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Swiss Lutherans mark 500 years of the Reformation

Swiss Lutherans mark 500 years of the Reformation

Worship service for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and 50 years of the Federation of Lutheran Churches in Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein. Photo: Arni Danielsson/LWF

12 September 2017

Lutherans from all over Switzerland gathered in Geneva on 10 September for a eucharistic worship commemorating both the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and 50 years of the Federation of Lutheran Churches in Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein (BELK).

Hundreds of worshippers filled the Temple de la Madeleine Reformed church where the Sunday service was held, reflecting the diversity of Lutherans in the country, drawn from Danish, English, Finnish, German, Malagasy, Norwegian and Swedish speaking congregations. Also attending were ecumenical guests from the Reformed tradition, Catholic church and other Christian denominations.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge preached on the theme of the service “Bound to be Free.”

A freedom with and for others

In his sermon, Junge emphasized that the unity of Lutheran churches was found in the message of justification by grace through faith, which conveys that “we are saved not because of who we are and what we do, but because of who God is and what God does.”

He said the Reformation Anniversary was an opportunity “to reassert the preciousness of this message” that speaks to our human condition. “One doesn’t need to live in any special time, nor in any special place to be able to receive the good news of God who has chosen to set a tone of compassion, solidarity, justice and peace in our world.” This is a message, he said, that people need to continue hearing.

The general secretary reminded worshippers that the message of reformation 500 years ago spoke powerfully as well because it resonated with the perception that things were “being pushed into the marketplace which didn’t belong there: forgiveness, life and future.”

Explaining the LWF’s “Not for sale” tagline for the anniversary, Junge challenged churches to keep questioning the very notion that everything today can be tradable— including human beings, creation and salvation. The message of justification “today inspires us to address a trend that makes trade to become the sole driver of social, communal and political interaction”

Referring to the Epistle of the apostle Paul to the Galatians, he urged churches to hold together justification by grace through faith and freedom. “A church that preaches the gospel of justification will always be a church that stands without hesitation for freedom.” The general secretary emphasized the special character of Christian freedom and contrasted it with a prevailing model of understanding freedom today, which “is increasingly losing its social competence.” Christian freedom, he said, is a “freedom that sees the ‘I’ in relationship to the ‘we’, never cut off or in isolation. It is a freedom with others and for others.”

Addressing the ecological challenges, including climate change, he called for a new approach “to develop a theology, sermons, catechism and songs that help us to grasp both the preciousness and the fragility of the web of relationships into which God has placed us.”

Referring to the Joint Catholic–Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation in October 2016, Junge said it was a blessing that for the first time in five centuries, the  Reformation anniversary is being approached with a spirit of ecumenical accountability, “by spelling out how much we hold in common, and how much we long to be healed from the brokenness that affects us.”

Reformation, he concluded, “is not over, because God’s mission is not over. God continues claiming space in our lives, inviting us to live from what is given to us. God continues to set us free from the anxiety of perfection, accomplishment and success, inviting us into a journey of transformation to become who God wants us to be.”

The centrality of the Bible

The festive service included the sharing of Bible verses written out on long cloth ribbons, which after being read out by a representative of each BELK congregation were passed around the worshippers and displayed on a wooden frame at the front of the church. Moved to the church entrance at the end of the service, the colorful ribbons acted as a gate through which worshippers passed to emphasize the centrality of the Bible in the life of the Lutheran church. Those gathered later shared a common lunch on a boat at Lake Geneva, which included a presentation on BELK’s history.

The BELK (Bund Evangelische-Lutherischer Kirchen in der Schweiz und im Fürstentum Liechtenstein) was founded in the early 1960s by five independent Lutheran churches to promote community across the boundaries of their own parishes. It joined the LWF in 1979, and its congregations bring together nearly 5,000 members.

Full text of the sermon by LWF general secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge