To my readers: I confess this is not one of my better sermons. There is room for much improvement. Please forgive me for including it on this blog, but perhaps this can be a reminder to us all (myself included!) that sometimes pastors are real people, too, trying to balance professional life with home life. Reformation Sunday sneaked up on me this year. I hope, in the midst of my and others ramblings below, you may yet find some nugget to inspire you in your own journey.
May the Peace of Christ be with you.
Reformation Sunday 2014, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today I proudly wear my Clergy tartan kilt, in honor of Reformation Sunday. This year we celebrate John Knox’s 500th birthday. We don’t often hear much about the Father of Presbyterianism, so I would like to just reintroduce you to him this morning in the words of Charles A. Wiley III, coordinator of the Office of Theology and Worship for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Something happened in the middle of the twentieth century: a revival of the work and influence of John Calvin. This has been a good thing for our church. But this great emphasis on Calvin has obscured a bit the vital role that John Knox played in the forming of our tradition.
While the major source of our Reformed tradition is found in the Swiss Reformation of Zwingli and Calvin, our American Presbyterian tradition is rooted in the English, and even more so in the Scottish Presbyterianism in which John Knox was the most important actor.
Knox’s early Reformation efforts were rewarded with being forced to row as a galley slave in a French ship. It is unclear how he was released, but he eventually served in exile as a chaplain in the Church of England and helped influence the text of the Book of Common Prayer. But when Mary came to the throne and re-instituted the Roman Catholic faith, Knox fled to Geneva where he became a confidant of John Calvin and became the pastor of the English-speaking congregation there. Inspired by Calvin’s theological and ecclesiastical vision, Knox returned to Scotland and helped to lead the revolution that led to the ousting of Mary of Guise and the reformation of the Church of Scotland.
Knox’s legacy to us has many dimensions:
- a fierce commitment to the reformation of the church;
- a deep commitment to the sovereignty of God that doesn’t allow anyone to take up the mantle of God, whether king or queen in the state or the bishop in the church;
- our enduring commitment to the parity of ministers and elders continues to mark us; and
- the practice of fervent prayer as a means to intimacy of God, and of strict self-examination before coming to the Lord’s table.
Although the roots of American Presbyterianism come from a number of directions, and are growing more complex over time, the single strongest root is the result of the migration of generations of Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians that formed the backbone of American Presbyterianism and continues to shape us.
Knox was a fiery, combative man, a combativism that you can feel when reading the Scots Confession. Sometimes that combative character makes contemporary Presbyterians a little nervous. But one cannot deny the profound influence of Knox on our church.
I would like to highlight two points in John Knox’s legacy this morning. First: his deep commitment to the sovereignty of God. We would do well to live his example in this, for indeed, as Psalm 24:1 says, the Earth is the Lord’s, and all that dwell therein, or as my earliest attempt at translating Hebrew would put it, “The Earth is the Lord’s Psalm basket, and everything that lives in it belongs to God.”
The second point I’d like to highlight is John Knox’s practice of fervent prayer as a means to intimacy with God. I can only imagine how fervent the prayers of John Knox must have been! “Author Larry Christenson wrote in his book The Christian Family, “Knox prayed with such power that all Scotland was awakened.”  Can you imagine what that must have been like? What I wonder about, was what did he pray and how do we pray like him so that the world we inhabit here might also be truly awakened to intimacy with God?
Now I have tipped my hat in the direction of a lesson in the charming period of Church History we now call the Reformation. David Lose, contributor to the online resource “Working Preacher,” on the other hand, would have frowned upon my foray, however. He suggests in his comments preparing preachers for Reformation Sunday,
“I’m going to give it to you straight. This Reformation Sunday, I don’t want to hear a sermon about Martin Luther. I don’t want to hear about how great the Reformation was. And I definitely don’t want a history lesson. What do I want? The truth, straight up.”
To which I reply, “Okay, Mr. Lose, what is the truth you wish us to preach on?” He goes on to tell us: number one, “Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (From an alternate reading for today’s lectionary in the Gospel of John.) Mr. Lose goes on to say,
“For the truth of the Son, the truth that makes [us] free, the truth at the heart of the 95 theses which Luther nailed to the door at the Wittenburg church, is that we are sinners — God’s fallen, flailing, and confused children — from birth to death. Sinners that no amount of indulgences or good works can ever redeem. Sinners so corroded by fear that only the very blood of the Son of God can cleanse them, so deeply stained by insecurity that only God alone could forgive them.”
Okay, okay, I get the picture, Mr. Lose. Do you have a word of hope and encouragement for us? Ah, yes he does:
“But we are also those sinners for whom Christ died. We are those sinners, that is, who, dead to the law, are now free to love and serve our neighbor extravagantly, daring to care for the poor, to give witness to the gospel, to help our neighbor, and to share all that we have and are no matter what.”
Thank you, Mr. Lose. That is more like it. A word of hope, a word that rises up to galvanize me to…examine myself…hmmm…. Dare I care for the poor? Dare I give witness to the gospel? Dare I help my neighbor, and share all that I have? Dare I?
Now wait just a minute, here. Upon further reflection, that might just take me out of my comfort zone. Oh, wait; that is the point, isn’t it? We are not called to sluff along and accept the status quo, are we? That was the whole point of the Reformation…to reform what had become corrupt and bring true gospel back to life in the world.
Praise be to the God of our ancestors, the God of Luther, the God of Calvin, the God of Knox and Wesley, and to the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rachel, Jacob and Rebecca. Praise be to the God who sees all of us messed-up ordinary people through the blood of the sacrificial lamb, the blood of our own Messiah, Yeshua. The One who ultimately reforms and remakes us even as he formed and made us originally in his image. For, as the gospel of John says elsewhere, “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
O Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, and cause our lives to be lived out honoring you in word and deed. Reform us again, breathe your Holy Spirit among us and give rise to new life in the light of Christ, that we may be your servants in this time and place; for if we read the signs aright as Phyllis Tickle says, we are indeed at the cusp of a “new Reformation” ourselves.
All honor and glory, dominion and power and majesty be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so. Wiley, Charles A. III. John Knox: Article entitled “A Fierce and Fiery Reformer,” PCUSA website: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/john-knox-500/. 2014  Park, Sunkyoo. Article entitled “John Knox and Prayer,” Downloaded from PCUSA website: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/john-knox-500/. 2014   Lose, David. Article entitled “Reformation Truths”. Working Preacher website: |http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=1490;. 2011
 ibid.  ibid.  Tickle, Phyllis. The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church. Baker Books, 2014.