Sermon for October 27th, 2013
1 Now faith is the grounds of things which are hoped for, and the evidence of things which are not seen. 2 For by it our elders were well reported of. 3 Through faith we understand that the world was ordained by the word of God, so that the things which we see, are not made of things which did appear. 4 By faith Abel offered unto God a greater sacrifice than Cain, by the which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: by the which faith also he being dead, yet speaketh. 5 By faith was Enoch translated, that he should not see death: neither was he found: for God had translated him: for before he was translated, he was reported of, that he had pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God, must believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek him. 7 By faith Noah being warned of God of the things which were as yet not seen, moved with reverence, prepared the Ark to the saving of his household, through the which Ark he condemned the world, and was made heir of the righteousness, which is by faith. 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed God, to go out into a place, which he should afterward receive for inheritance, and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9 By faith he abode in the land of promise, as in a strange country, as one that dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked for a city having a foundation, whose builder and maker is God.
The Faith of our Forebears
Today we're going to talk a lot about our own heritage, our own religion, so I figured I'd start by talking a little about some of the other ones. And if you're on Bob Thompson's email list, you've probably heard this one before, so blame him, not me! This is entitled "Four Religious Truths."
- Muslims do not recognize the Jews as God's chosen people.
- Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
- Roman Catholics do not recognize Protestants as part of the universal church.
- Baptists do not recognize each other at the liquor store, the racetrack, or the dance hall.
Today is Reformation Sunday. Today we recognize and celebrate our Forebears in Faith. I'm not talking about Yogi Bear, Paddington Bear, Smokey the Bear, and Winnie the Pooh. Those are the wrong four bears. Our Forebears (f-o-r-e-bears) are simply those who came before us, those who paved the way. Our forebears in faith are those who taught us about God, who introduced us to Jesus Christ, and who shared with us the stories and scriptures contained in the Holy Bible.
If you are sitting here today, and consider yourself a follower of Christ, chances are you have someone (or perhaps many someones) to thank for that. It could be your parents, your grandparents, a pastor, a teacher, or even just a friend who took the time to share his or her faith with you, or to bring you to church. Take a moment now to think about who that might be in your life, and give thanks to God for that person. We probably don't do this enough. And remember, the best way to show appreciation for those forebears of our faith...is to follow their example: To pass on that faith to someone else, to another generation, to a friend or an acquaintance.
Likewise the fact that you are sitting in this particular church building on Murchison Drive is something we owe to Rev. Bill Burroughs and the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in the late 1950s, who had the vision and the faith to follow God in a new direction and into a new location. The fact that First Presbyterian Church exists at all in El Paso, we owe to the Rev. John Alexander Merrill and twelve Presbyterians who first formed this church 131 years ago, in 1882. If you're happy to be here today, as part of this faith family, give thanks to God for these forebears of our faith as well.
In essence, this is what the author of our New Testament passage in Hebrews 11 is doing, too: Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Each forebear is listed alongside his example in faith. It is a biblical tradition, and entirely fitting for us on this Reformation Sunday, to name and honor our forebears in faith.
There are four names, four stories I want to tell this morning, four lives all intertwined in the 16th century reformation that gave birth to all the Protestant denominations, and specifically to our own, Presbyterian faith.
The story begins, of course, with Martin Luther. Luther was a Roman Catholic priest in Germany (just about everyone was Roman Catholic in 16th century Europe before the Reformation!). You've probably already heard the story of how on Halloween day in 1517, Martin Luther pulled the ultimate "trick or treat" of all time, nailing to the door of his local church a list of 95 objections to the theology of the Catholic church. Eventually, his objections led to his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church--but since his writings were wildly popular in Germany, France, England, Switzerland, and even Italy, rather than leave him behind, most of Germany followed him, leaving Catholicism behind behind instead, and starting the Protestant movement which ultimately spread through most of Europe and North America.
That's the famous part of the story, but here are some things you might NOT know about Luther:
- He was the first prominent church official to encourage pastors to marry and have children--for which my wife and I, and all three of our children are grateful. Not only did Luther encourage this practice, but he took his own advice, married a former nun, and they had six children together. His wife, Katharina van Bora, was also a skilled maker of homebrewed beer...something Luther praised as her most admirable quality.
- Luther was a prolific musician--he wrote many hymns, including "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." When he wrote these hymns, he didn't do so in the traditional style of sacred music at the time; he wrote in the popular contemporary style of of German love songs and drinking songs. As a teenager, Martin Luther's favorite instrument wasn't the pipe organ (a favorite instrument in the beer halls), it was the 15th century version of the electric guitar...otherwise known as the Lute.
- And for those of you who don't read the Bible as much as you'd like, there's still time: Luther once said that he hadn't even *seen* a bible until he was 20 years old.
