Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

October 2017

Reformation Sunday


Background Information

The year 2017 marks 500 years since a monk in Germany, Martin Luther, published his 95 theses or complaints against the Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation, a momentous religious revolution whose consequences we still live with today. The Reformation divided the church into Catholic and Protestant and transformed millions of people’s understanding of their relationship with God.
It was Oct 31 this reformation began. Today, every year, is recognized as Reformation Sunday - the Sunday closest to Oct 31. But this year is a special celebration - this year is the 500th anniversary of that great occurrence which created for us the ability to worship as we do today; created for us the means to be able to understand God as a God of grace.
Our service today will honor God as we recall the events of this reformation centered about the three men who made the biggest difference for us. Because we recognize that it is only through God’s work, God’s guidance, God’s inspiration, could these reformer have done what they were able to accomplish.
Let us celebrate today, God’s great work, in reforming His church.

The History Behind the Reformation - Martin Luther

Before we begin this look at the Reformation, I want to remind you that the Catholic Church of the time leading up to the Reformation, is not the Catholic Church of today. After the Reformation, the Catholic Church itself, took a long hard look at itself and corrected many of the abuses that brought about the Reformation. The Catholic Church of today in many ways is the reformed Catholic Church.
But we have to talk about the Catholic Church in order to understand the Reformation and the work of Martin Luther. From the beginning of the church after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there was just one church. We are use to umpteen denominations and independent churches and big box churches. In the beginning there was only one. If you went to church, you went to a Catholic Church. That was your only option. The Pope was in control of the church and whatever the Pope said was done. Also we have to know that the Catholic Church controlled most of the governments in Europe.
So here you have a church that has so much power - it controls all of Christianity and it controls the political governments. Now what happens when you have that much power? Power corrupts - even if it is the Pope; even if it is a man of God; power corrupts.
The Pope decides to build the Vatican and of course to build something that elaborate you need money. So the church came up with all these clever ways to raise money. Being a part of the church and getting to heaven became about money. I won’t go into all the ways the church took money from people, but the biggest money maker was selling of what was called indulgences. An indulgence was a piece of paper that said you could go to heaven. The church convinced people, remember there were no Bibles then for people to read so they only knew what the priests told them, that in order to get to heaven they had to have this piece of paper. And if you didn’t have that piece of paper on you when you died, you went straight to hell. So not only would you buy your piece of paper, your family members would buy pieces of paper for you just in case; and they would buy pieces of paper for already deceased family members, just in case and the Catholic Church was rolling in dough while the general public was living in poverty because they were spending all their disposable income trying to buy their way to heaven.
That practice, along with a lot of other distortions of what the Bible taught, defined the Church the first of the church into the 1500s.
Then, a young monk named Martin Luther because a university professor at Whittenburg University in Germany. Because he was a professor, he was allowed to actually read the Bible. And it was eye opening to him and he realized that the teachings of the church, especially this idea of indulgences, was contrary to what the Bible teaches. He, in fact, found 95 things the Catholic Church was doing contrary to God’s word.

He wrote these down, nailed them to the door of Whittenburg Church.
And in a side note and in a wonder of how God works things together, this was the same time and the same place Gutenberg invented the printing press so he prints these 95 these and circulates them. Needless to say the Catholic Church is pretty upset and making a long story short, Luther is excommunicated and people began to leave the Catholic Church and follow the teachings of Luther - and the protestant church is begun.
Luther also translated the Bible into German, which Gutenberg printed, and now the normal person could read scripture for themselves. They began to understand the concept of Grace and their ability to pray to God which they never thought they could do. This was a radical change in people’s understanding of their relationship with God and why you can sit here today and know that you are showered with the Grace of God, able to pray whenever you want and knowing that your relationship with God has nothing to do with how much money you give the church.

More Reformation History - John Calvin

A few years after Luther had begun his great reforms, a young priest in France also gained access to scripture and began to read it for himself. He read the writings of Martin Luther and understand what Luther was teaching was a true representation of God’s teaching.
So John Calvin leaves the Catholic Church and writes what is known as Calvin’s Institutes where he takes what the Bible teaches and gleans from it what God teaches about himself and how we, as God’s people, are called to understand and how we are to live and work as God’s people and how we are to function together as the church. Calvin’s reforms had a sweeping influence on this new Protestant Church. It is because of Calvin that we worship the way we do, that we govern ourselves as we do.

The Story of the Reformation Continues: John Knox

A young Scottish priest of the Church of England through a set of circumstances which could only have been orchestrated by God, ended up in Geneva where he met and began to study under John Calvin. Knox took what he learned from Calvin back to Scotland where he fought not only the Catholic Church which had taken over Scotland from the Church of England through the leadership of Mary, Queen of Scots but Mary herself. iKnox was able to fight for and win the Reformation of the church in Scotland where the Presbyterian Church became the national church of Scotland and from there moved to the United States. We are here in this church today worshipping under the grace of God because Luther stood up for what he believed in, Calvin took Luther’s teachings and worked them into a theology and Knox took that information and began the church we know today.

