The Gift of our Reformed and Reforming Faith



A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

The Gift of our Reformed and Reforming Faith

2 Kings 23:1-3;21-23

Revelation 3:14-22

October 29, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Years ago, I learned a bit of proverbial wisdom that has proved to stand the test of time. It goes like this:

Change is a given. Growth is a choice.

Change is a given. Growth is a choice.

One of the things you can count on in life is change. As much as we may worry about change… as much as we might want to resist change… and even for those who welcome change… it really doesn’t matter how we feel about it because change is a given in our world… has been since the beginning of time…but growth is a choice.

Change is a given, growth is a choice…

I can’t help but think the Reformers would agree… especially with the change part… for the world they lived in was in many ways, a world like our own. It was a world of change!

Brian McLaren  described these changes taking place 500 years ago:[i]

“New transportation technology- multi-masted sailing vessel.  (built for speed!)

1517 not far removed from 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, got lost, and was discovered by the Native Americans.

New communications technology- printing press.

New weapons technology- swords and catapults giving way to guns and canons.

New scientific worldview- Copernicus and later Galileo propose a slight revision to the standing model of the universe.”

That is the world Luther lived in… a world in which a Reformation was born. A world of change. No wonder people were feeling their world was in chaos!

Now, fast forward to our times. The changes keep coming at a faster speed, don’t they? As McLaren pointed out:

Transportation: from horses and carts to planes, trains and automobiles… and space shuttles and space stations.

Communications: from printing press to radio to TV, to cable TV, to the internet, and youtube, and social media… (from email to text to tweets) to these devices turning us all into cyborgs, electronically connected… leaving you to wonder about real connections.

Weapons: from guns and cannons to bomb, to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, to suicide bombers…

Science- from Copernicus and Galileo to Einstien to Hubble and Darwin and Freud and a transformed universe, in both inner and outer space, from the genome to cosmology.”

Change is a given.

All these changes are hard—sometimes it is hard to keep pace. As Carrie Newcomer says, “we are going faster than our soul can go.” There is truth in that. No wonder we are stressed out… no wonder we resist!

But if change is a given and growth is a choice… then we will have to learn how to deal with it.

The Reformers seemed to know how. One gift of the Reformed faith is teaching us how to live in a world of changes.

The Reformers grabbed the new communications technology called the printing press and ran with it. They used it to put the Bible in the hands of the people… I’m sure many in the church leaders were worried by this development. But Reformers embraced it and used it to share their message. I wonder what they would have done with our technology today!

Change is a given. Growth is a choice.

There is a working theory out there that says a new reformation takes place every 500 years or so. [ii] An Anglican bishop famously said, that about every 500 years the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.

2000 years ago, Jesus comes, and shakes up the religious status quo of his day with his message of how God was doing a new thing.  He brings a world of change to the religion of his day. How do they respond?  He is crucified for it. So were many of his followers. Talk about resisting change!

500 years later the Roman Empire collapses and the dark ages begin… and a monastic tradition is born as the church hunkers down.

In 1054 there was a great schism when the Christian church splits between east and west… a split lasting to this day between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic church.

Then 500 years ago… the reformation. We have endured many a change in the religious world over the centuries.

And today, 2017? That’s what people are wondering about… people are wondering if we are in the midst of a new reformation… transformation of the church.

It’s hard to say when you are living through it… I mean, I doubt many knew the impact of what was happening in the church 500 years ago.

Because on October 31, 1517—who was Luther? A young monk of whom very few people had heard, living in a part of the world far away from the center of religious power: Rome. Who cared what happened in the small college town of Wittenberg?

At the time, when he nailed those concerns on the door of the church… all he was asking for was a debate over church practices like penance… indulgences… how someone is saved. He didn’t have a desire or an idea that a movement would be sparked that would lead to the division of the church.

At first the church ignored him… no one wanted to debate him.

Then when his ideas got out through the printing press and he challenged the authority of the pope and the selling of indulgences… people began to notice. The Pope began to notice. They tried to shut him up… excommunicated him.

Luther didn’t want to leave the church… the church kicked him out. Back then, I bet the church thought they had managed this little monk from Wittenberg. Little did they know that God was doing a new thing…

And your life and mine is different because of what he did that day. That day changed everything!