When Luther was in the last decade of his life, a young 24-year old French law-school student got hold of his writings and was so profoundly moved by them that he eventually abandoned the practice of law, abandoned Roman Catholicism, and fled from his native country of France to Geneva, Switzerland in order to avoid persecution. His name, of course, was John Calvin.
If Luther gave birth to the protestant reformation, then John Calvin raised it and nurtured it into adulthood. Where Luther was fiery and passionate, Calvin the lawyer was cool and collected, a man of logic and reasoning. Calvin was a nerd of the highest order. Luther's followers came to be known as Lutherans, while Calvin's followers became known as Calvinists. Presbyterians, incidentally, are Calvinists. For most of his life, John Calvin lived and worked in the city of Geneva, preaching and teaching. He was a pastor to the entire city, and to the other pastors as well. He worked closely with the city leaders (Geneva was one of the first fully democratic cities of its era) to establish schools, hospitals for the poor, and welcome protestant refugees from all over Europe.
Some interesting things about John Calvin:
- He preached over 2,000 sermons during his time in Geneva (Just for comparison, I've preached about 74). He preached about five sermons a week, and his sermons were usually about one hour long (so no complaining when I go 30 minutes!).
- Calvin wrote one book, many times. He wrote the first draft of the Institutes of Christian Religion when he was 27, and finished the last draft a few months before he died. He wrote it first in Latin, then in French, then in Latin again and finally the last edition in French.
- Calvin knew a thing or two about suffering: Throughout his life, in addition to all his preaching duties, all his writings, he suffered from headaches, insomnia, shortness of breath, tuberculosis, coughing fits, hemorrhages, fevers, colitis, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, bleeding from the stomach, fever, muscle cramps, nephritis, and gout.”
In 1555, ten years before Calvin's death, his city of Geneva welcomed refugees from England and Scotland, who were fleeing from persecution and death at the hands of Mary Tudor, Queen of England, also known as "Bloody Mary" (that nickname was given to her by the protestant refugees). One of those refugees was a Scottish pastor by the name of John Knox. While in Geneva, he pastored a church of English speaking exiles, and led a project to translate the bible from the original Greek and Hebrew into English: The Geneva Bible. When Knox finally returned to Scotland, he led his country in the reforms that ultimately produced what we know today as the Presbyterian church.
A few interesting things about John Knox:
- Among his writings are the Scots Confession, which is the third confession of faith in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions. He also wrote the first version of what would become our Presbyterian Book of Order (the rule book), and in this book, he proposed that every Scottish child should receive a free and compulsory elementary and high school education: An idea centuries ahead of its time.
- Like John Calvin, Knox didn't want to be venerated by people after his death. Both got their wish: Calvin's grave in Geneva is unmarked, and the place in Scotland where John Knox is buried is covered by a parking lot.
- On a personal note, one of my great-ancestors, the Lord William Ruthven, was a close friend of John Knox, a member of his congregation, and was by his side on his deathbed. John Knox described William Ruthven as "a stout and discreet man in the cause of God."
During John Knox's exile, after left Scotland but before he arrived in Geneva, he stayed for a few months in England in the house of a young married woman by the name of Anne Vaughan Locke (despite having the same last name, this time there's no relation to me). A few years later, Anne Locke followed John Knox to Geneva with her husband and her two children. While she was in Geneva, she translated several of John Calvin's sermons into English for the first time, and she also wrote several of her own works of theology. Anne Locke and John Knox kept up their correspondence for the rest of their lives, he writing from Scotland and she from England, where she worked to reform the church (not as successfully as Knox or Calvin--after all, the best the British could do was the "only-slightly-reformed" Anglican and Episcopalian church.
Interesting facts about Anne Vaughan Locke:
- The first one should be obvious: In the "boys club" that is the 16th century reformation, she stands out as an accomplished and respected female leader, a true "mother of the reformation."
- In addition to being a skilled translator and theologian, Anne Locke was also an accomplished poet: Her poem "Meditation of a Penitent Sinner" is acknowledged as the very first sonnet sequence written in the English language.
- Anne Vaughan Locke shares a last name with not one, but two Presbyterian pastors in El Paso. Locke is my last name, and Vaughan is the maiden name of both Anne Locke and Jessica Vaughan Lower, the new pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church.
And those, my friends, are four forebears of our faith (try saying that four times fast!). Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and Anne Vaughan Locke. May we give thanks to God for their work, for the fruit of their labors (that's us!), and for giving us an example to follow, footsteps to walk in. As we celebrate Reformation Sunday, may we take pride in our heritage, may we be willing to accept the torch when it is passed to us, and then pass it on in turn to the next generation, so that the cloud of witnesses, the parade of saints, the faith of our forebears, marches on.