Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reformed & Always Reforming
We are finally here! Celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Well technically, it’s Tuesday, but we are celebrating it today! So what exactly does this anniversary mean to us? Well the United Church of Christ as a denomination has this to say:

“The Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago. None of us lived before it. Some of the life-threatening, flabbergasting ideas that exploded out of those years are now a part of the air we breathe. 500 years ago people died for them. But time turns the revolutionary into the everyday. We take key Reformation claims for granted. We can’t even see them, they’re just a part of who are… but the United Church of Christ’s Reformation [lifts] up some of the Reformation’s central claims. There is beauty here. And ugliness too. Inasmuch as ideas can thrill, these ideas are thrilling. Brace yourself…

The Reformation was a powerful movement of church reform and renewal — and a whole lot more. It was both cause and effect of sweeping changes in European culture and society. These changes shaped modern Europe and America and influenced the entire world. The Reformation marked the end of the medieval and feudal world and the emergence of a new world of a rising middle class, greater individual rights and freedoms, the emergence of nation-states, and a worldwide growth of commerce and trade. As with other historical movements, changes in technology were a key part of a cultural shift. In the late 15th century Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. For the first time something approximating mass production of books, including the Bible, was possible. The Reformation leader, Martin Luther, seized on the potential of the printing press by pioneering the translation of Scripture, previously in Latin, into the vernacular language of his time and place. Ordinary people and church laity, increasingly becoming literate as part of their transition from feudal economies to urban middle classes, could for the first time read and interpret the texts of Scripture for themselves. As a result, the priesthood and church power and authority centered in Rome began to lose some of its control. The Reformation was a forerunner of democratic movements, including the creation of the United States.”

On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we remember a time when it was radical to say that God is still speaking, that God does new things, and that the Holy Spirit may be moving among us to transform our world and our church. Today, 500 years later, this is still radical. In the eyes of God, 500 years is like a blink of an eye. God is still speaking. God is still doing new things. God is still with us, telling us through the spirit and the scripture, as we hear today, about all that God has in store for us, our church, and the world.
In today’s passage from Isaiah, the prophet is addressing the issue of fear, specifically the fear of abandonment, specifically, abandonment by God.  Israel, was in exile in Babylon. And she was afraid. Afraid that God had forgotten her. Afraid that he'd abandoned her as a people. God promises to rescue Israel. They are longing for home, and the way things were back in Israel. The good old days when they were not living as refugees in a strange land, when they were not separated from their families, where they could worship God and go to Temple. And God responds with these beautiful promises...

You are mine. I will be with you. I will give everything in exchange for you.  And in verse 4 we hear these beautiful words, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.” I am your God, and you are mine. I claim you.

Then we hear God say “Do not long for the ways of old, I am about to do something new…”now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

This is a statement for Reformation if I ever heard one. A close reading of our scriptures from Genesis until Revelations, especially highlighted in Isaiah, we see how God is constantly breaking into our world to remind us that we are free. We build these rules, walls, and chains around ourselves which confine us. These relics become old so those who made them are no longer around. Our children think these confinements have always existed. They teach their children, this is the way things have always been and always will be. Over time, we forget that it was not God who put us in bondage, but ourselves. And so God breaks in, time and again, to liberate us. God breaks down our walls and dysfunctional rules, reminding us that we are free, we can change, we can grow. God has to teach us again and again to be creative and to try new things. God is the original creator. God is creative. God is not afraid of new things. God is a creator, a redeemer, and a reformer. In God’s holy spirit, in the mind of God, the body of Christ, we too learn and remember how to be brave, to be creative, to try new things, and to reform what is broken.

Let’s do a quick review:
Martin Luther’s own call for change in his 95 Theses wasn’t exactly seen as a blessing by those he was critiquing. Though Martin didn’t get his idea to write the 95 Theses from hours and hours of pouring over social media. It turns out that writing Theses and hammering them on the doors was very common in the university setting. However, there was something that happened that caused Martin to write his list...There was a priest who was well known for the selling of indulgences- and what are indulgences? Ok, well-known priest the next town over starts an indulgence selling campaign saying “I could even assault the Virgin Mary, and get pardoned by the Pope and go to Heaven.” And this priest even had a robust road show, and was very good at selling indulgences in new towns with this message. And of course where was the money going? To Rome, to the Pope.
Clearly, a priest joking about the sexual assault of Jesus’ mother was a hard line for Martin Luther. Priests committing sexual assault, and selling God’s grace in forgiveness...Mmmm, I don’t think so! ML started drafting his 95 Theses-He felt the Pope and priests were so corrupt, that things needed to change.

So on October 31, the eve of All Saints Day, 1517 he posted his 95 theses on the church door of Wittenburg Church, and the theses focused on three main points,
Point 1- An objection to spending money on indulgences
Theses 46) Christians are to be taught “Unless they have more money than they need for their own family, they are by no means to squander it on indulgences”
Point 2) A denial that the Pope has authority over purgatory
Theses 26) It is good that the Pope intercedes for souls in purgatory, but he has no authority over purgatory just because he is the pope
Point 3) A consideration for the welfare of sinners
Theses 36) Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt even without indulgences.
Many of his ideas came in direct reaction to what ML considered issues of justice. The poor were less likely to be able to afford bailing out their dead relatives for their sins, or if they did they were left destitute and unable to care for their families. What if you couldn’t afford indulgences?
Well, purgatory for eternity!

ML gets to writing. He wrote not only to reform the church but to teach us to write and reform the church in our own time and place. The five hundredth anniversary of the reformation invites us to pause for a moment and wonder together how God is calling us to live into greater faithfulness? What are the issues of justice we need to see in and from the Church? What is one thing that God is calling us to be faithful in this next era of the church? Break-out into groups of 3-4 and share your idea….[Break-outs/Share-backs]

I know I titled my sermon Reformed and Always Reforming, but I definitely have a better title now, “Nailed it!” Maybe it can be a sub-title, because Reformed and Always Reforming is the point of what we are doing together as people who are striving for greater faithfulness to the gospel. Historians have searched for the origin and give different views both of its origin and original intent. Most of them agree that the first use was in the 1670s by Jodocus van Lodenstein, a Reformed preacher in the Netherlands, although even he did not speak of it as an aphorism, or use the precise words we are familiar with. Various forms of the phrase were used by other Reformed men, until the full expression, most agree, came to be ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundus verbum Dei.That is, the church, having been reformed, must continue to be reformed according to God’s Word.  

In the spirit of the anniversary of the Reformation, may we pledge to make the next 500 years embracing these tenants, ready to transform and be transformed!

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