I wrote this Contact piece while sitting outside on my back deck, drinking a cold beer. It was about eighty degrees out, which might not have been terribly remarkable, if it weren’t six thirty in the evening, on the night of the first game of the World Series (1-1, top of the sixth, Kershaw on the mound, as I write these words).
Ordinarily, I am a fan of the National League (I have a fairly solid distaste for the designated hitter rule and a firmly held belief that a pitcher should swing the bat), but this year I will root for the Astros. It is a fact that Houston, Texas needs some good news after Hurricane Harvey, and besides, my two favorite baseball teams are the Giants and whoever is playing the Dodgers.
Life, it turns out, is unpredictable, and that is why the Church needs reformation. A week from the writing of these words, an adorable succession of witches, ghouls, Disney princesses, and power rangers will come by the manse, looking for candy. I won’t get dressed up, but am considering dressing up the front door of my house as the door to Martin Luther’s church in Wittenberg, Germany by nailing 95 thesis—or questions for debate—to the newly-painted portal. It would confuse the trick-or-treaters (and my children would, no doubt, roll their eyes in my general direction) but it would be an appropriate costume. After all, this Halloween will be the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a great event that happened when Martin Luther posted a list of 95 thesis, or questions he wanted to debate, on the door of his church.
Martin Luther had no idea he was changing history. He was just trying to start a conversation, but it turns out it was the right conversation for his time, and the conversation led to a church whose doctrine and spirituality was a little more flexible, a little more accommodating of the unpredictability of life.
Many years later, folks in our Presbyterian tradition decided to take Martin Luther’s reformation and declare it to be an ongoing project. For us, the church was meant to be “reformed and always reforming according to the Spirit of God,” which is important, because (as noted above) life is unpredictable.
Sometimes the unpredictability of life is unimportant—like when a committed fan of the National League finds himself rooting for the Astros in the World Series—but sometimes the unpredictability is serious. Sometimes it is manifested in wildfires or hurricanes, or illness, or in politicians whose grasp of reality seems fragile at best. In such uncertain times, our faith needs to be flexible. It must be capable of reformation so that it can speak to each new day (or each new evening, when the crickets of August are singing on a night in October, and the sunlight fades into a star-filled night, and the Dodgers—by the time I’ve finished this piece—are winning 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh).
Let us keep the Reformation alive!