he past few weeks have been an interesting time as many have taken note of a significant anniversary in the history of the Christian Church. Oct. 31 marked what many have termed the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Rather than re-visit what might well have been over-visited lately — I would like to point to wise leaders in the church who suggested that this is not something to “celebrate.” We may commemorate it, we may observe it, but there has been such division and even bloodshed as a result of the Reformation, that it is not something to celebrate.
With that in mind, I attended an event last month that gathered Catholic and Lutheran leaders together to consider our common faith and some of the many things that unite us.
In a statement the last weekend of October, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of our denomination, the ELCA, made the point that this 500th year marked the first centennial to take place in the context of deep ecumenical partnerships between our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers and many protestants. As she said, “We have taken significant steps on the way to unity, justice and peace. With our inter-religious neighbors, we also have deepened mutual understanding across religious lines and collaborated for the common good.”
In a document titled “From Conflict to Communion” the Roman Catholic and Lutheran participants (they were leaders from the Vatican and from an international Lutheran body) put forth five “imperatives” for us in our work together. The first says this:
“Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.”
That sort of principle can be easily translated to all of our relationships. In our personal relationships, in our political life, here in Sheridan and in every way, we would do well to begin from the perspective of our agreements rather than what divides us. At the same time, this principle notes that differences are more easily seen.
Not only are differences more easily seen and experienced, it seems that we enjoy engaging our differences more than our agreements. Much more. Anger and outrage are strangely appealing, yet they threaten to do us in. It might be wise for the church to ask if we have fallen into our culture’s ways, rather than the ways God leads us. Rather than living from God’s promise to us, and our call to love others, perhaps we’ve been following the culture in our sense of a pitched battle with all with whom we disagree.
That can probably begin to sound like a lame and naive call: “Can’t we all just get along.” But it might also be something quite a bit deeper and more challenging. As followers of the one who gave his life on the cross, we might well be aware that getting along can come at a very high price. We might recognize that we will do better at loving our neighbor if we set aside the need for clarity about what is wrong with my neighbor. We might recognize that we are not called to get our way in the world. We are called to love.
At the Catholic-Lutheran gathering I attended last month, Sister Eileen Hurley, director of lay ministry for the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, made the point that the ways in which we speak about others will shape our encounters with one another. As simple as that may be, it is also profound. How Protestants speak about the Reformation will shape how we treat our sisters and brothers in faith.
How we speak about our neighbors will shape how we live together in community. It is simple, but it might well not be easy. We’ve experienced 500 years of division for heaven’s sake! We know that living together and working together is quite a difficult task. Anger is easier. Giving up hope for community is tempting.
As followers of Jesus, we follow the one who went to the very depths and worked resurrection from death itself. Let us not give in to anger. Let us continue on in the hard work of building communities and love.
Phil Wold is a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church.