more.

Instead, as preachers, let us unfold the drama that lies before us under Jesus as Lord. We announce the good news of what has been made possible in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Out of the Bible, we narrate the truths of God’s character, the way he works. Based in Scripture, we make observations of what God has done and then ask, Can you see him at work in , among, and around you? We exposit the Bible as a new world being born by the Spirit.

The Bible, preached in this way, is “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” in God (1 Cor. 2:4). It funds imagination for the way God is working. (p. 80)

It’s an exciting, but daunting prospect. Please pray that God will help me, in Fitch’s words, to “[stand] among the people, speaking humbly (1 Cor. 2:4), proclaiming the good news in all its abundance,” such that “God’s presence comes among us and we are illumined by the Spirit.” As I prepare to preach in an Evangelical Covenant church for the first time since this summer’s annual meeting in Omaha, pray that there be “no enmity in this space because [God’s] presence is here.”