Martin Luther: 500 Years Later

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This week marks a special anniversary for the Church. 500 years ago in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the doors of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. This marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Our Baptist tradition eventually comes out of the Reformation.

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany. He had a harsh upbringing and later suffered from depression and anxiety. In his early twenties he joined a monastery and became an Augustinian monk-one of the more harsher options for monks. Luther went to confession and would worry that he didn’t confess enough. Eventually his spiritual advisor decided Luther needed to become a priest and a professor.

Luther becomes a professor of the Scriptures at Wittenberg University. It was during his years as a professor that Luther had his discovery of God’s grace in the book of Romans. He struggled with the idea of the justice of God. But he looked at Romans 1:17 where the good news and justice are linked. Luther then discovered that our righteousness is not our own, but God’s. The righteousness of God is that which is given to those who live by faith. (Gonazalez, 19).

Meanwhile the Catholic Church (the only Church in existence) was a total mess. Priests who were supposed to be celibate had virtual concubines and many illegitimate children. Monasteries weren’t places of devotion, prayer and service. Instead monasteries were places of leisure and pleasure. Local priests who wanted a position in the church would have to go bribe someone to get a position. Pope Leo was concerned more with power, money and building projects than the faith.

Luther’s 95 theses got him into trouble because of his words about indulgences. Indulgences were sold to raise money for the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in Rome-Pope Leo’s pet project. These indulgences were supposed to get people out of purgatory faster. Those who sold them would make big claims. You’ll be cleaner than Adam before the fall, they said. You’ll be cleaner than when you came out of the waters of baptism, they said. Luther called the church out on this. Pope Leo took notice because he needed the money to build the basilica in Rome. Luther became a problem and an enemy of the Church.

500 years ago these things happened. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the Church has been around 500 years, much less 2,000 years. Nowadays there are many Protestant traditions, Baptists being one of them. The Catholic Church has changed and reformed. They especially reformed after the Second Vatican Council that began after WWII.

Martin Luther stood up for what he believed. Most scholars, Catholic and Protestant, believe Luther was right. The Church was a mess. Speaking up was necessary. If Luther hadn’t started the Protestant Reformation, then someone else would have. The time was ripe for it.

The Church has been around a long time. Even though the Church is shifting now and things are changing-the future awaits. God’s still working and the Church will still be around. It might change and reform. It might become corrupt even. But God still works through the Church and hasn’t given up on us yet.

(Historical Info taken from The Story of Christianity Volume 2-The Reformation to the Present Day, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperSanFrancisco, 1985)

 

 

 

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A New Day

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I always feel like this is the time of year to begin again. The leaves are turning, the cooler weather will be here soon, and the new school year is underway. There’s a level of excitement and newness in the fall. The same is true in the Church when our new Church year begins with a new budget, new committees, and new Sunday School classes.

This past Sunday we had all our Sunday School classes in full swing. The adults met in their three classes. The ladies downstairs are even learning about Islam, because we realized we know very little about it. The children were meeting in their two classes. The older children went upstairs to make Noah’s ark together. The younger children met downstairs with Leighton and Susi.

This week will also bring Supper Church, our monthly Wednesday night program for all ages. We will eat pizza and pack shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse Ministries. We’ll send these off to Boone, NC like we do every year.

Our new deacon board will meet in a few weeks. We’ll work on some housekeeping things and also plan a time to brainstorm. What does the church need right now? What can we focus on in the next few years?

All of this gets me excited. We’re learning together, serving together and dreaming together. And as always, we worship together. That sounds like Church to me. How is God moving in your life? A new day is beginning in our lives and in the church. Let us embrace it.

Chariots of Fire

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I’ve been working through a favorite prayer book of mine-Celtic Daily Prayer-Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community. It has a little bit of everything. It has prayers for the morning, midday, evening and bedtime prayers. It has information about some of the saints of the faith like Mother Theresa, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Aidan-a Celtic bishop of long ago.

During the morning prayers there are scripture passages assigned for the day. One morning this week an odd passage from 2 Kings came through. It’s from the story of Elisha. The passage is 2 Kings 6: 15-17. It basically is a story about the Arameans raiding Israel and God gives Elisha the ability to tell the King of Israel all the positions and movements of the Aramean army. The king of Aram finds this out and wants to kill Elisha. After all, killing Elisha would gain him access to the kingdom of Israel.

But as you might imagine, it doesn’t work. The Arameans travel to Dothan where Elisha is staying and Elisha’s servant sees them. He tells Elisha. And then Elisha says something remarkable, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them”. Elisha prays and we find out what Elisha is talking about. God opens the eyes of the attacking Arameans and they see chariots of fire and horses all surrounding Elisha. Needless to say, God wins the day on Elisha’s behalf and the Arameans eventually leave Israel alone.

During another week of tragedy, chaos, and violence we too need to hear Elijah’s words. Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them. God is still moving in this world and God has already overcome this world. We are still waiting for God’s kingdom to invade every part of the world. It’s only an amount of time. If we open our eyes, we can see God’s presence if we look for it.

We may not see chariots of fire surrounding our lives or fighting for goodness in the world, but we know that God is around. We know this when we sit still long enough to hear the still small voice of God. We know this when we take a walk in the trees marveling at God’s creation. We know this when we experience the kindness of a neighbor. We know God is present when we gather with the local saints to worship and we feel God’s presence among us.

God is still around. There are still more with us than with them-the evil in the world.

