Monday, October 26, 2015

Semper Reformanda

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Then Job replied to the Lord“I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.  So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning.     Job 42:1-2, 12a(NLT)
They came to Jericho.  As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”  And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”  So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.     Mark 10:46-52(NLT)
 Although today is Reformation Sunday, the actual date for the anniversary of the official Lutheran event is October 31, 1517.  It was the day that Martin Luther nailed 95 statements or theses to the chapel door at Wittenberg, Germany.

Luther maintained the church should always be in the process of reformation (ecclesia semper reformanda est).  Despite the cost in suffering, great faith trusts in God to bring about renewal in the midst of re-thinking our ways, and relinquishing our stranglehold on what others should think about God, and how we should serve Him.

Traditions have been known to be off-center occasionally.  For the church, Semper Reformanda (always reforming) is the business of navigational course-corrections!

Other Reformations

While we do celebrate Reformation Sunday, it is not the only reformation in history.  There have been many.

·       The oldest book in the Canon of Scripture is Job.  We read Job’s resolution with God.  After losing everything, family, reputation, children, wealth and health (not to mention the peace and quiet he used to have when his wife still respected him), Job finally hears a response of his heart’s crying out to God; heaven responds, and Job’s confession is that God is good, even if the suffering God allowed is painful.  It was a reformation of Job’s attitude.

·       In Mark’s Gospel account we find the blind man, Bartimaeus, crying out to God for his sight.  In persistent blind trust a sightless man leans his whole trust on Jesus.  His well-placed faith is rewarded; Jesus performs a “reformation” on the man’s optical ability and changes the man’s whole outlook.  Bartimaeus also makes a confession, but somewhat different from Job; his is more of an action – he becomes a disciple and follows Jesus from that moment.

·       Actions or words, the confession is the same – God, my Redeemer.

How many reformations can we count?

Starting with the earliest of church history…

Paul had (at least) two reformations to his credit; the first was on the Damascus Road when Saul the persecutor of the church became the Christian-loving, Church-planting Paul!                                                      

And a second reformation came with the transformation of a blue-blooded Hebrew scholar (a kind of “uptown preacher”) who couldn’t bear to see the Gentiles without a witness.  He became a Gentile-loving street preacher – apostle to the heathen.
·       The disciples had to shake dust off their feet and go on down the road to those who would listen…reformation!

·       Peter had a reformation on a roof top when he dreamed about a bed sheet full of barbeque…kosher was no longer the order of the house.

If you fast-forward through church history there are schisms and purging galore – reformations enough to keep a myriad of history majors recording and classifying until their laptops burn up.  There were rifts and separations (or reformations) over:
·       The Trinity, the Divinity and Humanity of Christ.
·       Transubstantiation & Consubstantiation (The presence of Christ in the Eucharist)
·       Indulgences (Paying money to Rome for forgiveness)
·       Infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism.
·       Scripture in this or that language.
·       Predestination vs. Free Will
·       Public or Private confession.

Reformation has always come on the heels of questions about theology and doctrine, and the different opinions about the answers.

The framework for the answers is always the condition of the human heart. 

·       Job humbly confessed that God was in charge.
·       Blind Bartimaeus bowed in total trust before Jesus.
·       Reformer catalyst Martin Luther showed the repentant condition of his own heart with the first of his 95 theses:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
Luther believed in a reformation of the heart.  That is different from a crusade.  Today we have just as many theological debates going on as ever (probably more since people discovered Facebook).

The question for our generation is:
Which of the cries for reformation are from the heart, and which are from the flesh?

Let me unpack some of that. 
Reformation cries are from the heart when the heart is longing for God in the same way that Jesus laid out the great commandment (love God with all you’ve got), and its cousin (love your neighbor as yourself).

Flesh cries are simply expressions of will – unchecked selfishness!
There are, among the theological/ecclesiological debates of this day, (probably) good arguments to be made for carnality or spirituality, flesh or heart; it mostly depends upon your own vantage point.

Some of the current debates:·       The Worship Wars (Contemporary, Traditional, Liturgical, Free style?)
·       Inerrancy Wars (How do we interpret the Scriptures)
·       Sexual & Gender issues (Who can be where, do what)
·       Organization issues of the Emergent Church (What really constitutes a church; does it need a building?)

As with Job, there is suffering in these issues.  No matter which side we eventually come down on (hopefully God’s side), these issues represent human beings who are in the throes of turmoil.

Like Bartimaeus, who came out of blindness to follow Christ, and the Reformers who were always pushing towards the light, we must come out of our own haze.  A cry from the heart will accomplish that.  God always hears the cries of a heart longing for reformation.
Reformations are always costly.

An author tells the story, A while back there was a news item about a number of youths, who, in the days following the September 11 attacks, stormed into the restaurant of a man they deemed to be the enemy by proxy because of his Middle Eastern descent. They tore the place apart.

The police caught the young men that same evening, but when asked to press charges, the restaurant owner declined. He couldn’t see how it would make things any better.

A few hours later, the young men returned, apologized and spent the night helping him clean up the damage they had done. The owner clearly acted in a way that brought the best out in others. 

And isn’t that what reformation of the heart is supposed to effect – the love of God which seeks the best for others?
So, what shall we say about reformers here in this building?

First – shall we be Semper Reformanda – always reforming?  Do we dare change anything?  And, if so, what shall we entertain in light of the reformers of history?

·       The Reformation was a time to come out of blindness…..centuries of moral decay.  Who couldn’t do with a little Bartimaeus-kind of medicine, a little eye-opening light….right here in Randolph County?

·       The Reformation was a time of suffering.  Choosing the path that includes suffering is never easy, but it comes with the tough choices you know you should make after your sight clears-up.

·       Job never saw his best work; how God opened up for us understanding of the meaning of our suffering by allowing us to watch Job’s suffering through Scripture.  Job chose to honor God in the midst of his suffering!

Luther is a good example.  When the organized religion of his day condemned him as a heretic, Luther was ordered to appear at an inquisition which was convened as a “kangaroo court” to convict and get rid of the trouble maker.
Luther was confronted with choices.  He was convicted and ordered to recant, or suffer the punishment of heretics…death.  Through the means of Holy Scripture God had spoken truth deep into Luther’s soul.  But powerful men told Luther he must recant, deny his faith.

At the moment where faith in God and the judgment of angry men met, Martin Luther stood up and spoke out what would become the rally cry of the Reformers:
Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason….my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything; for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
The Reformation was a time for giants of the faith who followed the call, even if it led to a pile of wood and a stake.

Should we be people like that? 

Should we pick up a piece of wood and follow Jesus?  It seems He did say something about carrying a piece of wood.  He said, if anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.

We are writing this chapter of history.  Should Christ not return in my lifetime I dearly pray it will be said of my life that I stood captive to the Word of God.

I urge you to do the same.
Semper Reformanda!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Title Image: Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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