Reformation Weekend 2015
Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
October 24-25, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
I listened to the voicemail. The person who left it was so energized and her voice was so welcoming it felt like she was in the room with me. “Mary! This is Rosie McSwain from Tom’s Door!”
I connected with Rosie in such an odd way I’d say God’s fingerprints are all over it. When I was in Colorado for my nephew’s wedding last month, our family ate breakfast at a local cafe in Carbondale. It’s popular so it’s crowded on weekend mornings. As we waited for a table to open up I looked at a display of photo greeting cards and purchased a few. I noticed that some of the proceeds were going to a charity called Tom’s Door.
I didn’t think of it again till I got home, wrote out 1 of the cards showing 3 birch trunks and named “Trinity,” and decided I’d like more for church correspondence. It was one of the Tom’s Door cards, and I called the number on the back. There was a recorded message and different menu options depending on where the caller might be in need of emergency shelter, anywhere between Aspen and a place called Rifle, CO. I pressed the last option just so I could speak to a human being, and got a volunteer who explained he wasn’t with Tom’s Door but with one of the agencies they give grants to. He passed on the name and number of the executive director of Tom’s Door – Rosie McSwain.
When I returned her call I learned some of the back story of Tom’s Door. Rosie and her husband retired to Colorado after living in Minneapolis for a couple years. They had attended a Cursillo retreat in Minneapolis, involving prayer, Scripture, personal stories; it had touched her deeply. “It changed me,” she said.
Rosie moved to Colorado wanting to do something meaningful with her life, “more than playing and babysitting my grandchildren.” In Minneapolis she had a mentor named Arnie who had begun an outreach called Arnie’s Door. It must have had very low overhead Arnie taped checks for assistance to his screen door.
There’s an obvious need for shelter for the homeless in Colorado, like there is in so many places. Rosie was primed to recognize that need. She’s a photographer and got the idea she could use that ability to raise money. She’s a woman of faith and a possibility thinker and said to herself, “I can make notecards and have a ministry.” She went to her parish priest and floated the idea; he told her, “Go for it.” His first name is Tom and she christened the new ministry Tom’s Door. Looking back on how that ministry was born, Rosie reflected, “All I had to do was listen.”
Fifteen years into it, 65 photographers donate their photos and lots of others donate their time and Tom’s Door all-volunteer team produces and sells enough notecards to raise $100,000/year, 100% of which is given out to organizations that provide emergency shelter.
A while ago The Lutheran published an article that said, “God doesn’t need our good works…. Our neighbor does.” In one of his most famous essays, The Freedom of the Christian, Martin Luther points out that a Christian is not just freed from sin, because of what God has done in Christ; a Christian is freed for loving service. Remember the ending of last week’s Gospel? Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)
This Reformation weekend is a good time to remember the wisdom of early church father Tertullian: Christians are made, not born. Baptism is a beautiful start to our Christian journey, but it’s crossing a threshold into the life of faith, much like wedding is crossing a threshold into the life of marriage. Neither baptism nor a wedding ceremony is the whole story. It’s the beginning of a story. That’s why we ask parents if they will accept the responsibility of raising their children in the faith, including putting in their hands the Holy Scriptures. We are meant to grow and mature in the faith, just like we are meant to grow and mature physically and emotionally and intellectually. Even growing and maturing physically doesn’t happen automatically unless we have good nourishment. And we sure will never learn algebra or French unless we make the effort to study it! We don’t improve at sports or music or cooking or just about anything unless we practice. Same thing goes for growing and maturing in the faith: we have to be intentional about it. We have to invest ourselves. We have to care about it and work at it and keep company with those who can teach us.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says to us as well as to His first listeners:
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
What does “continuing in God’s word” look like? It means “abiding in God’s word,” immersing ourselves in it, making it as much a part of our lives as the air we breathe. Being a disciple literally means being a follower of Christ. We can’t follow someone unless we keep our eyes on him. Since Jesus is invisible, we keep our eyes on Him and track what He expects of us by reading and digesting His Word.
How big a sports fan are you really if you don’t keep up with the team? Don’t real fans attend games or at least watch them on TV, read up about individual players, and stay well-informed? Jesus wants us to be a real “fan” of His by investing time in studying and loving God’s Word, by receiving Him in Holy Communion, by staying in close touch through prayer, through participation in the Church, the Body of Christ, and by living lives of faith active in love, like my new friend Rosie McSwain.
Rosie didn’t dream up Tom’s Door in a vacuum. She was already a woman of faith, rooted in prayer, listening to the Lord speak to her through the Scriptures, active in her church, and had eyes to see the need of God’s children around her. It’s clear to me she serves with a joyful heart, not worried about earning enough brownie points to get into heaven, but creatively allowing God’s gifts to pass through her to others.
Reformation means re-forming something, causing it to change. Like our brothers and sisters in 12 step programs who speak of always being in the process of recovering, we are always in the process of being re-formed. God’s favorite way of re-shaping us is through the Word. Continue in it – or get into it for the first time. Abide in the Word and you will meet the Lord who will show you the truth that sets us free.
Our celebration of Reformation isn’t meant to glorify Lutheranism but to glorify God and God’s gift of the Gospel, which we hold in common with all other Christians. We celebrate the fact that because the Father sent the Son to be our Savior we are freed from sin for praise of God and service of our neighbor. Being freed from sin means that we choose to do what is right instead of what is wrong – not out of fear of breaking God’s law so much as our fear of breaking God’s heart. After meeting God face-to-face in Scripture, we long to meet God face-to-face in the homeless and in all God’s suffering children who wait to receive what we have to give. To paraphrase Rosie, all we have to do is listen. Listening will change us. Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham