“Reform, Refine, Release” In Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation
29 October 2017
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
There comes a tipping point in every moral dispute
When the ice dam breaks
And the resulting momentous flow
Forever changes the trajectory of the world.
In 1954, Vermont Senator Ralph E. Flanders
Spoke from the floor of the U.S. Senate, saying
"Were the Junior Senator from Wisconsin in the pay of the Communists he could not have done a better job for them."
McCarthyism was dead, and Joe was soon to be buried.
In June 1940, the new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Addressed the House of Commons, saying
“.. we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
In March 1775 at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, the home schooled, self-taught lawyer and
House of Burgesses member Patrick Henry said,
"Give me liberty, or give me death!"
The world was forever changed.
500 years ago, on October 31, 1517,
A university professor of moral theology
and parish priest from Wittenberg Germany
Dropped into the mail
a letter to Albert of Brandenburg,
the Archbishop of Mainz,
that listed 95 complaints about perceived abuses of the Church.
His criticism had been brewing for years,
Finding genesis in generations before him.
His name was Martin Luther.
At the root of his 95 Theses, as they came to be known,
Was his criticism of Papal endorsed Church abuse;
specifically, about preachers selling indulgences.
Indulgences were certificates
believed to reduce the punishment for sins
purchased for the buyer
or the buyer’s loved ones in purgatory.
Income raised by the sale of indulgences
Helped pay for the construction of St. Peter’s church in Rome,
Cathedrals throughout Europe,
And the extravagance and opulence of the clergy,
Who lived often times surrounded by a sea of poverty.
With the threat of eternal damnation
hanging over their head like Damocles sword,
The impoverished people in the pews paid up.
Pay up, or go to hell,
The laity were threatened.
Parents paid up to free from purgatory their unbaptized infant
Who died prematurely,
Stained with original sin.
The rich paid without sacrifice,
Collecting certificates of indulgences
Like they were “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.
The poor seethed and suffered,
Until the day dawned,
When the world changed.
Martin Luther listed his 95 Theses,
Mailed his complaints to the archbishop,
Fixed them to the chapel door at his seminary,
And had them printed into leaflets by the new media, Gutenberg press,
And distributed them across the land to the entire world.
The Church was forever changed.
The schism has lasted for 500 years.
The Church that remained obedient to Rome,
Though deeply resentful and hurt,
Has refined itself and its doctrine.
The Church that was newly crafted and created,
Called the Protestant house,
Of which we proudly stand,
Was given a clean slate
Upon which could be created something new,
Something Spirit filled,
Something deeply aligned and identified with Jesus Christ.
Both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Church
have benefited greatly from this painful schism.
Doctrines that had no foundation in the Bible were reigned in.
Sacraments, and their meaning and purpose, have been re-examined.
Scripture and the proclamation of the Gospel has been elevated by many
To an equivalent status as the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
We believe Scripture
is the only source of proper belief – sola scriptura
And believe that faith in Jesus, not good works,
is the only means of God’s forgiveness – sola fide.
As city states at the time of Martin Luther were being transformed
Into national entities,
The propagation of the Protestant Reformation
Spread along national lines,
Deeply influenced by language, literacy, culture, and race.
Presbyterians emerged from Switzerland and Scotland.
Reformed denominations sprang up from the Dutch.
Lutherans propagated in Germany and France.
Baptist came from Switzerland.
King Henry the Eighth of England nationalized the Roman Catholic Church,
Creating the Church of England,
the mother church of the Anglican Communion,
which drank deeply of the Protestant Reformed movement.
Our Methodist heritage comes from our Anglican ancestry.
We have not traveled to a place where
The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant denominations are re-unified,
But we are getting closer.
We pray for Christian unity.
Many of us work for Christian unity.
Continue to pray and work for Christian unity.
I was seminary trained together with many who were going on to the priesthood.
Differences are being bridged by open and honest dialogue.
There is still much work to be done.
It feels to me that
Many disciples of Christ, both laity and clergy alike, want unity.
The Spirit desires unity.
It is my personal opinion that the only remaining barrier
To the unity of the Body of Christ
Is an ego-centric laity and clergy who are
Obsessed with righteousness,
Resistant to change,
Influenced by money,
And who strive after power.
For those of us walking through Matthew 21 and 22 these past few months,
This should sound frighteningly familiar.
The barrier to Christian unity is us.
Why is this history lesson important?
What makes this reformation recognition
relevant to your life and mine?
As members of the Body of Christ,
Not united, such as it is,
We have been given a gift:
The opportunity to refine what the reformers started 500 years ago,
To work with the Holy Spirit for the unity of the Body,
And by the Spirit’s power and grace,
Release these efforts to the world,
For the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom
And for God’s eternal glory.
The pathway to unity is clear,
And it begins with the transformation of ourselves.
Let us humble ourselves,
Recognize the possibility that
The Holy Spirit may be working through others
with just as much validity
as it may be working through you or me.
Let us humble ourselves, temper our opinions, squelch our biases, and wholly submit our will to the will of the Spirit.
Let us humble ourselves, stripping away status, pedigrees, recognitions, and resumes.
Let us renounce all perks of power and
Smother every temptation for money and treasure.
Let us learn the lesson from our Lord’s confrontation in the Temple with the Chief Priests and the leaders of the people, that
The last shall be first, and the first shall be last,
That the greatest commandment is to love God,
And the second is just like it,
to love our neighbors.
Instead of focusing our faith on righteous inerrancy, judgment, or condemnation
Let us focus our eyes on Jesus.
Christian unity will come
Either in our life time,
When Christ will return,
Or when we are reunited in our eternal salvation.
We are not opposed
to the way
of any other Christian
As long as it is
the way of Jesus.
If there is any conclusion I can make
about the Protestant Reformation
It is this:
Reformation is the work of God, through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is leading the movement to reform the Church,
To refine the Church,
To perfect the Church,
To release the Church.
Unified with Christ,
We are called to reform and transform the world.