Reformations Sunday… seems so long ago, so irrelevant, so 15th century; but the reformation was about a dream and the embodiment of a vision, and dreams are still very much alive.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
“…I have a dream that this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
“And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
Let freedom from a sanctuary on Rudy Lane in Louisville, KY!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every mountainside; let freedom ring.”
What do you think MLK’s mother had in mind for her son when she blessed him with the name of Christianity’s most illustrious reformer? Martin Luther King Jr. grew into his name and became a social reformer, daring to dream of national freedom, emancipation from slavery and inequality.
(And to think, as a goofy redheaded kid, I was always called me carrot-top growing up…what a missed opportunity)
Jesus spoke of, and the 16th century Luther fought for, a different freedom. Not national, but inner freedom, spiritual freedom, and we hear that call for liberation in the 8th chapter of John, when turning to his followers Jesus declares:
JOHN 8: 31b, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
However, the disciples did not understand his words. They were focused on national freedom, and Moses had given them that gift centuries before; and so they replied:
33 “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
To be the voice of reformation, a voice ahead of its time, must be frustrating, always having to explain, and thus is Jesus’ reply:
34 “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
“Let Freedom Ring…”
That’s a scary proclamation though; freedom can take us into the unknown… and because of that fear, the track record of societies’ most prolific reformers has proven unfortunately grim. We can lift the past voices up now, because in hindsight, their foresight makes sense, but at the time these voices were silenced.
“They” say that hindsight is 20/20. The first question is simply, “who are ‘they?” There seems to be a “they” with an opinion on everything!
Anyway, hindsight 20/20 would mean that one sees with 100% percent clarity when looking backwards. We’ve all been there, for better or worse. Foresight, however, is not such a perfect proposition. Break that compound word down… “fore-sight,” or 4-sight; given the 20/20 perfection that is hindsight, we would be looking instead at 4/20, or 20%…
So it makes sense to fear foresight. For example imagine you’re late to work on a winter morning. You do not have time to clear all the ice from your windshield, so you make a little hole and drive off hoping that the rest of the ice would quickly thaw? Driving with 20% visibility is risky, scary even (if not for you it certainly is for the other drivers sharing the road with you!)
However, its still better than driving down the road well looking out a 100% clear rear windshield, and that’s where we stand today as we celebrate reformation Sunday. We want to lift up the past voices that have shaped us, that freed us, and allow them to guide us, but not allow our vision to get restricted to the past… these “reformers” taught us to look forward and embrace change.
“Reformation, lets define that one… according to Webster’s Dictionary “Reformation” is “A movement intended to make a striking change for the better in social, political or religious affairs.”
This 15th century, “striking change,” is what birthed what we now know as the protestant church (the Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Disciple denominations for example.)
Like “reformation,” Protestantism, as both a movement and a vocabulary word, bears history. The name actually arose in 1529, several years after Charles V had declared Martin Luther a Heretic, when leaders of several German cities and churches put aside smaller differences in their theology, and united to ‘Protest’ as one body. They thus became known as Protestants, simply put, those who protested.
Nearly five centuries later, the Protestant church defines itself as an Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda “A church reformed and always reforming,” but does the church really welcome voices of change?
We lifted up Martin Luther as the main voice of this, “Reformation Sunday,” having declared justification by faith, having brought public the corruption of the Church, having empowered each believer to seek God by their own means, and having translated the Bible into common vernacular so that we would all be able to do just that. However, Luther found himself in forced hiding to protect his life, and lucky to have a life to protect!
Just about 100 years earlier a man named John Has, a Czech priest nicknamed the “Morningstar of the Revolution,” did not find safety in hiding, but was beheaded as a heretic for speaking a similar message of spiritual freedom.
On that note, who was paying attention last week when we looked at that word, “Heresy?” Anyone remember what it meant? “Choice!” A heretic is one who recognizes their ability to choose.
John the Baptist was also beheaded because he made the choice to proclaim the coming of the Messiah… and that Messiah found himself crucified for (quoting Webster’s,) “initiating a movement intended to make a sticking change in religious affairs.”
Jesus had followers, his disciples, and we hear little about their later years carrying his message of change. Any guesses on their fate?
Andrew, Bartholomew, Peter, and Simon found themselves on a similar cross as their leader; one of the two James’ was beheaded and the other beaten with clubs, as was Thaddeus (Jude,) Matthew was burned, and Thomas was made a martyr by stabbing.
We lift up these voices in the past, but have an unfortunate tendency to kill them in the present (figuratively and literally!)
“Geez Ryan, not your most uplifting sermon,” you may be thinking to yourself right now…” and I apologize for being the downer, but it is our history. Is it not empowering though, knowing how devoted these voices were to the freedom that Jesus declared, that Martin Luther restored, and that MLK dreamt?
This Sunday is the also the one-year anniversary our service together, and that is exciting! The most amazing thing about being so young, so new, and so fresh is that our freedom is still very alive! Most churches get locked into their comfort zones and consistency is indeed a great thing; it’s a comfortable thing even, but not something that we should ever chain ourselves to. Andy Stanley, a prominent pastor in Georgia, said recently in a CNN interview, “We have to remember in the church that nothing is forever. As soon as something thinks its forever, that’s when they close their hand.”
We haven’t been around long enough to get complacent, and that’s good because the freedom that Jesus spoke cannot be found from inside a closed fist. The truth we follow, that which sets us free, cannot be boxed in…
As a church, we haven’t been around long enough to fall victim to the phrase, “well that’s just how we have always done things,” but instead, we can look ahead with wisdom of our predecessors, as we seek out the truth of Christ to steer us in all that we do.
A group of business professionals were recently asked, “What is really being said when someone answers a question, ‘because we’ve always done it that way?” Here are some answers:
* I haven’t got a clue why we do it this way and I’d rather not spend time thinking about it.
* You’re new aren’t you? You new people just want to change our perfect little world, but we are bigger than you.
* Have you no blind respect and subservience to those who were here before you? It was good enough for them and it will be good enough for you.
* You clearly don’t know how we do things around here; this has nothing to do with logic, fairness and openness.
* We don’t like questions like that; they make our meetings unpleasant and last far too long.
* Despite what you were told, this is not a democracy and the world is not fair. Sorry.
Dear Martin, we like basing people’s salvation on their tithe, we’ve always done it that way.
Dear Dr. King, we like the black people to stay out of college and serve the white students instead, we’ve always done it that way.
Hey Jesus, we save picking grain for the workweek, you and your followers will have to starve today on the Sabbath, we’ve always done it that way.
So are we Slaves to tradition? No, because our tradition is rooted in change, in reformation!!! Tradition shouldn’t restrict us; just the opposite, it should help to set us free and aid our search for the truth…
Luther, during his reforming the church, emphasized what he deemed the “Priesthood of all believers.” An acknowledgement that God has gifted each individual in this room today with the ability to discern, to seek, and to follow… Who are the voices of reformation in your life today, and what changes do you feel need to occur to bring us closer to the freedom of which Christ spoke?