October 29, 2017 - “Set me free” - A focus on reformation
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Reformation Scripture Passages
Turn to your neighbor and say: I am a reformer
I’ve been thinking a lot about truth lately.
We live during a time when “news”--is true? Alternative? Fake? Opinion? Predictions?
All the while traveling at lightning speed with incredible reach
We live in a time where facts have become debatable.
No one disputes the final score of yesterday’s game do they: 42-7
No one will argue with the truth that my daughter Zia was born 6 years ago today!
Yet, when it comes to so many facts, there has entered a level of subjectivity.
It seems like if we repeat something frequently enough,
Or say something loudly enough,
Or with enough confidence and conviction,
Surely it must be true--even if it is not true!
My eyes are blue---”I”m still working on it.”
We live in an era comedian Stephen Colbert has described as, an era of ‘truthiness.’
He sardonically points out the distinction between people *who think with their head, and people who ‘know’ in their heart.*
Ours isn’t the only the only time when truth has been elusive.
Wasn’t there a time that the earth was flat?
Thomas Friedman still believes this, true?
It seems from our passages for today,
John the evangelist was concerned about truth in his day--
his gospel centers around this question of truth--while at the same time in the mouth of Jesus are the word: I am the way, the truth, and the life.
The prophet Jeremiah seems to be wrestling with this reality in his own time as he longs for a day when: [God] will put God’s law within them...write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
But for Jeremiah, they are not there yet, as he says of the heart:
The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse.
Today we observe reformation Sunday, but different from other years, we are observing specifically the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his disputations--[from the word dispute]--to a church door.[Thanks to workingpreacher.org for some of the following]
- He was convinced: “Our righteousness comes by faith alone, without works of the Law.” Sola Fide
And in this way he sought to reform.
Luther didn’t stop with indulgences.
Other ways Luther sought to reform the Christian thought of his day:
- He wanted to make clear the church was its people, “not wood or stones, not dumb animals, it should be people, who know, love and praise God.”
the church is not a steeple, the church is not a building, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people….
- Luther had something to say about sin and judging,
“And now, you yelping cur, judge yourself, speak about yourself, see what you are, search your own heart, and you will soon forget the faults of your neighbor. You will have both hands full with your own faults, yes, more than full! (LW 42:71.)
Turn again to your neighbor and say, You are a reformer.
As we see in Luther, an essential mark of a reformer--is curiosity, and remaining curious.
He saw the practices of collecting indulgences and was curious: Is that true? DO I have to pay?
We as Presbyterians are sons and daughters of the Reformation.
We are members of the global body of reformed churches--
Our motto in the reformed tradition is: ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda the church reformed, always reforming.
In other words, we accept our role as reformers: and we remain curious.
Never really quite settling...for to settle could be a form of idolatry.
Once again say to your neighbor: I am a reformer.
Another characteristic of a reformer--a reformer has to seek truth from sources outside of oneself.
Luther was curious and had strong convictions.
But just because he was passionate about these things--just because he believed he had discovered truth. He knew that wasn’t enough to make what he was saying true.
He needed support from something outside himself, preferably with significant authority.
For Luther this outside source was scripture.
He studied scripture in depth in his pursuit of truth
--something unique for his time because most people couldn’t read and even if they could the Bible was not readily available, and even if it was, it wasn’t available in the language one spoke.
Of the Bible, reflecting on his legacy in his later years, he paints a picture of what transpired:
“I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends ...the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”1
Of course the Bible says lots of things.
Many can read the Bible and come to differing conclusions about any number of matters.
It was true in Luther’s day. It is true in our day.
Say again to your neighbor, you are a reformer.
We see in Luther a third characteristic of reformers:
Reformers are willing to engage others in dialogue.
Whether this is true or not, as history as a way of being revised,
I really appreciate that history suggests Luther simply wanted his 95 theses to be a conversation starter. Kind of like an ice breaker activity. A door to dialogue.
Luther had to be willing to have conversation--some more vehement than others to be sure.
Professor, Evangelist, and spiritual director Ben Campbell Johnson, who died just last year, started a video series he hoped would help the church navigate controversial topics with one another.
A reformer in his own right, Professor Johnson called the series: “Can’t we just talk about it?”
Talk about it--not argue, or debate, talk.
Talking to others means we are open to the ideas of others--which may lead to deeper discoveries of truth
Talking to others means we are willing to accept that our minds are fallible and finite and we may not be right--
In what might be a slight tangent to illustrate this aspect with a little humor. My great great uncle wrote a letter to his brother Sam whose wife’s name was Maggie, which began as a way to tease a bit:
LaGrange, Ga. 2/10/36
“I was sorry to see you and Maggie displaying such strong evidence of advancing age, as to be recalling and fussing about incidents that occurred in the family before you were born.”
just how reliable are our memories?
Talking to others means others may not readily accept our ideas no matter how right they may be.
The temperature of the earth is warming--and it is due to the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the air...
A majority of people know this to be true...and yet…
truthiness…seems to dictate policy.
Thus, a willingness to talk with others means reformers ought to have a certain level of humility.
The apostle Paul went so far to say: Consider others better than yourself.
Turn again to your neighbor and say: we are reformers.
A final mark of a reformer I want to mention, among the many,
is a reformer doesn’t give up hope.
Another Reformer, Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as having said:
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
The Apostle Paul offered these encouraging words:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in God…
If something is true, we can hope our Sovereign God, who, perhaps with the small yet courageous contributions we may offer through our own reforming efforts,
as is and has been the case with reformers across time,
will make known truth to all in God’s time.
Not hoping we are proven right, but instead because we hope for the well-being of all.
You are a reformer. I am a reformer. We are reformers
Who are curious,
Who look to sources outside of ourselves
Who are willing to engage others in dialogue
And who are filled with hope that we may one day know the truth, and may the truth set us free!
Reformed and always re-forming.
Many wisdom teachers share a similar sentiment which suggests:
The more we know, the more we discover how little we truly know.
I want to close with a prayer from one of my teachers, Philip Newell, which I think so nicely concludes this sermon on Reformation Sunday..
So let us pray:
That truth has been inscribed into our hearts and into the heart of every human being, there to be read and reverenced, thanks be to you, O God. That there are ways of seeing and sensitivities of knowing hidden deep in the palace of the soul, waiting to be discovered, ready to be set free, thanks be to you. Open our senses to wisdom’s inner promptings that we may give voice to what we hear in our soul and be changed for the healing of the world, that we may listen for truth in every living soul and be changed for the well-being of the world.
-from Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter. Photo credit: Chuck Summers.