Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Revisiting reformation: Explorations on Religion-State relations Then and Now: Sermon

1 Peter 2:1-5
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

I thank the organizers of the International Conference on “Revisiting reformation: Explorations on Religion-State relations Then and Now” for this opportunity to preach in chapel. I would like to title this sermon as “Revisiting the Reformation: A chance to reform our spirituality.”

The reformation was born out of good intentions and a desire to express dissent against some practices of the church in the 16th century. The decision by Luther to disagree and protest was to bring about a new form of spirituality where the priesthood of all would be brought to the forefront and more importance would be given to the scripture. The reformation also made use of political fiefdoms to garner support for the new theological articulations which were being proposed. So indeed Luther and others made use of prevailing situations to make the move of starting the Protestant movement and church.
The 500th year of celebrating the Reformation is coming up in 2017 with the countdown having started in 2008. Each year has had a theme and this year has “Reformation: Art and the bible” as the theme. This is to identify the role that communication and technology played in the reformation. The reformation of the 16th century was helped by the invention of the movable type printing press in the 15th century. This was the new media and the facebook of the 16th century used by Luther and others to kick start and push the reformation. The reformation was also helped by art and paintings which engaged the common human with the idea of the reformation. My first point is
1. Reformation: The formation of social networks and the power of the finger-The idea was loosely the same as today. A post was put up and this was seen by some who then posted it on their own wall and shared it with their own friends who in turn liked it and shared it with others. What Luther wrote in one part of the country reached another part of the country and then was further transported to other places through translations. Luther was a modern day blogger and facebook user who wrote his ideas and used social networking to disseminate those ideas. His idea of priesthood of all also makes use of this power to share and disseminate. What the reformation did was to give the power to read and share to the common person. This was hitherto in the hands of an exclusive club. With the power to read, like and share the people got power in their hands and this power they further distributed. The concept is very close to facebooking today where traditionalists see it as a waste of time and against established norms whereas users see it as a spiritual work of spreading the gospel to hundreds and even thousands of friends. Luther managed to use a technological innovation to elaborate the scope of spirituality to common people and make them feel important and part of evangelization and gospel spreading. The reformation was in this sense made possible by the formation of social networks and the power of using the finger. Then the finger and the hand was used to write, read, turn the page if interested and distribute what was read and written.

The read passage in 1 Peter 2:1-5 calls us to identify ourselves as living stones and built ourselves as spiritual houses to be a holy priesthood. This is indeed a call to understand the liberating aspect of communication and technology instead of being held up in the debate of who can do what and how. God’s communication does not have hierarchy but gives the poorest of the poor the right to communicate. This can be through sign language, exchange of traditional knowledge, reading and exchanging books and using new media. A computer won’t literally give you food three times a day but technology can give you an advantage of writing your own future and changing your destiny of imposed poverty. Literacy in all forms is essential to be part of the social network and use the finger. This is not to impose language supremacy but to come to common languages which can be used and to include everyone in the network.

We conducted a computer literacy programme for elders in the church. Most of them who turned up were above 65 years of age. In two sessions they started using smart phones and started facebook accounts. A 45 year old son of a 72 year old mother came and asked “Pastor, why did you do this to me?” The pastor enquired what happened and the son said that his mother who used to watched TV serials at home sent him a friend request on facebook and is now liking his photos and putting her own photos. The son said “It’s not that she has an opinion about everything. She is now putting that opinion in public and embarrassing me.” The pastor asked him “Why should sons have all the fun?” What the church unknowingly gave the woman was the power of the finger and the power to lead a spiritual house on her own. This is the power of the reformation brought about by innovation. The priesthood of all believers as suggested by Luther should not be seen as only limited to the church but should be seen in the natural realm of people, which is their household. Being part of networks can initiate and strengthen reformation in churches. My second point is
2. Reformation as mission at the doors- The 95 theses of Luther were his explanations against what he thought were corrupt and unacceptable practices in the church. His explanations which were also sent in letter form to church leaders were then printed and distributed among many. The legend of having his 95 theses nailed to a door of a church also brings into discussion the value of the door and the essence of various doors in the form of churches and houses. In the Syrian Orthodox church there are seven ordinations for priesthood. Interestingly the first two, which mean Ulmoyo (the Faithful) and Mawdyono (the Confessor of Faith) are for all the faithful. Mission at the doors would then mean that the official sacraments in church should be substantiated by sacraments at home and the public sphere. So everyone is in that sense ordained to take forward the mission of the church in their own spheres. Symbolic and real acts in church can and should be sustained by real acts outside the church. Mission at the doors invites us to live the gospel when we visit a house or place and are on the outside of the door and to live the gospel when people come to our doors and we happen to be on the inside.

Mission at the doors also seeks an outside involvement in association with others where we reform the areas we live in. Whitefield Rising in the Whitefield area of Bangalore is one such group. Their motto is “Mooh bandh, kaam chalu” meaning “Mouth shut, start the work” or close your mouth and work. They have managed to make clinical and effective interventions with regard to cleaning lakes, solving traffic problems, fixing road potholes, cleaning open drainages and educating people on local body elections and the right to vote. As woman and man, daughter and son, sister and brother, wife and husband and members of various churches we are called to live the gospel in its fullness. By being living stones we should convert and reform ourselves into spiritual houses and a priesthood which offers spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. This definitely cannot be limited to churches. It has to extend outside the church and its vicinity and for this, all who belong to the church and would want to associate with the church have to minister in their own places of work and stay. Amen.

(Preached in UTC chapel on August 4, 2015.)

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