Tomorrow marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. We celebrated this event along with our Reformed heritage at St. James yesterday morning. Then, yesterday afternoon, we gathered with other congregations in The Presbytery of Carlisle to commemorate the first 500 years of Reformed faith and life.
Thanks to all who participated in the festivities at St. James and at Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed singing in the presbytery choir along with several members of St. James as we embraced our common calling to be reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God.
As a minister, I had the option of processing with the clergy or singing with the choir, and I chose to sing with the choir, because I was striving to lead St. James’ choir members by example. Plus, it seemed more appropriate to look more like a parishioner than a priest at a service in which we celebrated a tradition that affirms the priesthood of all believers.
After the service, more than one member of St. James remarked, in one way or another, that they appreciated being exposed to different styles of worship, and I agree. We do not have to clone other faith communities in order to learn from them (and we certainly do not expect them to do everything that we do, though I feel that we have much to offer to congregations who are open to learning from us).
English poet John Donne first observed that “no man is an island,” and the longer than I am in the church, the more convinced I become that the same truth applies to congregational life. Churches that distance themselves from other congregations often have something to hide and/or suffer from inferiority complexes that are masked as superiority complexes.
The fact is that we, as members of the body of Christ and as human beings, exist in relationship to each other. We may pretend that our tribe is better than all others, but I cannot help but think that God laughs at such hubris, at such self-delusion.
I am grateful for the people in my life who provide me with an outsider’s perspective. When this perspective is offered in love, with my best interest at heart, I find that a willingness to change and be changed by God’s grace in Jesus Christ swells inside me.
Congregations benefit from outside perspectives, too. When we, as a congregation, are in loving relationships with other congregations, we find incentives to grow together, each congregation in its particular way.
Martin Luther’s perspective changed the way that men and women conceive and practice Christianity, and his ideas sparked not only a Reformation, but also a counter-Reformation in the church that he left. The history of the Reformation suggests that God uses people with whom we disagree to change us in ways that ultimately reflect the glory of God.
More than reformation, I yearn for transformation through which I am brought closer to God and to neighbor. I pray that you do, too. Since all of us are inextricably connected, shouldn’t we be looking for ways to make the best of situations that can always be improved? Complacency and disconnectedness are not our callings. Reformation and transformation are.