Almost five hundred years ago on October 31 something happened that means more to me than Hallowe'en. In order to draw attention to Reformation Day, I asked my pastor* for permission to share a slightly shortened version of his Sunday evening message.
It happens every once in a while, when the simple truth is brought back to God's people like a stone being tossed into the middle of a pond...creating ripples for a generation to come for a people negatively affected by their culture around them telling them half- truths, or dismissing the truth, or not pursuing any truth at all.
Such was the case for a young man born to peasant parents in the Saxony region of Germany. He would become a poor monk and yet also the spiritual and moral conscience of an entire nation and the continent of Europe. His name was Martin Luther. He rediscovered a truth - Romans 3:23,24 - and spoke about it so passionately that it upset entire governments. It reads: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
At the Castle Church at the centre of Wittenberg people would be gathering on All Saints Day to pray for dead relatives, paying large sums of money to supposedly spring them out of purgatory, an invention of the church of the day. On this door, Martin Luther tacked his 95 sentences, statements to lead the common people back to what the Bible taught about salvation. These written words caused a stir and eventually led to a wide Reformation of the church through other leaders of courage.
Sometimes, it happens, every once in a while, when a common person gets back to the simple truth that changes generations. Such was the case hundreds and hundreds of years earlier. We go all the way back to a simple leader named Joshua. In Joshua chapters 23 and 24, we understand that the broader culture had led the common person astray. Joshua had seen it when the Israelites had formed a golden calf to worship instead of their God, the complaints about food and water in the wilderness, the constant doubt.In the speech he gives in these two chapters Joshua still had to tell the people to put away their idol gods, which they had still left over from their days in Egypt! Were they in their handbags? Back in their tents? And Joshua knew the consequences- they would be driven out and remembered no more in the promised land. So easily were they swayed from the truth and bought into the lies and half-truths of the people around them. But Joshua called them back - Grace alone, by God alone, through faith alone. He challenged them to make a clear commitment, to renew the covenant. They responded, “We will serve the LORD.”
It happens every now and again. A simple man...with a simple message creating ripples in generations of people and influencing nations. Around the first century, Greek philosophy was dominant in the remnants of the Greek empire. To protect the Jewish faith some its leaders became hyper-legalistic so as not to lose their people to the culture’s reliance on human truth and persuasion. The Romans brought their might and dozens of personal gods to a morally empty culture. There were half-truths and no truth at all.
Into that world a simple Messiah came to proclaim "by Grace alone, through faith alone. Jesus died to bring the simple message of salvation, and its impact has continued for a thousand generations. We are its recipients.
A simple message, a simple call. Sometimes things happen that way. Is our own culture due for such a reformation? We are living on half-truths and no truth at all. Who will it be and how big a ripple will it produce?
Maybe we don't need one person as influential as Joshua or Martin Luther. Perhaps we simply need a clear message spoken in the middle of a family, or in a neighbourhood, or a workplace. Perhaps that is simple enough and big enough to begin calling our culture back to the Reformational truth of Grace alone, by Faith Alone, In Christ Alone. Maybe it just needs you and me living in the spirit of renewal and reminding the people around us of the simple, clear message we cherish.
It does happen every now and again.
*Rev. Dr. Darren Roorda gave this message on Sunday, October 27th, 2013.