Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 31 October 2017

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.   Hebrews 13, verse 1.

If you’re a protestant follower of Jesus, then today is a special day.   Five hundred years ago this very day, an obstreperous monk named Martin Luther put his life on the line and challenged the church to a debate.  A professor, Luther strongly disagreed with the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, which were “get out of hell” declarations the Pope would give you if you paid him enough.   At the time, the church was selling indulgences to pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Luther considered this to be sinful and a bastardization of the Scriptures.   So he nailed 95 debating points (theses) to the door of his local church in Wittenburg, Germany.  Over the next few years, everything changed.   The church split.   The Gospel was finally translated into languages common people could understand.   Mass printing, itself a new industry, soon allowed the mass communication of that Gospel in ways never before possible.   The political power structure that had existed for nearly 500 years was shaken.  And the basis for what we know as “Western Civilization” took a great step forward.

Luther’s point:   we need to love one another as brothers and sisters.   We do that by sharing the love, grace, and forgiveness that only Jesus Christ can give.   It doesn’t come from the church.   It doesn’t come from the pope.   It doesn’t come from having your time in a place they called “Purgatory” shaved off.  It doesn’t come from good deeds.   Forgiveness of sins ONLY comes from Jesus.   Somehow, over time, that message was lost in the traditions, corruptions, and practices of the church Saint Peter left behind.   Luther started the process of chipping off the barnacles and making the ship of faith seaworthy again.

That happened on this All Hallows Eve, October 31, 1517.

In Protestant churches all over the world, the last Sunday of October is traditionally known worldwide as “Reformation Sunday.”  My family used to attend a church in Colorado where, every Reformation Sunday, we held a German festival of remembrance for what Luther did.  Great food, lederhosen, German music; it was fun and good fellowship.   Martin Luther was a hero of the faith, and we who follow the Protestant tradition owe him a debt of gratitude for having the courage to stand up and say “what about this?”   My friend, Jerry, (who I met while attending that church in Colorado) once said something that stuck in my mind:  “every Sunday is Reformation Sunday.”

Noodle that thought for awhile, then take it a step further.   EVERY DAY is Reformation Sunday.

Jesus gives us His Gospel, His Word, as His personal communication to each of us.   He gives us called servants of the church to help us understand it, and He gives us other people to reinforce and build up our belief.   But when you boil it all down, Jesus is talking to each of us individually.   Folks like Dr. Luther help us to understand that talk.   We should stand up to anyone and anything every single day when people and things get in-between ourselves and our Lord.   Every day we should challenge our faith.   Every day we should echo Luther and say “here I stand” and base our stand only on the Word of God.   Everything else, well, isn’t the Word.   Every day, we should take courage from what Luther and others did and rely only on Jesus for our salvation and only on God for everything in our lives.   Every day we should remember the blessings of living in the world Luther helped to shape.

Yet we should also remind ourselves that “there are no Lutherans in heaven.”  There are no Baptists, or Wesleyans, or Episcopalians, or Catholics, or Methodists or Presbyterians or any other flavor of Christians in heaven.   There are only followers of Jesus there.   If you believe Jesus is your savior and that He is the only way to an eternity of love, then the denominational label you wear (or don’t wear) doesn’t matter.   Worship where you’re comfortable and go where you’re led.   Just don’t get too wrapped around the axle about the label.   Indeed, I wonder if Martin Luther wouldn’t be horrified to learn that a large group in the church he founded is named “Lutheran” instead of “believer.”

No matter, all of that started 500 years ago today.   When you get a few minutes today, Google Martin Luther and read up on what he did.   Then say a prayer of thanks for it.

For further reading:  Romans 12:10.

Lord, thank You for inspiring Martin Luther, for all he and so many others did to expand Your church, and for letting me live in a time when I can learn about You from all they have done.  

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 March 2016

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Mark 15, verses 22-24.

Sometimes the Bible is overly dramatic. Sometimes the verses are so descriptive that it’s almost too much, almost melodramatic, like watching a Cecil B. DeMille movie.  The imagery ‘goes there,’ doesn’t leave much to the imagination.   Worldwide flood, ten plagues, talking donkey, humiliating the prophets of Baal, Philip disappearing from the eunuch, the Revelation:   name all you want, they’re sometimes a lot to swallow because, in some ways, it seems over the top.

And sometimes, as in verse 24, it’s powerfully under-played.   Consider these for words:  “and they crucified him.”   Consider those words closely because everything you know, everything on this planet, hinges on the powerful understatement they convey.

There is no salvation without the crucifixion.   You’re eternally dead in your sins, and the holy triune God of eternity doesn’t know you, can’t acknowledge you, hates your sin, and damns you forever.   There is no forgiveness, there is no happiness, there is no satisfaction, there is no love without Jesus dying on that horrible cross.   What’s more, everything you know about the world is changed.  There is no western culture without the crucifixion.   There is no church, no Protestant Reformation, no brilliant Renaissance, no Enlightenment ideals, no Declaration of Independence, no industrial revolution and western prosperity, no Western laws and traditions that support the rights of man.   Everything we know politically, economically, militarily, socially, culturally, artistically, ecclesiastically, and even physically changes, morphs into something unrecognizable, without Jesus’ death on the cross.

“And they crucified him.”   Four pretty powerful words, don’t you think?

“Oh come on, Dave.   Now you’re the one being overly dramatic!”   Really?   The crucifixion is the central event in human history; we measure culture, law and most of our activities today from it.   The events that descended from it permanently dispersed ancient Judaism, brought about the demise of the Roman Empire that crucified Him, and inspired the rise of the Western society that recognizes Him.  The systems of justice, economy and society on all seven continents are measured against the life and legacy of Jesus, culminating in His selfless sacrifice of Himself.  Everything we judge to be decent and pure, we do so because of what we know of Jesus Christ.

And in just four words, Mark describes what humanity did to its creator.   “And they crucified him,” as if is the subdued ending to a vast saga, which it was.   Those simple words are the four-word coda on the music of our soul, as if a great fugue had concluded with a still whimper, then dying notes fading into silence.

Consider the agony of being crucified, of being tortured for hours, dragged through the street in humiliation, subjected to persecution no innocent man should conceive, then having thick spikes driven repeatedly through your body. On the cross, you don’t die of blood loss, you die agonizing in asphyxiation:  you heave your body up on the spikes holding your feet to the cross, gasping just to draw a breath.  And that’s what’s up ahead.

And it changed everything.   The Romans, Jewish priests, and bystanders there at Calvary didn’t know that “and they crucified him” would soon come to mean “and it changed everything.”

It’s not a four-word coda:   it’s a symphony..

Lord Jesus, thank You for being crucified so that my soul wouldn’t be.   Thank You for doing what I can’t.   Thank You for the cross.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.