Reformation Sunday October 28-29, 2023
“WHERE DID THE REFORMATION OCCUR IN THE 1500’S & WHERE DOES IT NEED TO HAPPEN TODAY?” Psalm 46
Rev. Kelly Crabbe
Have you played “WHO AM I”? Let’s see if you can figure out who I’m talking about. There was a little boy born in a country far from here who started school at the usual age of five. He received a good education at a Catholic school run by monks, and he applied himself and earned excellent grades. In the country where he was and in the time he lived, if you did well you got to University and choose one of three degrees: LAW; MEDICINE; or THEOLOGY. He was urged by his dad to become a lawyer. So off he went to the best University there was for that profession.
He bought all the books and was prepared to do his best, but after just six weeks at the University he was taking a walk when a frightening lightning storm descended on him and he was scared out of his mind. He believed he was going to be struck by one of the many bolts hitting the trees near him, so he quickly called out to God. “If You spare me I’ll become a monk!” He lived, and he honored his vow to God. He finished his course of study and then began to prepare himself to become a Catholic priest. He got his doctorate and began teaching at a University and also preached at the local Roman Catholic Church. He taught classes on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. Life was good, but something began to bother him. He was a dedicated Catholic, really committed to the teachings of the Church, but when he noticed some of the members of the Church weren’t coming to confession anymore he asked why? They said, “We’ve already been cleared. We don’t need to do that anymore.” They had something called an INDULGENCE. This man knew what that was.
Indulgences had been around for a long time in the Catholic Church. They were first used all the way back in the 500’s. They were earned by doing good deeds or going on pilgrimages to special places. The hope of an indulgence was as an appeal to God to let them out of purgatory sooner. Catholics were taught that pain and suffering were given to them by God to help cleanse them. They were forgiven, but they had to do their part too. Here’s the way the process went.
1) You sin. Everybody sins. 2) When you start feeling sorrow over your sin, you must then go to a Priest and confess your sin to him.
3) You get forgiveness pronounced and then you’re assigned an act of contrition to get you to think and act in the right direction, to focus you on God and what you should be doing. So the Priest says something like this. “You are absolved, but now say 10 “Our Fathers” then pray to the virgin by saying 10 hail Marys, and between those two things recite the Creed three times, and then you go feed the poor and give a nice offering.” That went on for 600 years until the 1100’s when they began to offer indulgences if you fought in the Crusades, the wars with the Muslims. Do you understand indulgences? It’s an appeal to God to go easy on you. You’re forgiven by Jesus, so some day your’ll end up in Heaven. But you have to suffer now and in purgatory so you’ll become pure enough to enter Heaven. The Catholics teach that purgatory is a place where the souls of all who die in God’s grace but still have the stain of sin, which they would define as virtually everyone, undergo a process of purification, which the church calls purgatory, “so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” That will likely take thousands of years to purge your soul, and that’s where the word purgatory comes from – PURGE. This is never even mentioned in the Bible, let alone taught.
Another 400 years went by and for the first time you could now buy an indulgence. The Pope was raising money to build St. Peter’s Basilica, the one still there in Rome. A catchy jingle was used to encourage a quick sale of those indulgences. “WHEN IN THE POT THE COINS DO RING, OUT OF PURGATORY SOULS WILL SPRING.”
This man couldn’t believe this was going on. So he decided to do something about it. He wrote a series of statements on parchment and posted them on the town bulletin board asking anyone interested to come and discuss the sale of indulgences. He didn’t mind the indulgences themselves, they were fine in his mind. He just didn’t think they should be sold. He believed good works could shorten your time in purgatory, but paying money for them was another matter. Who was this man? It was Martin Luther in late October of 1517. He posted his 95 Theses on the Church door in Wittenberg, Germany for all to see and discuss. Dr. Luther was still very much in spiritual error at that point. He still believed in purgatory, and that indulgences were just fine, and that you needed to experience suffering for your sins to earn your way into Heaven by your purity. Even so, the Pope was not happy with what Luther had to say and he excommunicated him. The Pope was done with Luther, but God was not. God was just getting started in Luther’s spirit.
Over the next months God was moving mightily in his heart. Martin was studying the Bible, reading Romans when for the first time he understood it. In the past, whenever he saw the word RIGHTEOUSNESS, Luther would cower in fear. All he could think about was his own unrighteousness and because of that all the pain he would have to endure. That’s why he would beat and whip himself. That’s why he would go up flights of stone stairs on his knees until they were bloody and a pulpy mess. He was trying to get some of the pain and suffering out of the way now, in this world. But now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he understood and he was blown away. Listen to the words he read that the Holy Spirit used to finally open him to the love of God. Romans 3:28, “For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.” And then he saw it in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, ‘The righteous by faith will live.’” He got it now. It’s God’s righteousness that He gives to us. Now he couldn’t get enough. He read the Psalms. In Psalm 46, the basis of the all-time favorite hymn he wrote, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” he saw that God does it all! At last he understood that God is for us, not against us. Listen to just two verses from Psalm 46.
1 God is our strong refuge; He is truly our helper in times of trouble. 10 He says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Are you familiar with that verse, “Be still and know that I am God”? The Hebrew word translated as BE STILL is so rich. The word is RAPHAH, and yes it means “be still.” But it also means “to release,” to drop everything because the battle is not yours. When it comes to God our instinct is to try to add something to the mix, to do it ourselves, to fight our own battles. This Psalm absolutely talks about being in a battle. But instead of God telling us to take up arms,4 He tells us not to worry because He’s going to destroy and shatter every bow and spear and shield. He fights and wins the battle for us, and even in us. And far from keeping us at a distance He chases after us when we run away in our sinfulness. And the topper, instead of telling us we have to pay the price, He pays it for us, by Jesus dying on the cross for all our sins. As it says in 1 John 1:9, Jesus forgives all of our sins, every one, and in that same verse it says He also purifies us. There’s no wondering about this. He does it all.
Every religion devised by man has us doing something in order to become good enough for god, to make up for our wrongs, to earn god’s favor. Even the Catholic Church tries to add on. But God says no. IT IS FINISHED, complete.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Drop everything, because then you will know that I am God.” Here’s the essence of the Reformation: We went from, “I NEED TO DO IT,” to “GOD DID IT.” When we’re trying to get it done, we won’t get to know God. But when our hands and our hearts are empty, then we can know the filling and the fulness of God.
Martin Luther didn’t force anyone to come and listen to him. He didn’t force anyway to come over to his way of thinking. So why did they come? Why did they change in what they believed? Why did they go and tell others? Where did the reformation occur in the 1500’s? Someone might say, “In Germany.” That’s the geographic location. But the Reformation happened In one heart at a time by the power of the Holy Spirit. And what about today? How can you experience your own Reformation? Ask yourself, “Do I think it’s up to me? Or is it God’s work in me? What do you need to drop at the foot of the cross? May the Spirit of God be your light in ALL things. Amen.