Competing Voices


There are so many voices in our world today telling us what to do and what to buy and what to think and even how to understand God. And if you listen to all these voices you will just be spinning around in circles. We hear one thing today and next week or next year we will hear exactly the opposite. We just get to the place where we really don’t know what to do or what to think; who do you listen to?
Sometimes we think that this problem of competing voices is something that only has happened in our day and time. We are inundated with competing voices from a variety of sources and it does make it difficult for us to know what to think and do and who to trust. But it is not anything new. Most of the letters that we find in the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul have to do with discerning what voices to listen to.The Apostle Paul would just get a church up an running and have them in what scripture calls ‘right thinking’. He would think all was going well and would move on to another church and right behind him were traveling groups who would come into those churches and try to convince them that what Paul had taught them was wrong and they needed to think differently. Confused the people would contact Paul - which would take longer back then with no email or texting or twittering and spotty mail service - and ask him what to do. Paul would always respond and often very curtly and sometimes even angrily and always with frustration! These are the letters we find in the New Testament. We even have recorded that he lost some churches to these false teachers who gave in to the competing voices.
Before Paul Jesus contended with the same issue. The religious leaders were teaching the Jews their own ‘brand’ of what God had said to them - their own interpretation of how God had said they should live and believe. Jesus tried to correct their wrong thinking and we see what happened to him....
All those prophets we find in the Old Testament - what were they all talking about? Their message was simple - quit listing to the people around you and get back to listening to what God really says! So we see that this has been a problem of competing voice has been around since the beginning of God’s people.
Which leads us to the account of what happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, To set the event up - Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego are friends of Daniel - of lion’s den fame. This takes place during the time when the Hebrew people have been captured and removed from Israel and taken to Babylon and made slaves. While most of the Hebrews became ‘outside’ slaves doing field work and such, some of the brighter young men had been taken into the palace of the king of Babylon and trained to work in the palace in a variety of positions. They were more than servants; these young men were actually taught to work in more administrative positions and as such became part of the kings court. They would work closely to the king, even eating with the king. Some of the previous employees in the palace became jealous of these boys and tried to think of ways to get rid of them. Their religion was the quickest way to attack. Up to this point, the king had been very impressed with the work and intelligence of these Hebrews so he allowed them to practice their faith as they needed to, including their dietary restrictions and their insistence of not working on the Sabbath. The first thing the opponents to the Hebrews did was to convince the king that there shouldn’t be ‘special diets’ and that everyone should eat like the king. The king, who was pretty weak and laid back, said ‘Sure!’ and so it became a law that everyone needed to eat what the King ate. The Hebrews refused and so they didn’t get eat at the dinner table. But God protected them and they became even stronger because they stuck by their principles. Since this didn’t work, the Hebrew opponents then convinced the King he was a god and that everyone should bow down to him and if they didn’t, they should be killed. The Hebrews wouldn’t bow down to the King and the King said, “Then you will have to die”. Daniel ends up in the lions den and Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego said, “OK, We would rather die than go against how our God has told us to live.”
The King is really, really mad now. So he sentences Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego to be thrown into the fiery furnace. The king is so mad that he orders the fiery furnace to be hotter than normal and it is so hot that the people who threw Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace were burned up by the heat. It appears that the furnace was made such that the King could see into it and he is so mad at Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego he wants to watch them burn. But they don’t burn - he sees them walking around and to the King’s surprise, someone is walking around with them. We know that this was one of several Old Testament appearances of Jesus - the Son of God. In the midst of the fiery furnace the shepherd was there.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for though art with me..... We are struggling this week with again an act of violence that just grieves us and makes us wonder about God - how could God allow such a thing to happen - people killed, people maimed, people now living in fear. First thing we have to understand - that as the people of God we don’t have the ‘why’ answers. We know that God loved us so much that he gave us free will - freedom to choose good or freedom to choose evil. God did not make us to be little robots who only do what God wants us to do. Then God gave us his word in scripture and says to us - “learn this and apply it to you life and if you do that then you will know how to live in peace with one another. And if you don’t listen to my words, if you choose to listen to the competing voices of those who don’t think my word is important or who twist my word to make it mean something it doesn’t, this is what you can expect in this world - evil and violence and a general disrespect for life.”
I want you to consider for a moment what would have happened if Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego had not survived the fiery furnace. Remember when they went in the furnace they were fully expecting to die. They had no expectation that they were gong to survive. Because they had faith that regardless of what happened, God would take care of them, they were willing to do it anyway.
This is a great thing that happened to Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego, surviving the fire, but what about the people who don’t survive? What about the people who are killed in senseless acts of violence - and certainly getting thrown in a fiery furnace is an act of violence just like bombs and shooters and those wielding knives. What about the people whose lives are changed forever because they are injured in a way that affects them for the rest of their life?
That’s when we need to hear the voice of the shepherd who says to us - I will give you everything you need, I will take you beside still waters, I will lay you in green pastors, I will restore your soul. So don’t live in fear. Nothing, nothing, will happen to you that I will not be there with you.
And while we don’t like to think about death, Jesus, the shepherd, our shepherd, tells us that even if that is what happens, even when we die, he will be there to hold us and guide us to a place with such a feeling of joy and worship and singing and no more pain and no more tears......
The greatest gift God gives us is to give us a life where we don’t have to live in fear - are we going to suffer? Are we going to have problems? Are we going to have devastating things happen to us? Are we going to live with disappointment? Yes. Being a follower of God is not an insurance policy against ‘bad stuff’.
But what God has given us is a way to live and cope and be at peace with whatever happens - to just cry and grieve and then just let Jesus hold you.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Believe the good news, the voice of the Shepherd, that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he
is with you, no matter what. And never let the voices around you steal that promise from you.