 

Let’s Eat Some More

Supper Church Shoeboxes

We began Supper Church this past Wednesday. Pam made Vegetable Soup, Salad and three people brought a dessert. It was delicious. We then watched a slide show of pictures from this past church year. We saw pictures of Community Day, our Children’s Christmas Pageant, the Food Bank, our Midweek Meal group, and of course Supper Church. We saw lots of pictures. What picture came up the most?

Pictures of people eating.

Yeah, we’re Baptist. We like to eat. But it’s not just that. Table Fellowship goes a long way back in our Christian tradition. After all, Jesus spent a lot of time eating in the Bible. It was one of his favorite things to do. He ate on the hillside with the crowd-the crowd of 5,000 people Jesus fed with 3 loaves of bread and 2 fish. He liked to eat at Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ house to catch a break. He went to a wedding in the village of Cana and feasted alongside his disciples, his family, and the rest of the village. Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house to eat and Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Jesus also ate dinner at a Pharisee’s house. And before he died Jesus shared the Passover meal with the twelve disciples-Passover lamb and all.

Jesus liked to eat. He liked to eat with his friends. It was how he bonded with them. It was how he discipled them too. Jesus taught them by getting close to them. He taught them parables, sayings and performed miracles. All of these things are instructive, but having a close relationship with his disciples made all the difference. Knowing Jesus personally helped them understand his teachings and helped them follow his example.

The same is true for us. When we are eating we aren’t just putting food in our mouths. We’re talking, we’re visiting, and we’re actually discipling each other. When else are we going to talk about how things are going in our own lives? When else are we going to ask for advice? We can talk to each other other times of course-but there’s something intimate about sharing a meal together around the table.

Eating together might sound trivial but in a church it’s not. It’s vital. Table Fellowship makes a church, a church. We eat in the fellowship hall and we eat in the sanctuary each month for Holy Communion. The challenge for us is to take this one step further and eat in other places together. What if we invited other church members to our homes? What if we shared meals together at home? How would that affect our faith and our community?

Eating together-it’s what Jesus did and it’s what we should do too.

A Little Faith

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I’ve been pilfering through my books in the office lately and I’ve been drawn to my book about Julian of Norwich. It’s a big book of her writings, biographical information and commentary on her life. Who was she, was she married, what did her words mean-these are the questions the book addresses. It’s a big book and I’ve only read pieces of it.

The reason that I’ve been drawn to it is that she lived through chaos. She was living her life in the worst of times. She lived in England in the 1300s-the middle ages. The king was assassinated and so was an archbishop. There was a nation wide riot called the Peasants Rebellion and it was harshly suppressed. She lived through three sieges of the massive Pestilence (the Plague) that killed over half the population. She saw the beginning of the Hundred Years War between England and France. The Church-the only Church, came apart. At one point there were three men who claimed to be pope. And eventually the great schism came-the split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The monasteries went from being places of sacrifice and devotion to places of England’s worst landlords. England had its first heretics during her lifetime.

Whew! That’s quite of list of things to live through. And through it all Julian had a optimistic theology. Her most famous saying is this, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”. Her deep trust in God isn’t dismissive and a big shrug of her shoulders as if to say, oh well, that’s life. No, these are words of boldness and faith. She believes that on the Great Final Day God’s Will shall ultimately be worked out in all of God’s creation. Her optimism is full of conviction and a solid faith. Her faith stands in defiance of the times. She believes that God is still working to that end-that all manner of thing shall be well, not because we’re going to go to heaven. No, but because God is still working in this world right now.

Julian’s words have been on my mind lately. Our world is in chaos right now. North Korea has performed yet another missile test. Charlottesville has been the site of violence and hatred. As we pick up the pieces from Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma destroys the Caribbean islands and Hurricane Jose is right behind her. We have a very unpredictable President occupying the White House. Congress has been divided. The Church at large is threatening to tear itself apart because of homosexuality. And that’s on top of the stuff going on in our own individual lives. Many of us have faced grief, illness or know people who are going through it.

How on earth did Julian of Norwich say those words in her lifetime? How can we find that sense of peace in ours? I think right now that we all need a little faith-a little faith in God’s power, a little faith in the goodness of humanity and a little faith in ourselves that we can do things to make things better. Just a little faith. Right now that’s hard enough. It’s easy to give in to despair, to wonder at the evil in the world and forget about the goodness. But there is still goodness because of God.

All we need is a little faith.

(Info taken from my book-The Complete Julian of Norwich, Paraclete Press, 2009)

 

The Spirit of Community Day

Community Day

We ate, we danced, we played bingo, and we ate some more. All of this happens each year at North Garden’s Community Day. The North Garden Area Community Churches organize the event each year. Each year we have a big party and invite our neighbors. What can be better?

Community Day is one of the biggest events of the year and for good reason. It’s not just about the food and fun-it’s about coming together as a community. It’s also about Christian hospitality-welcoming everyone not because we expect anything back, but because we love them. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

As Christians we are supposed to welcome people into our lives not because we expect something back, but because we love them. This is a hard thing sometimes. When was the last time you asked someone over for dinner? When was the last time you stopped to have coffee with a good friend? When was the last time you really talked to your neighbors instead of just waving at them?

Making time to do this is hard, but it’s worth it. We are supposed to practice hospitality just as Jesus did. He was welcoming to the children who came to spend time with him. He sat and listened to the Samaritan Woman at the well. He invited the twelve disciples to follow him and spend three years with him. Jesus made people a priority and we should do the same.

How are you loving your neighbors? How can we keep the spirit of Community Day with us all year long?