“The Second Reformation”

Mark 12:28-34

October 31, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

| Centering Prayer |

Johann Tetzel was

First the messenger, and

Secondly, the project manager.

The message was a difficult one to swallow

Even for this faithful servant.

The cultural and language gulf was enormous.

The request was directed by his superiors towards those

Who had nothing to left to give,

Who had suffered difficulties and calamities,

Famine, plague, crime, and war.

You can’t get blood from a stone.

He transverse the Alps.

As he journeyed through the fiefdoms and villages of Europe

Refugees and immigrants were common,

All in search for a better life.

A third of the dwellings he passed lay empty,

Their families the victim of a raging pandemic,

The plague, or Black Death, it was called.

It was a global tragedy

Unlike any seen before, or since

(Including COVID-19).

Johann’s project was to lead a successful stewardship campaign for the church in Germany.

His efforts would not use the tried-and-true stewardships tools familiar to us today.

No letters.

No every-member visitations.

No pledge cards to return.

No celebration Sundays.

Raising money for a cause de jure  wouldn’t work.

Why build a new cathedral when the current one was perfectly good?

Construction and fund raising planned for 120 years?

What kind of crazy evil-genius would indebt this generation

And the next two or three to come?

Oh, yeah. One who was believed to be infallible.

Johann, like every other emissary from the Holy See,

Was directed to visit every parish priest in their assigned jurisdiction,

Inform each how much they had to annually raise,

And empower the clergy with the necessary means of raising the funds.

Their authorized technique?

Selling indulgences.

What’s an indulgence?

The Church of Rome taught that it is

“a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.”

His marketing intelligence was high.

Johann came up with the jingle that had a nice ring to it in German:

“As soon as the coin the coffer rings,

The soul from purgatory springs.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformation_Day)

Johann had been quite successful until he came to Wittenburg and

Came face to face with the professor and parish priest, Martin Luther.

Forgiveness is God’s alone to grant, the university professor taught,

And it was wrong of those who claimed indulgences absolved buyers

From all punishments and granted salvation.

“Christians,” he said, “must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.”

Christ alone forgives our sins.

Christ alone saves us into eternal life.

On October 31, 1517

504 years ago on this very day,

Martin Luther put pen to paper,

Listed 95 complaints related to the oppressive indulgences of the Pope, and

Nailed them to the front door of the Wittenburg church.

Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses”

Would have barely caught the attention of his supervisor, let alone the Pope,

Had it not been for the invention of the newest social media platform of the day:

The printing press.

Gutenberg’s printing press provided the means

For the rapid spread of Luther’s complaints in the common language.

The spark was set to kindling and

The fire of the Protestant Reformation began to rage.

The Roman Catholic Church divided and Protestant protest denominations

Started to spring up, mostly among national influences.

Individual parishes had to make a decision.

Ordained clergy also had a decision to make.

Remain in the Roman Catholic Church

(Pay indulgences and pay for the new St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome for the next 120 years), or,

Break away and join up with a new denomination

Under the Protestant umbrella.

A fresh start

With a new piece of canvas.

Should I stay or should I go?

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Let’s keep it simple, beloved.

Hear the voice of Martin Luther:

“Christians must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.” (Luther)

Listen to the voice of Jesus and follow his commands:

‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Jesus)

Most of us are aware

Of a similar division that is approaching the United Methodist Church.

The forces that are tearing apart people, parishes, and pastors

Are related to theological differences about human sexuality.

But it runs deeper than that.

Plurality and tolerance was once embraced

When the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren denominations

Merged in 1968 to form The United Methodist Church.

It was a big tent time and almost all theologies were welcome.

That age has ended.

Theological cracks began to form early on

And have only grown and spread.

Have you noticed?

The world has become more divided, partisan, and intolerant

Since 1968.

Good Christians don’t need to agree on everything.

Good Christians only need to keep their eye on Jesus.

Division is coming.

A unity that keeps us fighting

Is not a unity I’m praying for.

A unity that allows each deeply divided side to be at peace

And focus all efforts on following Jesus

Is the unity that I’m praying for.

Let’s keep it simple, beloved.

Hear the voice of Martin Luther:

“Christians must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.” (Luther)

Listen to the voice of Jesus and follow his commands:

‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Jesus)

An insightful article in “The Atlantic” caught my attention this past week.

“The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart,”

“Christians must reclaim Jesus from his church.”

By Peter Wehner

Suggests to me that an even larger division is coming,

One that may be thought of as a second Reformation.

Wehner paints an American landscape of Christianity

Already greatly divided,

Well before the pandemic hit.

He writes,

“The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.”

He observes

Worship is transformed into entertainment.

Teaching doesn’t come from the church but from the media that individuals consume.

Scripture and Biblical ethics are distorted to fit the politics.

This thought prevails:

What I believe is under assault and I need to fight to protect it.

Wehner warns us of history repeating itself,

“Once Christians gained political power under Constantine, that beautiful loving, sacrificing, giving, transforming Church became angry, persecuting, killing Church. We had forgotten the cross.”

We should fear future inquisitions and crusades

As much as we are convicted by or sinful past.

The choice of a potential second reformation is between

Jesus and the Gospels, or,

Rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism.

My belief and experience lead me to believe Wehner is spot on and we should heed his warning.

Self-awareness is the first step in transformational change.

Keep it simple.

Hear the voice of Martin Luther:

“Christians must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.” (Luther)

Listen to the voice of Jesus and follow his commands:

‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Jesus)

Choose Jesus and his Gospels.

Amen.

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