Sermon for October 17th, 2021

From Neal's Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Matthew 10:16-22 & 32-39

16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Lady Jane Grey: The Nine Day Queen

If I were putting together a list of the most difficult, uncomfortable, least-often-preached upon parts of the Bible, today's scripture passage would come out somewhere near the top of that list. I think that's because we really like meek and mild Jesus; peaceful, loving Jesus who healed people, did miracles, and spoke kind words to outcasts. And we don't quite know what to do with doom-and-gloom Jesus; Jesus who says you're going to be betrayed, flogged, hated, and killed, most likely by your own family; Jesus who says I didn't come to bring peace, I came to bring a sword, or in other words, division, strife, and death.

But believe it or not, these words have actually provided great comfort and encouragement to countless generations of Christians in the past. To the early Christians who first read these words not long after Matthew wrote them, the division and strife was already a reality. Rejection, persecution and execution for being identified as a Christian were very real in the Roman Empire of the first and second centuries.

And so to hear Jesus say that when your family has betrayed you on account of me, when your country has arrested you on account of me, when you lose your life on account of me--know that this is expected, and know that I will still claim you, I will still stand up for you before God, I will give you new life even after death--these words were a great reassurance. And they are probably hard for most us to identify with today.

But 15 centuries after the time of Christ, for those who first identified as Protestants and Presbyterians, these words suddenly became very meaningful once more.

For the past few weeks, we've been examining the lives and witness of our ancestors in the faith. We began with the most well-known reformer of all, Martin Luther, but are now considering some lesser known, less recognized heroes of the Reformation. And today, we're going to talk about the very first Protestant Queen: Lady Jane Grey, who was the queen of England for just nine days. She is not often listed among the ranks of the reformers, but she ought to be. Her life, her brief reign, and her tragic death paved the way for the eventual embrace and spread of the protestant faith in England, and subsequently, in the United States of America.

But first, some historical context.

In the year 1534, King Henry VIII of England broke away from the medieval Catholic church, though primarily for political and not religious reasons. Upon Henry's death, his son Edward became king at the age of nine. Unlike his father, Edward was a true believer in reformed teachings, and endeavored to make England a truly protestant nation. But in 1553, at the age of 15, Edward became gravely ill, and his death was widely anticipated. The next in line to the throne was his older sister, Mary, a devout Catholic. Fearing that all his efforts at reform would be lost, Edward drew up a plan which removed Mary from the line of succession and designated his protestant cousin, Jane Grey, as the heir to his throne.

Who then, was Jane Grey? I'm so glad you asked. Jane was the great granddaughter of King Henry VII, and the daughter of the Duke of Suffolk--a supporter and close advisor to Henry VIII. Her father was a devout protestant, and so Jane was raised in the protestant faith, and at a young age, she corresponded with Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss reformer and successor to Ulrich Zwingli, whom we talked about last Sunday. Unusual for her time, Jane was given a first rate humanist education, and was fluent in Latin, Greek, Italian, and Hebrew. She eagerly devoured the works of Plato, as well as the teachings of Martin Luther and other protestant reformers. Her surviving letters indicate that she was intelligent, compassionate, and deeply committed to her faith and her country.

In 1553, at the age of 17, Jane Grey was married to Guildford Dudley, the son of one of the most influential advisors to her cousin, the young King Edward. Most likely, the senior Dudley arranged this marriage with a view to placing his son on the throne, and Jane's proximity to the royal lineage made her an ideal candidate.

When King Edward died in July of 1553 at the age of 15, Jane Grey was informed that she had been proclaimed queen of England. She broke down in tears, but later reluctantly accepted her fate, saying that if it was God’s will that she be queen, then she would trust in God to help her govern England for His glory.

Unfortunately for Jane, and for England, she never really had the chance to make good on that promise. King Henry's daughter Mary began to gather forces, and the English parliament quickly folded in fear of an armed insurrection. Mary was proclaimed queen, and Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Because of Jane's popularity with the people, Mary did not immediately execute her, and instead sent her personal chaplain, John Feckenham, to the Tower of London in order to try to try to convert her back to Catholicism. In the days that followed, Jane wrote down their exchange in letters to her family. I'd like to read some of that exchange to you today, since it demonstrates the power and conviction of an informed faith. Most fascinating to me is Jane's understanding of the Bible, which she had clearly read, and her tenacious commitment to a rational, humanistic interpretation, relying on her God-given intellect and not on tradition or earthly authority.

FECKENHAM. What thing is required in a Christian?

JANE. To believe in God the Father, in God the Son, in God the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God.

FECKENHAM. Is there nothing else required in a Christian, but to believe in God?

JANE. Yes: we must believe in him, we must love him, with all our heart, with all our soul, and all our mind, and our neighbour as ourself.

FECKENHAM. How many Sacraments are there?

JANE. Two: the one the Sacrament of Baptism, and the other the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

FECKENHAM. No, there be seven Sacraments.

