Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Today is Reformation Sunday! For Lutherans we’d better hear a trumpet and, by gosh the hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God had better be included in the worship experience! At one time a sub-text of this day was “Thank God we’re not Catholic!” Luckily that emphasis has died away, partly because of a different understanding of what it means to be “catholic”, and partly because the Roman Catholic Church has been through, and continues to experience, it’s own major reformation.
Today we celebrate the ability to read God’s word in our own languages, and look to see where continuing change and reformation needs to take place. While concentrating on our particular proud traditions, we also look forward. One of the hallmarks of the Reformation was embracing the printing press, the radical technology of its day.
Courtney and I have selected this Bible passage for today’s celebration. It is one of the Matthew texts that was not going to be covered later this year. It is a long monologue by Jesus contained in Matthew and Luke, but not in the Gospel of Mark. These teaching materials are sometimes called “Q” because there was another source of Jesus’ teachings that Matthew and Luke had access to, but which Mark did not. These sayings seem to come from a wisdom literature tradition. They have much to say.
I think that I do pretty well following the first part of the reading. I do not judge people. Well, unless they start judging other people, then I really let loose! It is necessary for me to own my own insanity on this issue. My whole life has been in reaction to people who I thought played “holier-than-thou” with their faith life. My teachings about wine and other issues come directly from these experiences.
But the part of the text I want to really hone in on is verse 24 and following. I love Peterson’s translation of this text. Jesus’ words are not mere additions to our lives, they ARE our lives. We need to weave them into the foundations of who we really and truly are. And, we need to actually live them out.
I really struggle with offering a Bible study where we can talk about the words of Jesus. I want to lead experiences where we can live out the words of Jesus. I don’t want to read about how Jesus said we were to “clothe the naked, feed the hungry and house the homeless”, I want to do it.
Luther and the reformers had five areas of concentration that they referred to as the “five solas”. They are: Sola Sciptura (Scripture Alone), Sol Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory). The more systematic among us will wonder how we can can concentrate on each of those five things all by themselves. It is a mystery. Each of these is a response to what the reformers considered to be the heretical teachings of the Catholic Church of their day. For example, the church taught that salvation came through Christ and the saints, and Mary. The church taught that we are saved through good works and faith, but the reformers held it was only faith.
I find myself in a struggle with my tradition at some points. It is easy to read the reformers and assume we don’t have to do anything. All righteousness comes from God, so we don’t have to do anything. I feel we do have to at least stop resisting the movement of the Holy Spirit. God will never force us to do the right thing. But if we are building our lives upon God’s Word and Jesus’ words, doesn’t it make sense that we would produce fruit in our lives from that reading? These good things do not begin in us, they are an “alien righteousness” according to Luther. We may not be able to do them ourselves, but we do need to learn how to “Let go, and let God.”
Quotes for the Week
“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.” Jonny Cash
“I would be a liar, a hypocrite, or a fool – and I’m not any of those – to say that I don’t write for the reader. I do. But for the reader who hears, who really will work at it, going behind what I seem to say. So I write for myself, and that reader who will pay the dues.” Maya Angelou
“We’re Lutheran people. Even the Catholics up here are Lutheran. And I don’t like to generalize about Lutherans, but one thing that’s true of every single last one of them without a single exception is that the low point of their year is their summer vacation.” Garrison Keillor
“I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.” Ibid
“It is a sin to believe evil of others but it is seldom a mistake.” Ibid
Lesson: Matthew 7:1-5, 24-29 (The Message)
A Simple Guide for Behavior
7 1-5 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”
28-29 When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.
Questions for the Week
What is one way you are being hypocritical in your every day life?
How do you build the words of Jesus into the foundation of your life?
Is it easy, or difficult for you to refrain from judging others?