Matthew 22:34-40 October 29, 2017
Listening for and Responding to the Word of God
A Scripture Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 22:34-40
Happy Reformation Sunday! Here we are, remembering an event from 500 years ago – an event which might seem so far in the past as to be dusty and outmoded. Yet, we are a church in the Reformed church tradition. Our theology, way of worshipping and understanding of scripture are all deeply rooted in Martin Luther’s reformation ideas. We need to understand who we have been and who we are as a basis to think about who we want to become. There are many parallels between Luther’s time and ours and thankfully many ways in which our world is very different from Luther’s world! So lets review for a moment. Martin Luther was a monk and a professor in Wittenburg, Germany. In 1517, Wittenburg was a town of about 2,500 people. People were disillusioned with the Roman Catholic church in that time – a church that was the dominant cultural institution in Western Europe – dominant spiritually, socially, politically, culturally. With that power had come corruption – the selling of indulgences as the hallmark of such corruption. Simultaneously, the printing press was invented revolutionizing the way people communicated and how ideas were shared. So too, we live in a time when people are disillusioned with the church as institution. The Protestant church no longer dominates our American culture as it once did. And we live in a time when technology has revolutionized how we communicate and share ideas through social media – email, facebook, tweeting, instagram, google, etc. Such parallels make our time ripe for a reformation of the church as institution. I think that reformation has already started in many ways.
If you grew up as a church attender, perhaps you can think of ways that the church has changed in your own lifetime. In the course of my career as a minister – serving 4 different churches – I have seen dramatic changes in the mainline protestant church.
Our question for today is what needs reforming in the church now? What needs reforming so that the church as institution – indeed Christianity itself – will survive the next 500 years? Ignoring church tradition and hierarchy, Martin Luther went back to scripture for answers. Similarly, Jesus was asked to cut through cultural traditions and ways of religious being to start the heart of the faith.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Here Ends the Reading – thanks be to God!
It seems to me that the foundational religious truth that Jesus states is a good starting place for us in our time of reformation! Mind you, talk of reformation takes imagination, courage and faith.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR and reading of Our own Theses!
What needs reforming?
What needs to be discussed? What needs protesting?
What would you write if you were writing theses to hang on the door TODAY?
We need to teach and practice to Love one another without reservations & judgement. Seek the higher power as we see it and let us be guided by his love. I see so many who feel no love and don’t have the strength and guidance. I see many reaching for substances to numb their sorrows and hurt others on the way.
I pray for love and strength and wish we could be humans who could see the need and be there beyond one’s community!
We all are “too soon to speak opinions”.
Learn to listen.
Learn to appreciate life.
Slow down and look around.
Attending Church on Sundays should be a priority over sports and other events.
We need Truth and Civility in our discourse and we need to protest injustice in all forms.
Live to learn, Learn to live
Give to the World.
Cherish your family — Set aside time each day for family time.
The world has become too complicated, too fast-paced, too technological. We need to slow down, simplify and talk to one another. Music is a language we can all share and hence, connect. Let us sing together!
Too many evangelical/fundamentalist churches, mostly (but not all) in the south use “church” as a vehicle to promote White supremacy.
What does it mean to do Jesus’ work? What does it mean to “be good”? Why do we want to do good and be good?
We need to recommit to being sheep – to being willing to follow our shepherd.
Our world is burning and flooding and crumbling and melting. We need to care for and protect God’s creation. Such action will require sacrifice on each of our parts – a dramatic change in our driving, consuming, traveling, eating and purchasing. Our nation, our industry, the lifestyle of convenience must all change. Let us have the courage to do what needs to be done NOW and the conviction on our faith to sustain our work.
Trust in God’s gift of grace and in the sacrifice of God’s son and then WALK YOUR TALK!
Anthem “Built on a Rock”
A Sermon “A Reformation for Today”
Executive minister of United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries Traci Blackmon: “We, like all communities that become institutionalized, may not always adapt to our changing context. Perhaps there are ways of being, ways of serving, ways of discipleship that need reforming. Living organisms grow and living organisms change in order to thrive in a changing world. The message of the church remains the gospel, but perhaps some of our delivery systems need an upgrade. In our case, yes we must be willing to reform the institution yet we must also be willing to consider that reformation is also a call to reform ourselves. We are the church. We are that living organism.”
We are the Church. What are we about?
First, Christianity is not an institution, it is a relationship. We do not proclaim an institution, but a savoir. The good news in the New Testament is not about maintaining a church, it is about what God has done for humanity, for us, in Jesus Christ. From that relationship follows forgiveness, love and grace. In addition to the personal relationship between believer and Christ, Christianity is a communal religion, a religioun of relationships. That is, we are to gather in community – as Jesus said elsewhere in the gospel of Matthew “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.” I know that for many of you, being a part of this church is all about being in community. Being in community to worship, study, work, praise, pray, serve, care for and grow together. And through this community, these relationships, to experience the holy one in our midst.
The intersection of relationships is symbolized in the cross. Look at the cross – the vertical bar symbolizes our relationship with the holy (up and down) while the horizontal bar symbolizes our relationships with each other (back and forth) those relationships – with the holy and with each other – meet in the cross of Jesus Christ. Loving God and loving each other. Christianity is about relationship.
Unlike previous generations, you can listen to sermons online or on tv, you can listen to great music just about anywhere, you can read books of meditation and inspiration, you can connect with others through social media. However, what you can’t get through technology is living, breathing, physical, intergenerational community. What you can’t develop through techonology is a relationship with a savoir. The good news is about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness, love and grace require relationships.
Church is about being in the presence of one another to share and witness to those experiences of faith, to figure out how to live and move and breathe in a world that is chaotic, loud, distracting and frightening.
