Thursday, October 27, 2016

When Luther, Annamma & Pope Meet: A Conversational Homily for Reformation Sunday 2016

Narrator:  Read Acts 5:29 & Isaiah 7: 9b

Come 2017, the global church is preparing to celebrate 500 years of Reformation, which is an opportunity to rededicate and recommit our faith journey towards transforming our church and society. Here are three important people who never met on earth, but in God’s presence, where time & eternity meet there is every possibility that these three people from three different historical and geographical backgrounds meet for a conversation. The three are Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer from Germany, Annamma, my grandmother and first generation Dalit Telugu Lutheran Christian from India, who lived in 20th century, Pope Francis the current Head of Roman Catholic Church from Vatican who is living in 21st century.

Martin Luther: Hi guys, grace and peace to you all, good to see you all here and wish I could have met you earlier in my days. I understand both of you are very special each in your own way, and it is the love of Christ that binds us together in unity affirming our diversities. Praise be to God and God alone.

Pope Francis: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is such a pleasure meeting you all here in the presence of God, where God is all in all and is present everywhere. Peace be with you Martin, and Peace be with you Annamma.

Annamma: Namaskaram (greetings) Luther, Namaskaram (greetings)Pope Francis, I am thrilled to see you all here and it is such a joy for me to see you both here in this place of God. I heard of you Luther all my life from our missionaries and my dad as a catechist spoke about you so prominently, and heard of you Pope Francis from my grandchildren, and I am all excited meeting you both.

PF: Father Martin, I still see you as our priest, however I regret the decision to excommunicate you from our Church then, but let me brief you that these 500 years of reformation and 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue has led us to move from conflict to communion, allowing God’s Spirit to lead us thus far as co-members in the body of Christ.

When you nailed those 95 theses on the doors of Wittenberg on 31st October 1517, I understood that my predecessors were terribly unhappy and the Mercuries soared very high on their sphygmomanometer. Let me appreciate you for that courageous act you did then, and as you know that eventually turned out to be the Reformation day. What was it like?

ML: Should I call you His grace or Fr. Francis, but I feel at home calling you Brother Francis (Pope nods his head with a smile) thank you for your appreciation, and wish you were the Pope then during my days, and am glad good days have come for the church now. Allow me to reaffirm that Reformation was an act of God, and I was only an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit. It was a sad state in the context of the Church where gospel values have been compromised and contaminated by power and authority, Reformation of the Church was a Biblical necessity, a Theological necessity and a Contextual necessity of our times.

PF: I can understand that Martin and glory be to God for your bravery and passion for the gospel. Now let us invite our sister Annamma, whose name resounds the name of St. Ann to share what does Reformation day meant to her?

Annamma:  Thank you Pope Francis. Martin Luther though is miles away from our place in India, and is distanced by about four centuries of time, his act of Reformation is of high relevance to us. When the Lutheran missionaries brought us the gospel of Jesus Christ, they had instilled in us a sense of self-dignity for we were considered ‘untouchables’ in our community for being born outside the caste system. For us Luther and his story was so dear and close, for he spoke ‘truth to the powers’, and Luther was identified as one among us, for he stood as an inspiration in overthrowing the corrupted powers of caste. We have owned Luther as our own. After becoming Christians, for us there were three important festivals. The first one was Christmas, the second was Reformation day and the third was Easter. Telugu translation of the word Reformation was ‘Mathodarana’ which means ‘restoration or upliftment of religion or religious system’ or ‘re-establishment of religion’. Therefore, Reformation was ‘restoration’ and ‘upliftment’ which was our yearning for liberation from all oppressive religious practices both within and outside of the church. We have grown enacting Luther’s play from our childhood, and aspired to make Reformation a reality for our times in our contexts. Faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone are the foundations of our Christian living, and we believe that we are justified by faith in the love of Christ, and not by any religious rituals or works. We are liberated and saved by grace and not by any karma or acts.

