Protest, Reform, or Remain the Same

given on Sunday, November 3, 2012

Scripture Connection:  Romans 3:9-28 from the Message

We’re All in the Same Sinking Boat

[Remember Paul is speaking to the church in Rome]  9-20 So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:

There’s nobody living right, not even one,
nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
They’ve all taken the wrong turn;
they’ve all wandered down blind alleys.
No one’s living right;
I can’t find a single one.
Their throats are gaping graves,
their tongues slick as mudslides.
Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
They open their mouths and pollute the air.
They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
They never give God the time of day.

This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.

God Has Set Things Right

21-24 But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

25-26 God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.

27-28 So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counterclaims? Canceled? Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.

 

Sermon . . . 

 

Protest, Reform or Remain the Same?

 

Did you hear a call to the voting booth in the scripture?  I did not, but then I did, too.  No paradox, just a matter of thinking through the current circumstances of our lives and doing some in-depth reading of eight scriptures this week.

The scriptures were from the lectionary, year B, and they were centered on the events of the week.  No particular reference was made to Halloween as a special Christian event, but it did refer to October 31 in a different context—Reformation Day.

When I opened up the computer on Wednesday, my calendar reminder was not of Halloween, but it was a reminder for Reformation Day.         Undoubtedly that put me on the trail to find an answer.  Just what was Reformation Day and why had I not read anything about Reformation Day—at least that I could remember.

Briefly, let’s review the history of the Church.  Paul worked hard to establish the small churches in the various cities he visited.  The Church in Rome grew and even split at one point yet retaining the earliest structure with a pope in charge.  The Roman Church continues as the Roman Catholic Church that developed the western branch of Christianity.  The Orthodox Church, usually identified by the region in which it flourishes, such as Greek Orthodox Church or the Russian Orthodox Church became an eastern format of Christianity.

But, the Church’s leadership began implementing some rather questionable methods, especially one referred to as the sale of ‘indulgences.’  This was a practice in which simply confessed a sin and received forgiveness after completing some form of penance.  But the practice became suspect when Pope Leo X offered an indulgence in exchange for money—another words if you sinned, you could be forgiven for a payoff.  The money was used to finance the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  The selling of indulgences is like a fundraiser today.

Martin Luther, a German theologian, got fed up.  Here it was 1517 and what was happening to the church?  Luther finally had enough and decided to protest.  He wrote 95 theses and then physically took them to the church door and nailed them on it.

Luther protested and the Protestant church was born.  October 31 is the anniversary of Luther nailing those theses to the church’s door.  This single protest lead to the Reformation Movement in the Church’s second millennium.  Luther’s actions lead to John Wesley’s methods of ministry and service—also known as the acts of piety and the acts of mercy.

One blog entry on the topic was titled,  “Putting the Protest Back in Protestant,” clearly asks whether our faith has become so complacent that we no longer protest when we see an injustice.  Do we, as Christians, need to stand up for our principles and protest?

This is a critical time to ask such a provocative question because the election is looming for Americans.  We are being so bombarded by the hype of a campaign that we simply want it over, but we should consider the question of whether we are going to protest, reform or remain the same?  Elections for Americans are the primary method available to stand up for what you believe.

Yet, voting is not the topic today; today the question is whether or not you are going to protest, to reform, or to remain the same.  We have become so complacent in our lives that we find it easy to sit back and maintain our little world quite comfortably.  We have a cup of coffee (or tea) and complain about this and that.  We gripe because the world is coming . . . (add in whatever phrase jumps into your mind).  But do we do anything?

Imagine how Martin Luther and John Wesley felt about their world.  Do you think they felt it better to just sit back and take care of themselves or did they feel so compelled by their faith, their understanding of the scriptures, and the Holy Spirit that they had to act?  Were they protesting or were they reforming the church?

One reference I read asked another interesting question?  Why did Luther’s actions lead to a movement called the Reformation Movement rather than the Protestant Movement?  After all, protest is the basis of Protestant, which is the result of Luther’s initial action of hanging the 95 theses to the cathedral’s door.

As members of the Protestant churches, are we protesters?  I certainly do not feel as though I am.  What about you?  Do you protest actions which you know are against God’s teachings?  Do you want to see a reformation in the lives of others?  Or, do you just want to remain the same—be contented to remain the same?

The scripture read from Romans records the struggles of the Church in those very first years, in that first half century after Christ’s crucifixion.  Paul continued to struggle with the ‘old guard,’ the Jewish priests who still held on to the Old Covenant, the old ways, the ancient traditions.  Paul battled the Romans who were struggling to understand this monotheistic faith based around one God rather than the multiple gods of their mythological religion.

Was Paul a protester or a reformer?  He certainly did not remain the same Jewish leader he had been, especially after his blinding experience.  Paul fervently went into action to reform the Jewish religion following the standards of Jesus’ teachings.  The old was out and the new was—oops—new is in.