We need each other. We need community.
Secondly, We have a foundational document in the bible. We are not to worship the bible itself, but to recognize the truths within it. The bible, this collection of ancient writings points us to truth. And One of those truths is that it is ultimately all about how treat one another and how we relate to God.
We do take the bible seriously, we do not take it literally. Sometimes, taking the bible seriously takes work. We need to put scripture in context by recognizing the historical, cultural and social setting.
Kenneth Samuel writes: “Despite the face that the Bible remains the best-selling book of the year, every year . . . and despite the fact that in a 2015 report from the Barna Group, 88% of Americans have a copy of the Bible in their homes . . . and despite the fact that the majority of Americans believe that what the bible teaches should be more prominent in American culture . . . the fact is that only one in five Americans read the bible on a regular basis.
Most Americans arguably revere the bible . . but we don’t read the bible.
We are largely a nation of biblical illiterates!
60% of Americans cannot name 5 of the 10 commandments (no wonder we break so many!)
82% of Americans think that “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse (no wonder we think that poor people just need to work harder and why the “prosperity gospel” thrives!)
40% of Americans believe that the Sermon on Mount was preached by Billy Graham (who I think would be horrified not flattered by that fact!)
35% believe Joan of Arc was . . . Noah’s wife! (Need I say more?)
We should have much better knowledge of a book that we hold in such high esteem. The Bible is a universal repository of human experience and divine interaction. It narrates the epic quest of God seeking relationship with humanity and humanity seeking relationship with God. Thus the Bible is a profound reference point for everyone. And in these days of digitized individualism and compartmentalized interests, we need a reliable, common reference point.”
And I for one, need other people with whom I can read, study and ponder the bible. Study in community – engaging conversation and debate, sharing insights and questions – all help me to make connections between scripture and life today. Unlike Martin Luther, I do not hold that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge about God, but that it is a prime source of knowledge about the Holy.
So, we are about relationship and we have a foundational text pointing us to truth. Thirdly, we are called to serve. And in that service, we are called to work for justice. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The church as institution has historically done some terrible things, we can not deny the corruption of the Christian message in service to those in power. However, the church as institution has also done many wonderful, compassionate and lifesaving things. American Churches founded educational institutions to provide access to education for underserved populations, churches started hospitals to provide high quality health care, churches run soup kitchens and food shelves. Many of our most venerated non profits doing important lifesaving work, are faith based organizations – Habitat for Humanity, Heifer Project International, the American Red Cross, Church World Service. In the work for justice, the church as institution – particularly our denomination – has been a prophetic voice pushing our country to be better, to fulfill its own vision of freedom and justice for all people – think for example of the abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights movement and marriage equality.
We are called to serve and in that service we often find our deepest faith experiences and deepest connections. Being a prophetic voice for justice is another more challenging layer, but that too is based in our Christian faith and reformation theology! What can and should our prophetic voice be saying today? What about the destruction of Creation? Can the church be the lead voice in working for environmental justice? I think so! We need to!
And what about recognizing that all people – all people are God’s children? How then shall we work for justice for all people?
I’d like to share portions of an article which I recently read: “And Then Comes Freedom” by Emily M.D. Scott in Reflections, Fall 2017
“First comes the truth: the acknowledgment that we’re a big mess, and we can’t do it on our own. . . And then comes freedom: the assurance that God’s grace is offered with no holds barred. We couldn’t earn it if we tried. . . . It is about receiving the humbling truth that I was as close to God as the beggar on the street or the king in his palace. . . Reformation theology blows away the life equations we are so often handed: “try hard and things will get better”. “Be good and nothing bad will happen to you.” We know these to be lies – lies that bind the faithful up in knots of crippling lame and self- doubt. [to which I would add that fact that when people get sick or suffer tragedy, the first response is often self recrimination – “what did I DO WRONG?” as if we can, through the living of our lives, control what happens to us. Yes, there are some direct correlations and we statistically improve our chances for health and well being, but we can’t prevent bad things from happening to us by being “good” people.]
These equations are often deployed in the other direction as well. In fact, they run in the theological groundwater of our nation: “If you worked hard, you wouldn’t be poor” and “You can always pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. Another I’ve heard recently “If you followed the rules, you wouldn’t get harassed by the cops.” [to which I would add “if you dressed appropriately, you wouldn’t get sexually harassed”. ] These too, are lies. They place the blame on those who fail to thrive in impossible situations, rather than acknowledging that, as young activists have been crying in recent days “the system is rigged”.
. . . At its best, Reformation theology has the capacity to be profoundly freeing. It proclaims that each one of God’s creatures is loved wholly and completely, just as we are. . . .
If we are to remember the Reformation, let it stir us to see the suffering of God’s people in our midst: all those who live under beliefs, laws and systems that withhold flourishing. There are no equations, no ifs, thens, or buts. God’s promise is for everyone, and so the church must blow open the power structures that have held so many of God’s children captive. Let this be our Reformation.”
A pretty tall order for today – don’t’ you think? We have our work cut out for us!
Who are we, the Christian church?
“The message of the church remains the gospel, but perhaps some of our delivery systems need an upgrade. In our case, yes we must be willing to reform the institution yet we must also be willing to consider that reformation is also a call to reform ourselves. We are the church. We are that living organism.”
We are about relationships, we have an inspired foundational document and we are to serve and work for justice.
That is a pretty great starting place for embarking on the next 500 years – don’t you think?
In the greatest of hope, thanks be to God. Amen.
-Reflections Fall 2015 & Fall 2017
– Stillspeaking Reformation Devotional –Kenneth Samuel
*Hymn 489: “I Would Be True” PH