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Predigtreihe: Reformationsfest - Reformationens dag - Reformation Day - Día de la Reforma - Dzieñ reformacji , 2017

Matthew 10:26b - 33, verfasst von Munib A. Younan

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.



Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

last year I was not able to be with you for our annual Reformation commemoration, because I was in Lund, Sweden. On that day, I as President of the Lutheran World Federation had the honor of co-hosting an historic Lutheran-Catholic prayer service with His Holiness Pope Francis and the Rev. Martin Junge, General Secretary of the LWF. The positive energy of that event has not stayed in Sweden, but has multiplied over the past year, and has inspired many other Lutheran-Catholic prayer services. In Bethlehem and in Amman, Lutherans and Catholics gathered to pray for the world and for each other. And just a few weeks ago I was in South Africa for a similar service, where tens of thousands of Christians, both Lutheran and Catholic, gathered in a sports stadium to pray for the unity of the church. And on this day there are many Lutheran-Catholic joint services happening all over the world. This is truly a work of the Holy Spirit.

When we gathered last year to pray together in Sweden, it was not only to commemorate five hundred years. We gathered to commit ourselves to the future: specifically, a future of thanksgiving, repentance, and witnessing together as one Body of Christ.

These three commitments—Thanksgiving, Repentance, and Witnessing Together—are very important parts of our Reformation commemorations, for we do not wish to celebrate division. We do not honor the past 500 years with any spirit of triumphalism.

Instead, we look to the future with humility. We are thankful that we can now recognize the ways our respective churches have been loyal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We see and acknowledge the faithfulness in each of our churches, in spite of our differences. We are thankful for this reformation of the heart.

At the same time, we repent for the sins of division, for our mistakes, and for the pain that we have caused each other. The living and witnessing church of Jesus Christ does not hide the mistakes of the past. Instead, she confesses and asks for forgiveness.

There is no church which can say it has not done wrong. For this reason, in the Common Prayer liturgy used in Sweden in 2016, Lutherans and Catholics confessed together:

“O God of mercy, we lament that even good actions of reform and renewal had often unintended negative consequences. We bring before you the burdens of the guilt of the past when our forebears did not follow your will that all be one in the truth of the Gospel.”

The joint statement signed by Pope Francis and myself also connects our commitment to repentance with our baptisms. It proclaims:


“Our common faith in Jesus Christ and our baptism demands of us a daily conversion, by which we cast off the historical disagreements and conflicts that impeded the ministry of reconciliation.”

Because we share one faith and one baptism, together we give thanks and repent.

And thirdly, in the spirit of ongoing Reformation, we commit to witnessing together. Our joint statement of 2016 proclaims:

“As we move beyond those episodes in history that burden us, we pledge to witness together to God’s merciful grace, made visible in the crucified and risen Christ. Aware that the way we relate to one another shapes our witness to the Gospel, we commit ourselves to further growth in communion rooted in Baptism, as we seek to remove the remaining obstacles that hinder us from attaining full unity. Christ desires that we be one, so that the world may believe. (John 17:23)”

After 500 years of Reformation, the church’s commitment to thanksgiving, repentance, and witnessing together shows the world that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us. We pray and work toward reconciliation and unity, not for our own glory, but as an answer to Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one….so that the world may believe.” (John 17:21-23) This is our joint acknowledgment of Christ.

I want to share with you a witness that caught my attention in Sweden even before I had the opportunity to meet with Pope Francis. One day earlier, during the regular Reformation Day worship at Lund Cathedral, and following the liturgy of Holy Communion, something very special happened. Just before the closing hymn, we suddenly saw the Dean of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish in Lund entering the Lutheran cathedral with the Vatican flag, an icon of the Virgin Mary, and the entire Catholic congregation. Together, they processed to the front of this Lutheran cathedral and joined the Lutheran congregation in shared song and prayers.