Deciding whether to be a protester may not seem comfortable, but what choice do Christians have?  The scriptures recommended for today review how not to live, especially Romans 3:12-18:

No one’s living right;
I can’t find a single one.
Their throats are gaping graves,
their tongues slick as mudslides.
Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
They open their mouths and pollute the air.
They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
They never give God the time of day.

Reading those words I could not help but connect my thinking to the political campaigns we witness during this time of year.  But the remarks from the Life Application Bible, forced me to stop looking outward and look inward:

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Well, I’m not too bad.  I’m a pretty good person”?  Look at these verses and see if any of them apply to you.  Have you ever lied?  Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings by your words or tone of voice?  Are you bitter towards anyone?  Do you become angry with those who strongly disagree with you?  In thought, word, and deed you, like everyone else in the world, stand guilty before God.

Ouch!  Those words hurt.  Those words tell me that I need to reform.

But that is not all that Paul had to say.  He went on with his letter to add more emphasis to what the young church needed to do:

The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but also for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between them and us in this.  . . .

No longer are we to simply take care of ourselves, we are to include everybody because there is NO difference between them and us.

Luther must have believed that.  He was so upset with the Catholic Church and how it was handing out indulgences that he went into action.  Wesley saw no difference between people and he knew he had to step into action, too.  His protest was on a personal level—he chose to serve, he chose to lead his followers to serve one another in love.  Both of these men were protesters and what they did reformed the universal Church into a more God-centered institution reaching out to help one another.

Again I ask, are you a protester or a reformer?  Or do you follow the early sentiment that you are “pretty good” and can remain the same?  Right now, November 2012, we are still called by God to love one another.  We are clearly called into action each and every day whether there is a super storm or not.  We can no longer exist in isolation when each moment we can be connected to anyone, at any place, at anytime around this globe.  Paul knew it and he said it:  . . . but it’s now—this is current history!

Paul goes on to add emphasis to his argument.  We need to be active Christians in order to assure others, Christians or not, that God loves them and as we live together in this world, our job is to do whatever we can, for whomever we can, in any way that we can.  We cannot fix everything, but we can live as protesters and reformers making an effort to share God’s grace, his love, and his promises.  Paul used his skills and talents the best way he could as evidenced in his letter to the Romans 3 (verse 26-28):

God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.

27-28 So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counterclaims? Canceled? Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does.  [emphasis added]  We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.

Are we trying to “run the parade,” as the Message puts it?  Are we seriously doing our best to step up and reform our world into a God-centered world?  Protestants need to remember that the Reformation Movement did work.  We need to protest in ways that keep our culture centered on the New Covenant.  Can you imagine what a difference we can make if we truly do step up and protest for God-centered decisions!

Regardless of what you do, make your decisions based on God’s point of view.  When you become passionate about your faith, you will become passionate about what is happening in the world on so many different levels.  Become passionate in how you live your faith.  Teach others, demonstrate the Christian lifestyle, and support others in their faith journey.  A final Old Testament passage that Jewish leaders learned was one that Paul tried to instill in the earliest Christiana came from Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

Attention, Israel!

God, our God! God the one and only!

Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!

6-9 Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.

Our responsibility is laid out in those scriptures, but our world has expanded today.  The culture in which we live has even changed since it was founded in 1776.  We no longer can remain quiet, inactive, and complacent.  We must remember our heritage that includes the reformists Martin Luther and John Wesley.  We must join them in our own way, in our own community, even in our own homes.

In each action that you do, keep it God-centered.  Whatever is your passion; fight to keep it focused to the glory of God.  If your passion is a particular cause, make sure it is related to your Christian responsibility as a steward in this world.  If you are unhappy with a policy or a decision at any level of government, speak up; but keep it God-centered.

The Protestant churches are struggling, but could it be because we have chosen to remain the same?  Our country was founded on the very Protestant principles that brought about a reformation in the Church.  The leaders in the revolution were Protestant protesting against a culture that did not value the rights of individuals.  As Diana Butler Bass wrote in her article, the question is

. . . “Is it time to put the protest back in Protestantism.

The heart of Protestantism is the courage to challenge injustice and to give voice to those who have no voice.  Protestantism opened access for all people to experience God’s grace and God’s bounty, not only spiritually but actually.  The early Protestants believed that they were not only creating a new church, but they were creating a new world, one that would resemble more fully God’s desire for humanity.  . . .

Welcome to God’s world, but be responsible and become a protester and/or a reformer as you follow God.  First as a Christian, then as an American, make decision with passion and with God.  Risk becoming a protesting Protestant or a reformist Protestant.  The Reformation Movement transformed the world once, and now we need another transformation so others may know God’s grace.

Dear All-knowing God,

We ask your forgiveness

     for the work left undone,

     for the values flaunted,

     for the needs unmet.

We ask your guidance

     as we step out of complacency,

     as we begin a protest,

     as we work to reform

     our world right here.

We thank you once more

     for your patience

     for your grace,

     for your love.

We love you and need you,

    this week,

     next week,

     and always.  –Amen

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