Reformation: A Challenge to Break Boundaries and Barriers

Rev. Dr. M. Mani Chacko
General Secretary,
Bible Society of India

Friends, as we celebrate the Reformation Day again this year on the 31st October 2021, I want to suggest that we of all people are in need of reformation.

In Acts 10, we read a beautiful story of Reformation. Apostle Peter receives a vision from God. In that vision, God showed him a sheet, and inside that sheet were all kinds of unclean animals.

Now Peter was a faithful, Bible obeying Jew. He knew what the Scriptures taught. He knew what the consequences were for disobeying the word of God. He could not eat these unclean animals. They were forbidden by God. They would defile him. They would separate him from God.

Yet in this vision, the most peculiar thing happens. Instead of God restating what was once written in the Bible, reminding Peter that these animals were unclean, God does exactly the opposite. God instead commands Peter to “Rise, kill, and eat”, in direct contradiction to what was written and believed by faithful Jews for centuries.

So Peter responds to God’s command by saying “No. I cannot touch these unclean animals because of what is written in your word.”

Peter resists this command from God because of his commitment to the Bible. He resists this command from God because in the world of religion, we always seem to think that the ways things have been are the way things should always be.

Two more times, God shows Peter this vision and commands him to eat these unclean animals, in direct contradiction to the Levitical law. And two more times Peter resists, on the basis of what was written in the word of God.

But the final time that Peter resists, God speaks another word to the Apostle. Instead of restating the command to rise up, kill, and eat, he says to Peter some of the most powerful and uncomfortable words in the entire Bible.

God says to Peter, “Do not call unclean that which I have made clean.”

These words are uncomfortable words because they are words of reformation. These words are uncomfortable because what they suggest is that God is on a journey of reformation and that God can call to us to transcend that which has always been accepted or practiced into a new way of believing and being in the world.

In this one statement, God tells the Apostle Peter  that which was once considered unclean, based on the word of God, is now clean. That there has been a progression. A reformation. Things have evolved. Moved forward.

This story is one of reformation. It is a passage that tells us that God is still speaking. That his Spirit is still moving and evolving, calling us to move past our outdated religious traditions and narrow beliefs into a greater more expansive vision of what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God.”

The Christian tradition at it core is one of reformation. Reformation did not begin with Luther and his 95 theses in Wittenberg. It began with a renegade Jewish Rabbi named Jesus coming on to the scene and mucking up the religious tradition of his day.

He healed the sick on the Sabbath, in direct violation of the word of God. He touched the unclean and unworthy and extended forgiveness to violators of God’s law. He overturned tables and spoke truth to the religious powers of his day, which ultimately cost him his life.

Friends, when we say that we follow Christ, we are saying that we are followers of the greatest reformer that ever lived. And when we say we follow Jesus, we are committing ourselves to be a people that are always harkening to the new thing that Spirit of God is saying to us.

Jesus told us that when he left, he would send the Spirit to lead us forward into all truth. The implication, then, is that there is much truth left to be revealed. More tables to be overturned. More scriptures to be expanded. More traditions to be burst open.

We, as followers of Christ, are people of reformation. Always called to be listening for a fresh word from the Spirit, always being willing to break past our comfort zones and move in to the wild, uncharted territories that God is calling us to.

 God is calling us to move forward. To change the way we think. The way we believe. But more than that, God is calling us to change the way we show up in the world.

We have forsaken the Gospel of Christ, a Gospel which is first and foremost good news to the poor, liberation to the oppressed, sight to the blind, and jubilee for all. Instead, we have embraced a consumeristic, capitalistic, materialistic Gospel. We have become so concerned with money and power. 

We have forsaken the kenotic way of Jesus that calls us to humble ourselves, to take the form of a servant, and to sacrifice all that we are for the good of our neighbours and our enemies. 

 The God revealed in Jesus is a God who is altogether strange. A God who is unique and expansive.  A God in whom every molecule of the Universe is held together and a God who is made manifest primarily, not in scriptures or temples made by human hands, but in the faces of our neighbours and our enemies. A God that is not so abstract that he becomes a mere philosophical concept, but a living and active God who in reality lives and speaks and works in the world through us.

Each of us needs to reform our lives. We need to reform our churches. We need to reform our communities. And it is not the job of religious leaders, or politicians, or activists to lead this theological, philosophical, social, and political renewal. The Spirit’s call is to us. To me. To be agents of reformation, of expansion, of inclusion, and of redemption.

May we always be reformed and always keep reforming, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of each other, and for the sake of our world, making the world a better place to live in breaking all boundaries and barriers.

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