As we gathered together around the altar, I have never seen faces so elevated and happy. It was as if we were dreaming. Many in the church were amazed; it reminded me of the Day of Pentecost when the disciples and the people were amazed with what was happening in front of their eyes. Many people were in tears. This was a powerful and moving witness of how the Holy Spirit always gathers us, unites us, and empowers us for the common mission of Jesus Christ our Savior. This is the confession we are called to proclaim together.

The preaching text for this day is a very meaningful one for us as we look to the future together. In Matthew 10, verses 32 and 33, Jesus says to the disciples:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

It’s true that we often read this as a very personal message to the individual Christian. But on this Reformation Day, I hear it as a direct message to our churches.

We live today in a world of merit and consumerism, of extremism, populism, and division. These are the values and the ideologies that the world confesses. These are the things the media and popular culture acknowledge as having meaning and power. The question for us today is: In the midst of such a culture, what does the church confess? What values do we acknowledge?

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther saw that the church was often confessing the values of the world, rather than the cross of Christ. He was frustrated by this, and spoke out boldly for reform of his beloved Catholic church. We also know that he went seeking the mercy of God. He searched and searched for the core of the Gospel message, the message he believed the church should confess, and he found it in Romans chapter 3:


“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

This truth—that the Christian is saved by grace through faith, apart from works—became the central message of the Reformation. It was clear to Luther that what the church is called to do is to confess Christ, and Christ alone. The church is called to proclaim the grace, mercy, and love of God, which is a free gift, never for sale! Martin Luther said, “The true Christian justification, which is our protection, not only against the power and the wiliness people, but also against the gates of hell, consists of our being justified and saved by our faith in Christ.”

Whenever we find that our churches are not preaching the radical love of the cross, whenever we find that our churches have put their own self-interests above the needs of the poor and the oppressed, the lost and the lonely, then the churches are in need of Reformation.

The Indian theologian Monica Melanchthon has written profoundly of how we see the issues of the 16th century manifest today. She says:

“Salvation cannot and should not be sold. But today, the idolatry of mammon has hijacked the world…and our society has sacrificed virtually all its principles at the altar of consumerism…In a world where wealth is god, the name of every living god herself is enlisted to serve mammon, as the charlatans of the church in every age has proved—from Tetzel selling his indulgences for buying forgiveness in the 16th Century to televangelists selling salvation, healing, and prosperity.”

Professor Melanchthon rightly points out that the problems of the 16th century did not end when Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg. But we would be mistaken to believe that it is only extremists who are in the business of selling salvation today. All too often we find similar theology in our own churches. All too often, the free gift of grace is perverted into a set of laws, cultural norms, or a political platform which all are expected to follow. Whether preached from the pulpit, or silently implied within a church community, this message that the Gospel is a formula to achieve happiness, acceptance, worth, or righteousness, is no different from the one preached by the fundamentalists we find so easy to accuse.

Furthermore, writes Professor Melanchthon: “greed for wealth and for power work hand in hand to exploit the vulnerability of peoples caught in a web of poverty, systemic oppression, conflict, and violence”. This twisting of the Gospel causes not only spiritual harm, but real physical danger to our neighbors.

For this reason, even 500 years later, the motto of the Reformation is still relevant. Ecclesia semper reformanda est—the church must always be reformed! And when it is reformed it only bears a witness to Christ and him crucified.

Believe me, the call to reformation is not a message only for one church or one tradition. Just as each one of our churches strives to be faithful to the Gospel, each one of our churches often needs reform. Reformation is the call of the Holy Spirit, to change us, to reform us, to transform us, to mold us to be witnesses to the cross. This is the call for the churches in Jerusalem as well.


Jesus said, “Those who acknowledge me, I will acknowledge, and those who deny me, I will deny.” The challenge for us today is: Have our churches been putting the Gospel at the center of all that we do? Or have we put everything but the Gospel at the center? It is uncomfortable to ask ourselves these questions. But we must never be ashamed of the Gospel, nor ever ashamed of our need for reformation!

As Martin Luther famously said, “Let us be sinners and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly!”


And what does this mean?