ML: Very interesting to know about this sister Annamma, I am glad that you have taken the meaning of Reformation to greater heights, broadening its scope, widening its horizon and deepening its meaning. As I said earlier, Reformation is God’s act, and God in God’s grace activates and actualizes Reformation for God’s people in varied and diverse contexts and stages of his history. Praise be to God.

PF: Brilliant sister Annamma, indeed praise be to God, for you have owned, reclaimed and re-enacted the story of Luther more profoundly than any others in the global North. I now reckon to the fact that Luther and his Reformation has now become your story, your aspiration and your longing. Thank you Annamma for sharing this, and thank you Martin for initiating this. I now understand what it means to have 72 million Lutherans globally today in 2016 and why it is concentrated densely in the global South. At this point, I should also say that we as Lutherans and Catholics have come closer on the ‘doctrine of justification by faith’, for we acknowledge that this was part of the Biblical theology of St. Paul, which precedes the early church father St. Augustine’s teaching. I should also agree to the truth that ‘salvation is not for sale’. We all collectively rejoice in God, for God has been gracious to us, for God’s faithfulness endures from generation to generation.

Martin, let me now ask you, on 8th April 1521 when you were summoned at Diet of Worms to reply on all the charges leveled against you, you were firm and stuck to what you had done and believed. What was that moment for you?

ML: Brother Francis, of all the thing I did, and of the things I wrote how on earth you single out that only moment at the Diet of Worms? I knew you were trying to seek justification of my statement ‘Here I Stand.’ I was summoned to explain why I should not be excommunicated? I had back and forth conversations asking not to rend the church, and retrieve my words and seek an apology. But my conviction in my Bible, the Word and the Spirit helped me to stand on what I had believed, said and done. Therefore, let me echo you the same words I said then. “Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and teeth. Unless I am convicted by the Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of the Popes and the Councils for they had contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen."

Brother Francis, there I stand, and till eternity there only I will stand.

PF: Thank you Martin, we all knew that you were hard gutted guy and will not give up easily. Brilliant, you are inspiring man, Martin. I knew your stand, but now let me ask Sister Annamma, what is their Dalit Christian perspective from Luther’s ‘Here I stand’ affirmation.

Annamma: For Martin Luther, Sola Fide (faith alone) is a hermeneutic in unlocking ‘justification,’ for his context then was dominated by the rule of Sola Roma (Rome alone). Luther recited this verse “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” from Isaiah 7: 9b, for he was always Scripture centred and Word focused. From this verse, there are three important facets of faith, firstly the grounding of faith, which is in its ‘standing,’ secondly the binding of faith, which is in its ‘firmness’ and thirdly the longing of faith, which is ‘fullness of life.’ For it is our faith in a revolutionary Jesus Christ that inspires us to partake in the transformation of our society, for such a faith compels us to translate faith into praxis and roots us firmly in life and life giving mission. In the context of caste oppression (Sola Caste = caste alone), we Dalit Lutheran Christians firmly believe that we do not accept the authority of caste, authority of powers, authority of oppressive texts etc. for we are liberated by the Word of God as revealed and personified in Jesus Christ. Here we as Dalit Christians stand along with Luther, sand beside Luther and all people of God on the faith of Jesus Christ, on the grace of God, on the Word of God, for nothing can separate and deter us from the reign of God that brings peace, justice and equality.

ML: Fantastic Sister Annamma, thank you for making me stand on my convictions in the Word, for making me stand along with you, for now I say with people like you and your communities I can stand and I will stand. Praise be to God.