JANE. By what Scripture find you that?

FECKENHAM. Well, we will talk of that hereafter: but what is signified by your two sacraments?

JANE. By the Sacrament of Baptism I am washed with water, and regenerated in the spirit, and that washing is a token to me that I am the child of God: the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is offered unto me as a sure seal and testimony, that I am, by the blood of Christ which he shed for me on the cross, made partaker of the everlasting kingdom.

FECKENHAM. Why, what do you receive in that bread: do you not receive the very body and blood of Christ?

JANE. No, surely, I do not believe so: I think at that supper I receive neither flesh nor blood, but only bread and wine; the which bread when it is broken, and the wine when it is drunk, putteth me in mind how that for my sins the body of Christ was broken, and his blood shed on the cross, and with that bread and wine I receive the benefits which came by breaking of his body, and by the shedding of his blood on the cross for my sins.

FECKENHAM. Why but, madam, doth not Christ speak these words: take eat, this is my body: can you require any plainer words: doth he not say, that it is his body?

JANE. I grant he saith so; and so he saith likewise in other places, I am the vine, I am the door, it being only but a figurative speech: doth not St. Paul say that he calleth those things which are not as though they were? God forbid that I should say that I eat the very natural body and blood of Christ: for then either I should pluck away my redemption, or confess there were two bodies, or two Christ’s: two bodies, the one body was tormented on the cross, and then if they did eat another body, how absurd: again, if his body was eaten really, then it was not broken upon the cross, or if it were broken upon the cross (as it is doubtless) then it was not eaten of his disciples.

FECKENHAM. Why, is it not as possible that Christ by his power could make his body both to be eaten and broken, as to be born of a woman without the seed of man, and as to walk on the sea having a body, and other such like miracles, which he wrought by his power only?

JANE. Yes, verily, if God would have done at his last supper a miracle, he might have done so: but I say he minded nor intended no work or miracle, but only to break his body, and shed his blood on the cross for our sins: but I beseech you answer me to this one question; where was Christ when he said, take, eat, this is my body: was not he at the table? When he said so he was at that time alive, and suffered not till the next day; well, what took he but bread? And what broke he but bread? And what gave he but bread? Look what he took he brake, and look what he brake he gave, and look what he gave that did they eat, and yet all this while he himself was at supper before his disciples, or else they were deceived.

FECKENHAM. You ground your faith upon such authors as say and unsay, both with a breath, and not upon the church, to whom you ought to give credit.

JANE. No, I ground my faith upon God’s word, and not upon the church: for if the church be a good church, the faith of the church must be tried by God’s word, and not God’s word by the church: neither yet my faith: shall I believe the church because of antiquity?

To this (writes Jane Grey) M. Feckenham gave me a long, tedious, yet eloquent reply; using many strong and logical persuasions, to compel me to have leaned to their church: but my faith had armed my resolution to withstand any assault that words could then use against me. Of many other articles of religion we reasoned, but these formerly rehearsed were the chiefest and most effectual.

Jane Grey remained true to her convictions, and to her understanding of scripture right up until the moment of her execution by beheading, on February 12th, 1554 at the age of 17. In the years that followed, Queen Mary began a program of reinstating the Catholic faith, and mass executions of those who would not renounce their protestant beliefs, leading to her nickname, "Bloody Mary." The execution of Jane Grey, who was largely viewed as an innocent victim of schemes beyond her own control, was unpopular and (along with the mass executions) contributed to Queen Mary's growing unpopularity with the people of England. When Mary died without an heir, the throne of England reverted to her sister, Elizabeth, who quickly and pragmatically adopted the Protestant faith, cementing the Reformation in England and becoming one of the longest reigning monarchs in England's history. To many historians, it seems unlikely that Elizabeth could have (or would have) accomplished this without the precedent and example of the nine day queen.

In her own time, and for many centuries after, Lady Jane Grey was revered as a martyr for the faith, and here it's worth pointing out the ancient Greek origins of that word, martyr. It comes to us in modern English from the Greek verb μαρτυρέω. Originally, that word did not mean someone who dies for their convictions, but rather it means to bear witness, to testify, to give evidence for a conviction. Jane Grey certainly did this. She took seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew that whoever "acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven."

Let me ask you this, today: What is your witness, your μαρτυρέω, for your faith in Christ? Are you willing to risk your reputation, your livelihood, and even your life to stand up for your belief? What's the hill YOU are willing to die upon? Many people in 16th century England were not willing to take that stand. I'm sure they led long, decent, and uneventful lives. But our tradition, our heritage as children of the Reformation calls us to something more, something that is not always pleasant, but is always faithful, always recognized and acclaimed by the creator of the universe.

People of First Presbyterian Church, may your witness in the world be faithful, bold, and unwavering. And may the spirit and zeal of the reformers burn in your hearts now and through all your days.