This means we must fear and love God, but we must never keep quiet about the Good News, to be shared in our broken world.

This means we must fear and love God, but we must never hide the light of Christ’s love for the world, for fear of offending others.


If we do not preach love, who will do it?

If we do not feed the poor, who will do it?

If we do not care for the refugees, who will do it?

If we do not speak out against oppression, who will do it?

If we do not work to strengthen Christians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, who will we do it?

If we do not sing Alleluia, who will do it?

Our brother Martin Luther once wrote: “How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never’.” At this moment, after 500 years of disagreement between the churches, there is no time for “not now.” There is no time like the present to re-commit ourselves to boldly proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ in word and in deed.


By the power of the Holy Spirit, we boldly confess that every human being has been created equally in the image of God, and every human being has been saved equally through the cross of Jesus Christ. Through word, through service, and through the sacraments, the church proclaims to all the world that in Christ, we are free—and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed! This is our confession!

For this reason, the Lutheran World Federation has rightly used the motto “Liberated by God’s Grace” for this 500th Anniversary Year. The core message of the Reformation is liberation.

The world is waiting to hear from our churches this message of liberation! The world is hungering and thirsting for this bread and wine. Our Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem are longing to hear the voice of liberation from the churches.


Today, there is a chorus of voices who are asking, “When will we be liberated?”

Refugees at the borders in Europe are asking, “Where is my liberation? Where is my dignity?”

Christians in many parts of the Middle East, facing persecution, are asking, “When will we be liberated? When will the international community move to assist us?”

Christians in Jerusalem are asking, “Will there be a change in the status quo that will threaten our future? Do we have any future in our homeland? When will we be liberated?”

Citizens of every nation, who feel the threat of a third world war, even a nuclear war, are asking, “Where is our liberation from this culture of violence and hatred?”

The poor are asking, “When will we be liberated from the sins of greed and capitalism?”

The Palestinian people are asking, after fifty years of occupation and 100 years of the Balfour declaration, “When will we be liberated from this unjust system of occupation?”

Israelis are asking, “When will we be liberated from this conflict with our neighbors, and live in peace based on justice?”

We can see that the Gospel message of liberation is not only a message for the church. It is Good News for a hurting world, a world imprisoned by greed and fear, and for Christians in the Holy Land. We give thanks today for the ways the Reformation has strengthened our confession of this Good News, and has amplified the proclamation of Jesus’ liberating and saving power. Together, we must confess this liberating power of Jesus Christ in our world today.

In the next 500 years, I believe the church is called to be prophetic, confessing our freedom in Christ not only to the poor and the oppressed, but also to those who are the oppressors. For truly, the message of liberation is also for those who promote racism, extremism, populism, occupation, hatred, and violence. They, too, need to be liberated! They, too, need to hear about the free gift of grace, and that they cannot be free unless their neighbors have full liberation and their equal human rights.


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my prayer for our churches in the next 500 years is that we would be ready for just such a bold ecumenical witness. After 500 years, it is high time that we put aside our disagreements and join our voices to confess Christ together for the sake of the world.


Martin Luther once stood before a council of authorities and said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Today, we also must take a stand against the powers and principalities which threaten our world. But we won’t get much done if we’re standing still! For this reason, instead of “Here I stand” I would like to see our churches join hands and proclaim: “Here we journey together!”

Here we go, clergy and laity, journeying together to acknowledge Christ: different churches, different traditions, different languages, different cultures, different music, different ecclesiology, different ministries, and yet each of us equally saved through the one cross of Christ, our Liberator.

We are different. We are blessedly diverse. And yet we share the same confession:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! Thanks be to God!

Today begins the next 500 years in the story of the church of Jesus Christ. And today starts the 29th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Will we journey together? Will you join us in boldly confessing the liberating love of Christ Jesus, as one holy apostolic church? Thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit is always present with us, forming and re-forming us for the sake of the world.


May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Bishop.former President (2010-2017) of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Munib A. Younan
E-Mail: communication@elcjhl.org

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