Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
Today we celebrate Reformation Sunday, a day where Protestant churches across the world celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther, who offered a chance for the Catholic Church to reform itself in 1517. Obviously, they didn’t see his protest in quite the same way that he did, as the challenges he proposed to the institution were too great and Protestantism was born.
There have been millions of words written about the dangerous life of Martin Luther and how his actions changed the history of the world as we know it. He was a radical, controversial, and uncompromising figure who challenged the power and status of the church of his day in unthinkable ways. He also believed things that we find untenable today and are clear abuses of his status and power.
The Basis of Union document, first published in 1971, which is a statement of Uniting Church beliefs adopted when the church was formed in 1977, references other Protestant Reformation Witnesses who have spoken through the centuries, such as the Scots Confession of Faith in 1560 and John Wesley in 1793.
Our church has a rich and dynamic history, which reminds us “again and again of the grace which justifies God’s people through faith, of the centrality of the person and work of Christ the justifier and the need for a constant appeal to Holy Scripture”.
Reformation Sunday is a chance to reflect upon the centrality of these figures in the shaping of the church through history and also to consider the role reformation has in our current time and in the future.
Today’s gospel reading, where Jesus restores the sight of Bartimaeus, follows in a series of Jesus in transactions with others, all of whom want something, who have questions, or are looking for answers. What could be more of a reformation, a transformation, than going from darkness to light? From being blind to being able to see? How would your experience of the world change? The way in which you could live? The way in which you related to others? How you understood yourself, your world, even God?
In this series of interactions with Jesus, people respond in different ways to the possibility of reformation. As we heard a couple of weeks ago, the rich young man comes to Jesus looking for eternal life but finds his wealth impossible to let go. James and John come to Jesus looking for status in heaven, which Jesus cannot grant, instead directing them towards the service of others. Blind Bartimaeus asks to see, something Jesus can give him just because he asks.
In these three stories, all of the people who come to Jesus approach him as someone who can give, who has knowledge, who can teach and transform. They come in faith – they are all believers – he is the source. Only Bartimaeus gets what he wants – he is healed because of his faith. His healing transforms both his sight and how he sees – no longer blind, he becomes a follower of Jesus, who is approaching Jerusalem and his Crucifixion.
Just as Reformation in the past led to the breakdown of church and society, to individualism and capitalism, we read a lot at the moment about how our world is being transformed and that things will be different. Many of our social commentators have spoken about embracing the changes that Covid represents, that the “new normal” offers us the opportunity to reconsider what is important to us in reconstructing and reforming our world. The chances to “build back better” or “build back fairer” are touted by politicians and activists. We hear stories about people’s intention to work from home, to resign, to move, to work less. These opportunities seem to be mostly for those who have more opportunities to shape their lives through higher levels of wealth and education.
With Christ guiding us, we must always be aware of our blind spots in addressing inequities. In reformation of our world, the church is renewed in its mission to protect and serve all God’s people, our communities, our nation and our planet. The work of Reformation is neither Catholic nor Protestant, and ongoing, with Christ at its centre, as the Renaissance Spanish Reformer St Teresa of Avila teaches us in her prayer:
“Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing make you afraid. All things are passing. God alone never changes. Patience gains all things. If you have God you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.”
Today, on Reformation Sunday, Bartimaeus’ story offers us an example of both literal and metaphorical transformation. The rich young man’s status impedes his reformation, as does James and John’s seeking of power. Jesus offers mercy to Bartimaeus and that grace is at the core of our beliefs. May we always have Jesus who offers mercy and grace to those who seek it as the guide and inspiration on our path to reformation.
We pray for all those who seek Reformation, particularly those who are currently involved in the Catholic Plenary Council. Thank you to the Rev. John Hughes, a Uniting Church minister at Brougham Place in Adelaide, who wrote this prayer. Please pray with me:
Creator God, in your great love you have given us the gift of your Spirit. As the Roman Catholic Church in Australia enters this time of discernment, we pray that your Spirit would guide and encourage those involved in the Plenary Council. May we all stand together as we seek to be your people on the way of Jesus.
We pray this through Christ Our Redeemer. Amen.