Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
Perfectionism! Are you a perfectionist? Do things have to be just so? No mistakes? Do you enjoy life being a perfectionist? How much short of perfection can you stand? Do you envy the people who can let things go and enjoy relationships?
If you are the opposite, if you are a person who can let things go and enjoy relationships, what finally gets on your nerves? Just how much laxness can you stand?
Today is Reformation Day in many Christian churches. We celebrate the return of Christian practice to the forgiveness of sins, not by payment or by required acts of contrition, but simply by the grace of God. We celebrate the Bible in everyone’s hands, the Bible in the language of the people, the printing press at the very same time as the Reformation so that the word of God could be mass produced and distributed. How do you think that coordination happened? By chance? By coincidence? Or by God’s plan?
How did this movement start? It was not just one person, although we do give Martin Luther most of the credit because his choice of actions seemed to get the most attention. These leaders of reform wanted to get it right. They could not stand the driving force of The Church toward insistence on payment for the forgiveness of sins. They could not accept the people not knowing what the scripture actually says. They were reaching toward perfection for the church of Jesus Christ. They wanted to get it right. They wanted everyone to have the opportunity to be right with Jesus and the Father. They wanted everyone to feel the love and grace of God simply by asking for it, not paying money for it.
As it unfolded, these reformers just wanted to change the church. They did not want to start a new church. They strongly believed that Jesus was the foundation and the cornerstone for one church; not a splintered church. But much to their dismay, things got ugly. Reformers were burned at the stake. Some reformers lived to tell the tale and to be part of this movement called the Reformation. But even among the reformers there were splinters – ugly splinters! Some of the reform groups persecuted the other reform groups. Ugliness! Where is God now! Even in recent times these groups who persecuted are asking forgiveness of the groups which they persecuted.
The good thing is that the Bible did reach individuals or families. The idea that our sins can be forgiven by God because we ask and because God loves us became prevalent in these new churches. The even better outcome was that the original church – the church that grew from the 12 apostles in the first century – saw the folly of their practices which had gradually become tradition by the 15th and 16th century, through the middle ages. This church was called the Roman Church because of the vast Roman occupation of the European and Asian continents when the church began in the Holy Land. The word catholic refers to the comprehensive inclusion of this Christ-based religion in the huge geographical area.
The movement to return the Roman Catholic Church to Bible-based beliefs and practices is called the Counter-Reformation. It happened because the earlier reformers made a point that was embraced by the original church. So we do not need to exclude our Roman Catholic friends in our celebration today. They probably have a different date because this Counter-Reformation naturally happened after the date when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the church door where announcements were regularly posted. This posting was made on October 31 in the year 1517, the eve of All Saint’s Day which is November 1.
All of these centuries – 1st century to the 21st century have been spent in trying to get the church right. Now we finally have a church that is right. Oh! I detect that you may not be agreeing with me. We do not have a perfect church. How far from perfect are we? Of course, it depends on whom we ask and on whom we are and on what we believe. It also includes our personal preferences on style and appearance and relationships more than theology. In this age, we shop for congregations with whom we want to become soul mates. But, if you have ever shopped, you may have noticed that you may like the style of worship and the beliefs that are claimed but you feel lost because the congregation is too large. You may like a perfectly elegant and uncluttered environment but you need to balance that desire with the friendliness and the beliefs which are preached.
We need to admit that the church is not yet perfect. When will the church be perfect? Of course, when Jesus comes again and brings the perfect kingdom of heaven to us. But does that release us from measuring our congregation’s or our personal beliefs against the measuring stick that is the Bible. We have no excuse. We have Bibles or can easily secure a Bible. Most of us can read. The Bible is printed in almost every language in the world. There is no excuse for our laxness of learning what the Bible is saying. Do we know where to find the passages about God’s grace without our works being attached? Do we know where to find the passages that say forgiveness is available to us over and over again?
In John 8:31-36, we are assured by Jesus that “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Does this mean free to go and do whatever we want? No, this means that we have become free from being bound – bound by sin, bound by false beliefs. We do not need to work or pay our sins away. That is precisely why Jesus became bound to the cross so that he could rise again, could be free again and not only himself but us also. We die with Christ and we are raised with Christ. We did not need to live in the 1st Century A.D. to have this happen. Here we are 20 centuries later and it still applies. This is the truth as Paul saw it.
Hear Colossians 2:12: “… when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Hear Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Andrea is a confirmation student in an unnamed Christian Church. Andrea is very inquisitive. She does not tend to take things at face value. She does not argue with people who try to instruct her as they understand and believe. However, her mind will not rest, her soul will not rest, until she has searched sources for the truth about the subject. This research can be from a variety of sources. She will in all likelihood start with the internet. The wealth of information is unfathomable. She digests that information all the while comparing it to what she has already been taught and what she has experienced. Then Andrea may go to live people and then the biographies of people including the apostles.
Andrea’s confirmation teacher challenged the class to investigate the concept of “truth” as it applies to the Bible and to the pupils’ lives. Wow! That is deep. Some of her classmates returned the following Sunday with their one-page findings with references noted. “No,” Andrea said to the teacher, “she was not yet prepared to present her findings but yes she is working on it.”
All during her school days, her sports hours, her homework hours, her family hours – how many hours are there in a day – Andrea was pondering and asking family and friends and other teachers. Andrea was searching the Bible using an internet Bible with a search feature. How can she find a sense of truth from the Bible? What is this elusive concept? As Andrea discusses “truth” with her friends, ad nauseam, she finds that truth is relative depending on whom she asks and what their mood is at that very moment. How can truth not be solid as concrete? How can anything be called truth when it seems like a quivering, shimmering bowl of jello?
Andrea is a perfectionist as you probably surmised. She wants to get this right. She is looking for the rock of truth, something unshakeable. But she is not finding this rock. What she is finding are pieces of a puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle or maybe even a crossword puzzle. Both kinds of puzzles form a whole when completed. Andrea is given the wisdom to see the picture. Yes, each person’s vision of truth – each based on scripture – is part of the whole. Andrea is getting this picture of Jesus in the center – Jesus is the rock on which all else is built. That is the rock. She could not see it at first because she had not yet assembled the pieces. When each person’s vision of truth is set forth and assembled – there it is! Jesus Christ the first and the last, the alpha and the omega, the dead and the risen. Jesus Christ who takes us along for the ride, but not a ride just for fun. This ride is one of joy, this dying and rising, like the flow of the ocean, the tides that come high and go low, the water that reminds us of baptismal waters, appearing calm and still one minute but the next tumultuous, and exciting and powerful, and then the stillness and the calm, the rising and the falling, the rhythm …
Andrea is finally ready to present her findings to her classmates and to the pastor. So she begins with the creation of the world – the waters being separated. But she notes that the waters are still all connected in one way or the other. Yes, first the land and the waters were separated. But just as the church of Christ had its turmoil and found itself separated, the link is still there. Perfection has not been achieved because it is not yet time for the perfection to set in. Meanwhile, we are reaching hands and arms to each other, saying, can’t we talk, can’t we share the baptism ritual, can’t we share communion, can’t we come to the truth together? Yes, some of us are focused on life after death, all the Revelation language. Some of us are very concerned about social ministry, the here and now. Put this all together and we have the church of Jesus Christ for the world to see and want. Can we join hands and still have our arms open in welcoming fellowship? Let us at least try for semi-perfection! Perfection is for the New Day! Amen