Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon Cliff Note: Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda

SCRIPTURE READING:  Luke 18.9-14 (the Pharisee & the tax collector)

It’s Reformation Sunday.  The Reformation wasn’t all good – Protestants were burned at the stake for their faith, but lest we get too sentimental or judgmental about that, remember that the early Protestants did their own share of burning and killing too.

That said, I would turn our focus to the Reformed churches in particular, for that is what Presbyterians are, part of the family of reformed churches.

The ‘reformed’ bit comes from our motto:  ‘Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda?’ [Translation: The church reformed, always reforming, but, per Anna Case-Winters, the better translation is The church reformed, always being reformed].

What does it mean to say that we are reformed, always reforming or being reformed?

The church reformed, always reforming according to the word of God and the call of the Spirit is a church that understands, proclaims and lives the realities that:

1. God is a living God, speaking into every time and place.

2. Our understanding of God and God’s ways is always an imperfect thing.  We don’t always get it right.

3. The church is not a static or dead thing: it too lives, in every time and every place.

4. Sometimes reforming means going forward into something new, but just as often, it can mean going back into something quite old – the original church, the original teachings.

Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee is a teaching on prayer, focusing on humility.  We might think of it as a story about being re-formed.

The Pharisee was speaking the truth to God about what he did.  He was a godly man.  And still he didn’t get it right.

The point was never about being better than the next guy.  This perpetual temptation, to always score each other as if life were a football game, is, for John Calvin, the father of the Reformed family of churches, the principal human sin or error, for pride misapprehends the true nature of things.

The true nature of things, as Calvin would have us understand, is that God is the source of everything – everything without and everything within.

Thus it is that any good that we do rests at the feet and originates in the heart of God.

Why does it matter that we get this?

Simply so that we avoid the temptation to believe that it’s about us . . . so that we avoid the toxic thinking, that we are the center of the universe.

Reformed and always being reformed is the recognition that change is a central part of being a Christian – if I am the same person when I leave as when I came, if I am not challenged to grow beyond myself by opening myself to God and God’s ways, then I am but a block of concrete good to no one, not even myself.

This idea isn’t about change for its own sake.

But it is about being open to God’s Spirit moving and working in our lives.

And therein lies the central difference, I suspect, between the Pharisee and the tax collector: both believed in God; both prayed; both came to the place of worship to do it.

But only one came in truth.

Only one came with ears open to a new word.

In reality, the other wasn’t talking with God at all: he was talking only to and for himself.

The one who came to be re-formed knew something the other had forgotten: to stand before the throne of God is to stand in the broken place . . . to see everything from God’s point of view . . . to know one’s self within and without . . . to have nowhere to hide . . . and to own the brokenness, the hurt, the woundedness, the failings, without flinching, without lying, without comparing to others – but to simply stand there, ready at the last, to be re-formed.

John Calvin’s seal was a hand holding a heart aloft.  The explanatory motto for the seal went something My heart to thee, O God, willingly and sincerely.
like this:

When we stand worthily before our God, we rest assured that the worth as well as the offering rest in the heart of God’s own self.

There, we are re-formed . . . again and again and yet again.

And that is a good thing.

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