PF: Thank you Sister Annamma for bringing in your powerful insights. I did hear about the plights of Dalit Christians and other such communities, for that was the reason time and again I stressed on ‘Church of the poor’ for I believed unless we re-incarnated as ‘Church of the poor’ we cannot witness to the values of the gospel. Moving ‘From Conflict to Communion’ for me is to ensure that liberation and justice becomes a reality to several people dying under the rubric of oppression. If as Churches we can raise up to that occasion, we can joyfully celebrate Reformation day. We are called to Re-form our churches as ‘Church of the poor’ and I am sure Martin and all his people, be it Protestants or Evangelicals or Charismatics will join me in making this a reality, which is the need of the hour. Luther, you have said your message 500 years ago, I have said my own aspirations of the church, let us therefore ask Sister Annamma to give us her reflection for this 31st October 2016, on the Reformation Day.

Annamma:  Thank you Pope Francis and Luther sir for being gracious in allowing me speak for Reformation Day. Reformation for me as I have said earlier, is ‘hearing to speech’ the often neglected, distorted, overlooked and even forgotten voices of the subalterns, the voices from the margins. Reformation for me is ‘Speaking truth to the powers,’ for the cause of justice and peace. Reformation for me is a time of repentance for the callous attitudes of our churches and its leadership towards the needs of our people in the community, a time of repentance for those in powers for we enjoy pomp and positions at the expense of our vulnerable believers, a time of repentance for being silent to the unjust practices in our churches and for being insensitive to the exploitation done to innocent people around us. Reformation for me is a time to give up my positions & privileges of any authorities that I enjoy in the Church which is against the convictions of the gospel and allowing to lead a life submitting ourselves at the feet of the Cross in coherence with the Crucified Christ. 

The call of Reformation today is to reject and defeat the authoritarian, ugly practice of caste and several such forms and allege total obedience to our liberating God, so that our public spaces of church, academy and society become zero-tolerant zones against discrimination. For Jesus, it was ‘Roman Empire or Kingdom of God’ and he chose the latter over against the former, for Luther, it was ‘Rome or Christ’ and he chose Christ over against any other ecclesial authority and today it is ‘Caste or Christ’, and our ultimate choice is Christ over against caste, for such a thing is now required in re-formation of our churches. ‘Injustice done anywhere affects justice everywhere.’

PF & ML: Thank you Sister Annamma for your prophetic word. We submit to God and look to Him for His help so that our communities are transfigured, reformed and transformed.

Annamma: Should we not then close with one of Martin Luther’s hymns that he had penned based on Psalm 46, for this song is our act of commitment and pledge.
Let us all sing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God…”

Raj Bharat Patta, 
Reformation Sunday, 
October 2016 


Dinesh said...

Dear Bharat, your ingenious ways of articulating continues to inspire me. You have beautifully woven a tapestry around the tenets of Reformation in today's context involving the three generations drawing parallel between the supremacy of Church authority and supremacy of Caste.... A. Rave view point in an anecdotal writing... Keep it up... It was a good read... Dinesh

raj bharath patta said...

Thank you very much Dinesh Bhaiyya for your words of encouragement

Prof. Sarada said...

Dear Bharat

you have knitted a beautiful conversation on Reformation in a contextual way .It is so nice that will be perfectly fit in our local congregations to understand very clearly the meaning of reformation.

some times it pains me when we observe our contemporary christian traditions and pilgrimages and the practices of Bible mission and some fellowships. majority of our rural churches are also practicing same methodologies as in other religions to celebrate festivals . this is the need of the hour to revive and renew the real meaning of Reformation .

May God Bless you . sarada devi

raj bharath patta said...

Thank you very much Sarada aunty for your words of encouragement. This homily is an invitation for our local congregations to articulate their visions & aspirations of Reformation in today's contexts.

vishal bandugula said...

Brilliantly articulated anna. The dialogue is real and engaging, I completely agree with the act of reformation which has liberated not only dalit christians, but many who were oppressed on a moral domain too. Unfortunately in the present times, reformation has transpired into conversion and mathodarana into matamarpidi.

I feel that no soul can be converted, but reformed through God's grace and holy spirit. I hope our churches in present times understand this simple yet significant notion and realign its focus

Keep writing