Founders Day and Reformation Homily

President Bergman delivered this homily at the Founders Day celebration and 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct. 31, 2017.
Posted on November 1st, 2017 by

Romans 12: 1 – 2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Greetings to all of you as we gather to celebrate Gustavus Adolphus College’s Founders Day. On October 31, 1876, Old Main was officially dedicated. At that time, Old Main stood by itself here on top of the hill. The building could house up to 100 students in 17 dormitory rooms on the upper floors, with library, lecture rooms, and professor’s office on the main floor, and a dining hall, kitchen, and laundry in the basement. From these rather simple beginnings, this college on the hill has undergone dramatic growth and change over the last 131 years. And yet, the mission of the College, to educate students for lives of leadership and service to society, remains the same. Today we honor our founder, Eric Norelius, and we celebrate his vision in establishing this College and the rich heritage on which we stand.

President Rebecca M. Bergman

Today we also celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a German professor of theology, composer, and monk, published his Ninety-Five Theses in Wittenberg, Germany. With this public gesture, Luther sought to open a dialog about reforming the church.  And as a result, the Reformation began. Now, 500 years later, we pay tribute to Martin Luther for his courage and his confidence in seeking truth through critical questions.

As we celebrate Founder’s Day and Reformation Day here at Gustavus, I ask each of you to ponder a probing question:

Are you conforming, reforming, or being transformed?

Today’s reading, taken from Paul’s letter to the Romans, gives us some perspective on these words, all of which come from the root word “to form,” or “to shape.”

Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

“Do not be conformed to this world…” What questions come to mind when you hear this? Are we passively shaped by the world around us? Are we too easily lulled into a state of acceptance of attitudes, opinions, and events? Are we too quick to stick with the status quo and within the boundaries of tradition? Do we feel constrained by political correctness and pressured to fit in? Are we reluctant to ask critical questions and explore ideas that might help to reshape our organizations and communities?

Not being conformed to the world is a tall order. It means that we cannot ignore injustice, inequality, oppression, and violence that are all around us. It means that we must be willing to name the challenges that we face in our organizations and in the world, and then commit ourselves to acting on these challenges in meaningful ways.

So, if we are not to be conforming, what about “reforming?” Martin Luther’s Reformation sought to reshape the conversation and the prevailing religious practices of the time.  He brought forward tough questions that challenged the status quo, and, by doing so, began a movement that was thoroughly disruptive in religious, political, intellectual, and cultural life in the 16th century. Today, in the spirit of “always reforming,” we can view the reformation as an ongoing project, one that is never completed. The reformed must always be reforming. If we are to seek the common good in contemporary society, we must continually reexamine the needs of our neighbors and respond to the ever-changing world around us.

The apostle Paul, in today’s reading, goes beyond reforming and calls us to be transformed. What, then, is transformation? It is a major change, a metamorphosis, a radical new shape. In nature, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly or a tadpole becomes a frog. In people, brokenness can be made whole again, despair and hopelessness can be overcome, sickness can be healed.  Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewal of the mind. We are challenged to think in new ways, to be open to fresh ideas, to put off old, negative thoughts, to let God’s spirit guide us. Note that Paul speaks about transformation in the passive voice – he does not say that we can transform ourselves, but rather, we must allow ourselves to be transformed – in other words, the hand of God is in this process.

Of course, now that we know what we must do – to be transformed, and how to accomplish this – by renewing the mind, the critical question is, why? or for what purpose? Paul tells us this– “be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” With God’s help, we can know and tackle the great challenges of our time and search for ways to make the world around us a better place for all people.  We can set our sights on excellence, seek perfection, and find new ways of thinking and living for the sake of others. By continually renewing our minds, by cultivating a vibrant faith, we can live out our calling to serve the neighbor and accomplish good works.

We can be non-conformists, we can be always reforming, and, most importantly, we can be transformed so that we can attend to what really matters in our community and in our world.

For this, oh God, I most fervently pray. Amen.



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