He is Making All Things New
Mark Johanson - October 24, 2022
Cue the theme from Mission Impossible. A new AOL Instant Messenger window pops up on my desktop. It’s an upperclassman and new friend of mine asking if I, a freshman at Valparaiso University, am busy. It’s Wednesday, October 31, 2007, 11:00 PM (“Do you know where your children are?”). He convinces me to pile into his car with three other guys I’ve never met, to go an hour east to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Upon arrival, three other cars park alongside us. I naively follow them, for fear of being alienated (they are already inherently suspicious of me, as they are all midwesterners and I am from California) and in mask of night, our group marches inconspicuously towards the Basilica of the Sacred Heart; one person is dutifully carrying a cardboard shipping tube and a roll of duct tape. As we infiltrate the campus, out of nowhere two Notre Dame students on bicycles attempt to intercept us and, as though carefully rehearsed, our group immediately splits up to try to lose them. A few minutes later, we hear cheering, and the words “mission accomplished!” as one of the groups has successfully duct-taped Luther’s 95 Theses to the doors of the Basilica, à la Martin Luther himself. Triumphantly, we sing the words to A Mighty Fortress is Our God as we march back to our cars. A stop at a Perkins’ bakery on Interstate 80 at 2:30 AM concludes the evening’s mischief.
Yes, this is a true story, and clearly I’m not ashamed enough to keep it private as I’ve submitted it to the church blog; alas, we all did dumb things when we were younger (I hear they tip cows up at St. Olaf, but that’s another blog post!). Seriously though, I share this preamble as I consider the celebration of the Reformation this coming Sunday; this particular memory, despite its display of juvenility, has helped me better understand the right and wrong ways to view the Reformation, as it applies to both the greater Church as well as myself.
Lutherans are proud of the Reformation. Sometimes, though, I think we can inadvertently become too proud. Recall that Luther didn’t want to create the Lutheran Church, but rather reform the Catholic Church. Since the Protestant Reformation, rather than seek unity, some Protestant church bodies have seemed to hide behind the guise of the Reformation to engage in “we’re right, you’re wrong” battles, which lead to nothing more than institutional schism, bad press, and a gaggle of immature Lutheran college students engaging in buffoonery.
Each year around Christmas, I am reminded of our “throw-away” culture when I plug in the Christmas light sets, discover that one of the sets is half-burned out, and briefly consider taking the time to check every single bulb. It’s a simple economics problem: is the time I would devote to fixing the problem worth more than the value of replacing the problem altogether? Frankly, spending $3 to replace the set is worth it to me if it means I don’t have to spend 45 minutes keeping my curious 3-year-old from getting electrocuted while I’m checking every single lightbulb—after all, she would rather I be playing with her, and so would I!
Reforming the Church is an overwhelming task, but allowing yourself to be reformed is not. In our Christian journeys, we struggle, we wrestle, we question, we doubt, we fear, we rejoice, and then we struggle once again. Our faith journeys are testaments that we are not “throw away” individuals, because we are children of a loving God, the Alpha and the Omega, who is always making everything new. The highs and lows of our Christian journeys strengthen us for continued service (Reformation), rather than discourage us to the point of giving up and throwing in the towel when something doesn’t go right (Throw-away culture).
I can’t wait to sing A Mighty Fortress this Sunday. It’s a favorite hymn of mine not because I’m Lutheran, but because it beautifully echoes the promises made to us in Psalm 46: God is our ever-present refuge and strength, always there for us when we are in trouble. It is because of God’s presence with us when we are in trouble that, even though all of these terrible things happen, we are not lost into the depths of the sea. Metaphorically speaking, God sits down with you and me, each of us a set of broken, half-lit Christmas lights, and takes the time to go through every single lightbulb to find the one that isn’t working. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we undergo a personal reformation, born again in the waters of baptism and given new life! Every source of pain, suffering, or loss is washed away in streams of living water. The bad is reformed and we are equipped for better service not so that we can be proud of the Reformation, obnoxiously touting good theology and shaming others, but so that we can love and serve our neighbor in the name of Jesus.
On Sunday, Christ Choir will be singing an anthem at Traditional with text from Revelation that isn’t your average Reformation Sunday anthem. First of all, it’s contemplative. Second, it’s not Psalm 46, but rather Revelation 21, a text commonly read at funerals. But the reason I’ve selected it for Reformation is because it doesn’t have to do with the reforming of a church, it has to do with the reforming of you and me.
We aren’t thrown away into the depths of the sea, because God has made all things new.