Sermon for Reformation Sunday October 30, 2022

You Need a Reformation!

Romans 3:19-28

 

    On reformation Sunday the story always goes back to Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church over 500 years ago. What Luther posted was not a sermon or a dissertation, but rather a series of short statements regarding what he thought was true about the Christian faith; especially contradicting the church’s practice of selling indulgences. Largely, Luther’s intent was to spark a conversation or debate about how the church was currently thinking and operating. Posting his ideas was not really intended to be an act of defiance, but an effort to get thinking people to think.

    Basically, life had got to a point where the church was selling the idea that the church could open the gates of heaven for a person with some money dropped into a box. After all, didn’t Jesus tell Peter that he would possess the keys to the kingdom. Whatever he would bind on earth would be bound in heaven and whatever he let loose on earth would be let loose in heaven. Therefore, with proper encouragement the power of the church could give your loved one who had passed proper attention. Isn’t that a good deal? With a few coins the church would intercede to open heavens gates. A popular jingle at the time was “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.”

    In history, “Although Prince Frederick III had banned the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg, many church members traveled to purchase them. When they returned, they showed the pardons they had bought to Luther, claiming they no longer had to repent for their sins.” They had effectively purchased their forgiveness.

    Seeing this Luther just had to stand up and say… “Now wait a minute, this is not what the Gospel says!” Luther took issue with the catholic church. This proved a bit hazardous to his health, because the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany declared him a heretic and an outlaw, and it was deemed that anyone could kill him without consequences. File this under no good deed goes unpunished. Eventually Charles V revoked a provision of this edict and allowed the ruler of each German state to choose whether they would enforce this it. A number of princes and other supporters of Luther issued a protest, declaring that their allegiance to God trumped their allegiance to the emperor. They became known to their opponents as Protestants; gradually this name came to apply to all who believed the Church should be reformed.” (https://www.history.com/topics/reformation/martin-luther-and-the-95-theses)
That is why today we are called a protestant denomination, because our roots were found in protesting certain aspects of catholic church life in the 1500’s. There is the history lesson, but what can we say about the meaning of this matter for us today?

    Perhaps it can be argued that there is the need for reformation and to always be reforming whether we are talking about the 1500’s or the 2000’s. As a word Reformation means to reform, or to reshape. To me, this does not mean to recreate as if we were adding more to it or taking something away from it, but rather renewing the image back to what it is supposed to be. It is like having a lump of clay and wanting to make a vase. Hands work at it and suddenly you find you have made a large teacup instead. The solution is to mash it back down and reform it into the vase it was meant to be.

    So, it is with the church. Future life is most likely found in reformation. This is not about adding more meaning to the church or subtracting it away, but rather reforming it back to what it was meant to be.

    Therefore, the only question we really need to answer is what is the church meant to be. How has the shape and nature of church life been altered until it has reached the point where it is no longer making any sense or simply losing its effectiveness for changing lives, or even worse misdirecting people away from God. What is it that people see about the church, even this church that causes them to say “No thank you.” This should be a good question.

    Recently I came across an article titled, “God is Boring and Church is Stupid, Reflections of a Parent” Generally I would dismiss such reads as nonsense, but this was written by Harvard educated Peter Enns who works as a professor of biblical studies at a seminary. In the article he tells about the joy of playing with his young son one day and then having to stop because he was in a tradition were they attended Sunday evening services as well as morning services. “C’mon. Time to go inside and get ready for church.” He said. His (young son’s) face fell. The laughter was gone. Time to go to church and be with God.

He ends the article by saying “Apparently fewer and fewer young people are convinced “going to church” is worth the time. I believe in religious instruction for children, but the trick is finding some way to make it feel more like a joy than a twenty-pound weight tied to a seven-year-old’s back….

One evening, right around that same time, my son and I were discussing, for some reason, the topic of heaven. He decided that heaven sounded perfectly boring and he would rather do without that type of eternal existence. He had connected the dots. His experience of God here was a preview of the experience of God later. And he concluded that “going to heaven” was no different than ending play time and “going to church.” It’s hard enough being miserable for a few hours, but never ending?!” (https://thebiblefornormalpeople.com/god-is-boring-and-church-is-stupid-reflections-of-a-parent/)

Thinking about this article, I ask you has the church become more of a chore than a joy? If so, you need a reformation. Has the church lost its potential to connect and excite people to want to be apart of it. If so, then we need a reformation. I believe that the church today needs reforming, reshaping; back to what it was always meant to be.

    Here the Apostle Paul gives us direction and certainly the place to start. The book of Romans is perhaps Paul’s most complete message of what he understood to be the basic Christian message. In our text today he begins to spell out what is most important.

Romans 3:23-25 “…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”

Sometimes it is argued that the idea of a good sermon can be said in one sentence. Perhaps this text speaks the message that Paul is trying to share most clearly. What is it telling us? How is it describing the true and basic meaning of the Christian faith to us? That which we need to always return to? The outline is straight forward:

  • All have sinned –no not one is able
  • We are justified by his grace as a gift –not by works or the law
  • Jesus death was a sacrifice of atonement demonstrating God’s righteousness –Jesus made a difference for you and me
  • We may boast only in the law of faith by which one is justified –there is nothing else to talk about. Everything else is commentary.

This is the Christian message. Reformation is the task of retelling this story. In his preface to Romans Martin Luther wrote,

“Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith.”

To the act of selling indulgences, Luther declared not coins but grace brings forgiveness. This was reformation. Years later John Wesley read Luther’s preface to Romans in a time when he was searching for the reassurance for salvation in his own life and yearning to know joy within his own heart. On reading Luther’s words John Wesley spoke of his heart being strangely warmed and knowing that without a doubt he was indeed saved by grace. This was reformation. Many churches in John Wesley’s day were stuck being inwardly focused and not outwardly proclaiming and serving. Many people were not within the circle the church was drawing until John Wesley concluded that the World is my Parish and began calling everyone to a deeper faith. This was farther fruit of the reformation. The nature and substance of life was mashed together again and reformed to more closely resemble the grace of God active, outreaching, and inviting once more where it had not been.

We need reformation within our churches to make the gospel message once more vibrant and real. But you have to understand something reformation means we have to be willing to mash down what we have and reform it to make something new. That is the hard part. Luther had to adhere to the scriptures and reject the human authority of the church that was putting money above salvation. John Wesley had to take exception to his church, even to the point of being banned from preaching in some churches, and reject salvation by works, to be able to preach salvation as an act of God’s grace, and then he even dared to take that message out to the people beyond the doors of the church. Always something was lost, mashed down, or given up so that something new, according to God’s leading, might be formed and the message of hope and life might be heard once again.

Sometimes the question is not what should we do, but what do we need to give up doing? What do we need to throw away, and what is it that we truly need to be thinking about that really enlightens the world about the hope of life that God has given to us through Jesus. Wherever people look and declare “God is boring and the church is stupid” are places just ripe for reformation. Wherever the work you do seems to be a 20lb burden on your back that you can’t get rid of because no one wants it, that is a place for reformation. Really what would bring the joy back in? What would bring people back together? What will declare the life that God gives to us as a free gift of grace once again? My word to you is that you need to mash it all down and build it back up. Reform church life until it simply cannot help to bring joy that is contagious to everyone who sees it. Then you will realize the power of reformation and be walking the road of Martin Luther and John Wesley. Amen.

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Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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