Reformation Sunday Sermon (2013)

Reformation Sunday / Confirmation Day
Texts: Romans 3:19-28;
John 8:31-36; Jer. 31:31-34


In January 2012, going on two years ago, Jefferson Bethke uploaded a video to Youtube titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” It quickly went viral. As of today it has been watched on Youtube more than 26 million times. Have you seen it? It was so huge that Jeff Bethke now has a book out by s similar title (Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough). It debuted a couple weeks ago as #3 on the New York Times Best Seller list. It’s huge.

It articulates, I think, what rapidly growing numbers of modern people mean when they say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Religion, especially in the last ten years, has come to have a bad reputation.

Let’s listen to a minute or so of Jeff Bethke’s video (starting at 1:51 to 3:06):

As a pastor, you might expect me now to spend a few minutes refuting Mr. Bethke on hating religion, and you’d be . . . wrong. I might question a few words or points. I’m not sure, for example, that we want to talk about hating religion. But I do think that Mr. Bethke is helping to call us back to a very important aspect of our Christian faith. In fact, here’s what I would say: if I was to write my own catechism curriculum, to help give an overview of the Christian faith, this would be my summary: The Christian faith is the story of God sending Jesus to save human beings from religion. Everything in the class could be an elaboration of this main theme.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to try to outline the whole class here today. I would like to offer a few basic points and then get to the end of the catechism class — in other words, Confirmation Day. And I’d like to share my hopes for this fine group of confirmands.

Jesus needs to come save us from religion because we evolved as a religious species, like no other species on this earth. And the religion that evolved for many millennia is a sacred violence, the heart of which is ritual blood sacrifice. Everywhere we look across the globe, we find ancient civilizations doing ritual sacrifice. The religion that evolved involves gods who command us to kill living creatures on altars. I say that this was the heart of religion and culture because flowing from it is a sacrificial logic that gives order to our societies. The gods justify the way we humans order ourselves in division and hierarchies: us-them, men-women, rich-poor, healthy-sick, free-slave, upper class-lower class, and on and on. The gods of our ancient evolved religion have been behind all the oppressions of human beings over each other: sexism, racism, war, poverty. In short, religion has been the foundation for our acting unjustly and violently toward each other. One cannot do something as cruel as keep another human being as a slave without feeling justified by the gods. And why have men felt free to dominate women over the ages? Because God made us superior, we said.

But I’m hopeful that the generation of our confirmands here today can help get us back on track with our calling to live by the story of God sending Jesus to save us from religion. . . . [Conclusion speaking personally to confirmands]

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Prince of Peace Lutheran, Portage, MI
October 27, 2013

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