Without Luther, you might still be paying indulgences to get your loved ones out of purgatory. Yes, through that system we would have paid off our building by now.. but still… Without Luther, you might still believe that you have to work your way into heaven… No “Amazing Grace”—at least not without a price. You certainly would not have received forgiveness without going through me. You’d be coming to me to share your deepest and darkest secrets. While I might find it interesting, I don’t think you would like it. Even then, some of you would still be burdened by wondering if you had ever done enough to please God and get into paradise. You might be wondering if God would really forgive you of some sin that seemed unforgivable to you.

You might not be able to read the Bible because it was Luther and the Reformers who made sure it was translated into the language of the people. Your life and mine would be different.

John Calvin and John Knox may not have happened. And Presbyterians would have not had such an influence on the founding of America. You remember, don’t you, that the American Revolution was also called the Presbyterian Rebellion… because so many Presbyterians were so involved. Who knows what this nation would be or if it would be without Luther’s actions.

The changes that took place 500 years ago have changed our lives forever. All because a monk from Wittenberg was reading his Bible and praying… trying to be faithful to his God.

Who could have seen it coming?Well, maybe those who read the Bible would not be surprised. Reformation was taking place long before 1517.

We see a great example in today’s Scripture from about 600 BC. We don’t know the exact day, but the day that Josiah’s workmen found the book of the Covenant (Deuteronomy) in their renovation of the temple was a day that changed Israel.

Josiah ordered everyone together to hear the words of Scripture… leading to reinstitute Passover observance which had been ignored. Call this a first reformation… the day that Book of the Covenant was discovered. And people listened to the Word of God and repented.

In that text are the clues to one of the great sayings born of the reformation… it likely comes to us from Dutch reformers who said,

“The Church Reformed is always reforming according to the word of God”

That saying for us is a confession that we know we are not perfect, we know we get it wrong sometimes…but God gives us his word to help us in such times.

I think about those years when Southern churches were supporting slavery and quoting the Bible… Not every moment in history is our best moment.

But faithful people kept on reading and thinking and praying.. and reform came to the church.  The gift of the Reformed faith that we seek to be a faith that continues to seek reformation according to the Word of God. We continue to listen for what God is saying to us in our time, place and circumstances.

I love the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation as examples of God seeking to reform the church… they comfort me in knowing that even the early churches struggled to be faithful to the vision of Jesus. John is writing to them to encourage them to repent and reform.

One of the churches had forgotten their first love, Jesus Christ.

Another is living in fear because of the suffering about to come their way. Not faith, but fear.

Another is tempted to compromise their faith… giving into the culture and letting faith take a back seat.

Another church tolerated Jezebel… they were a growing church… active church… but again, some were asking them to compromise their faith for the sake of many things. Christians simply let the culture be their guide to faith and practice… not Christ.

Another church had a great reputation… but they were living on their name and off of their past… they needed spiritual renewal.

Then there is the church in Laodecia (today’s text) … that hits too close to home… They are a wealthy church… comfortable… complacent… they are neither “hot nor cold” … they can manage on their own… self-sufficient… but they have locked Christ out of their church. They have begun to rely on themselves and not the grace of God in Christ.”  He could have been describing the church of the reformation… He could have been describing many American churches.

I find great comfort in knowing that the church was not perfect and in need of reform. Maybe there is hope for us as well! Because the good news is that God is always working to reform us. God has not left us on our own.

With Luther we trust the Holy Spirit continues to work with the church… to reform it… especially as we turn to the Scriptures to inform us  once again… and even more as we turn to the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ… whose life and teachings set the direction for reform… we are reformed when we listen for the voice of  the Spirit moving in our time and place… to see what new things the Spirit may be doing. Just as the Spirit was doing a new thing 500 years ago.

Way back when, when I was in seminary, I had a wonderful pastoral care professor, Dr. Oglesby. A wonderful teacher and pastor.  Sometimes a student would ask a question like, “Dr. Oglesby, what do you think will happen in the future when…”

And his reply was the same… “Lord knows but he ain’t telling”… and he said it with such calm. It was enough, it seems, that the Lord knew… it was enough to let go and trust in the good Lord to work with us, reform us and lead us into the future.

As they say, “we may not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future”  Our job is to listen, to pay attention, to repent where needed and to follow where the Lord leads.

And to trust, as the Reformers taught us, to always trust that the Lord who has been our help in ages past, will be our hope for years to come. That is something that will never change. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[i] Sermon at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, September 2017

[ii] Phyllis Ticklee, The Great Emergence