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October 25th, 2016: "Nothing Less Than God"

Text: Job 42:1-6,10-17; Psalm 34;                  22nd Sunday after  Pentecost                Sandy Nuernberg

Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52                   30th Sunday in Ordinary Time                Pastor

Title: “Nothing Less Than God”                       Reformation Sunday                         

First Presbyterian Church                                   Sunday, October 25th, 2015               Pardeeville, WI

 

Please pray with me,

Almighty God, unto whom our hearts are open this day, all our desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hidden; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit. Help us to love Thee and in turn magnify your Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. AMEN.

 

            Truly, Reformation Sunday, as we celebrate it today, is a time to celebrate our heritage and history. We can’t help but include in that celebration our own present place in history, right here in Pardeevlle; this church and its people, its property, our being here since 1857. Today we affirm our central theological convictions, our considering God’s ongoing reformation of the church, since Martin Luther King and John Calvin initiated the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century (October 31st, 1517, the 95 theses in Wittenberg; the night before All Saints Day; in America, Halloween!).

 

            History and doctrinal approaches of the Reformation aside, I’d like to emphasize today the ongoing nature of church reform in a Presbyterian way of looking ahead where the church is “reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God.”  Now, right a way, we might get tense and irritated by my suggesting that the church is ‘reformed’ or made better by the removal of hearsayers or rumors, errors, abuses, or unwanted behaviors.

 

You and I know full well, that is not the point; that’s really not what it’s about. Today, in Presbyterian churches, it’s not about any set special scripture reading or resource designation—the Reformation is not part of the liturgical calendar. It’s an opportunity for us to remember where we’ve been and what God is doing among us now to shape us into more faithful Christians. The texts are with us today as we’ve just heard. Instead of acknowledging the differences in our Reformation process so long ago, I’d like to recognize our likenesses in the recognition of our Christian heritage where there is nothing less than God in our lives.

 

We might ask ourselves what God is doing among us now? It’s a tough question and has many answers; think of it, where is God’s grace and mercy freely given to us along our Christian faith journey? That, I believe, is what reformed and being reformed is all about!

 

In seminary, not long ago (2002-3) for me, I took a class M404, ‘Field-Site Education’ as I was student-pastoring in a small Presbyterian church in Madison ( Dale Heights Presbyterian Church) for a year. In our seminary classes we had ‘required’ and ‘recommended’ readings. A required reading was a book I’ll never forget, ‘Open Secrets’ by a Lutheran pastor ( Lischer, Richard, Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey through a Country Church, Doubleday, New York, 2002) fresh out of seminary in his first church in a small, rural, poor town in New Cana, a farm-area in southern Illinois. Clearly, he had big plans, but soon found out in this conservative, economically depressed area, that his journey towards a bold and brilliant career was not going to be what he thought or go as he had planned.

 

Pastor Lischer wanted to move along his congregation with his ideas and enthusiasm, his education, determination to be a part of the technological 21st century. He wanted his first church to be a part of the bigger church. But he soon found that his constituents were not engaging in the modern world, that they were being a church and community he referred to as, “tighter than the seal on a home-made pickle jar.” They said to him, “We dare you to move us! Just try it.”

 

He not only didn’t understand his congregation, there were more than a few times where his flock surely didn’t understand his intentions. After all, they knew more of the history and heritage of what was happening in their community; how could he possibly learn it all. Further, they thought in welcoming him, his wife ( a lawyer) and family, it would only be a short time and he’d move on somewhere for ‘those bigger fish to fry!’ Yet, surprisingly, his book is full of the mercy and grace given him in instances where spiritual crises could have literally ‘done him in.’ It’s a good read for pastors!

 

Similarly, we find in our scriptures that Job discovers that new experiences in his life require new and different ways of speaking of God. In his pain, anguish, and after our reading forty-two chapters of Job’s complaining to God of his undeserved sufferings, through all the sorrow he’s experienced, he now sees and hears God first-hand in a new way and is transformed. There is divine presence in Job’s life and he is finally rewarded—nothing less than God who calls out to him. Just as an aside, as a young girl my sisters and I were members of Job’s Daughters when I lived in La Crosse—as Honored Queen, I remember relating to the patience, faith, and ultimate rewards of these daughters of Job.

 

 We find in Mark’s gospel blind Bartimaeus, who in his spiritual blindness didn’t understand what his faith revealed with regard to following the way of Jesus—the revelation of Jesus’ death and new life (resurrection). In other words, his believing in Jesus included following ‘on the way’ with Jesus. Spiritually, in this story, I find, on the way to Jerusalem via Jericho, there is the brightness of Christ’s life and death instead of blindness.

 

Bartimaeus was not so much physically blind but was blind spiritually and lost his way; like Pastor Lischer who had big plans for himself and his congregation ‘on the way,’ but regular persons and ordinary life’s circumstances got in his way. He was put in his place quickly. He learned God’s mercy and grace in his ministry, however.

 

What does it mean to ask for the mercy of God for Bartimaeus, or for us? Truly it means being treated compassionately, not being judgmental in any way. Almighty God is that truth in action. In our begging for mercy, we are like Bartimaeus in being led to follow once again. We may feel sometimes that if we don’t cry out loud enough we are left behind; today’s phrase might be: ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ Yet in God’s guidance, love, and patience with us we can follow Jesus and ‘the way.’ Yes, Jesus intercedes mercifully, and heals Bartimaeus’ vision of faith as well. He has strayed, as we all do, but Jesus as our advocate will lead us to follow again. Jesus is alive, active for us before God ( Hebrews 4:12). Think of it: it doesn’t seem possible that we can grasp truth about God if we are separated from the mind, heart and soul of God.

 

Today, I imagine myself in Pastor Lischer’s role, in his shoes, comparing our spiritual journeys with each other. What he taught me was to be relational and learn from my congregation, wherever I was in a church, and as I hope and pray to do with all of you. It’s about being reformed as we learn about each other’s world, and then moving on where God is leading us together. It’s about all we can be ‘on the way’ through God’s guidance and direction in identifying us as the church in God’s kingdom.

 

            Our good news today is in finding our way to follow Jesus’ way when we have lost our way. Our scripture stories can be thought of as reformation, or ‘deciphering anew the significance of the Gospel!’ In seeing and hearing once again, like Job, or Bartimaeus, we find anew our being reformed and always being reformed is nothing less than God’s mercy and grace in our lives. In Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, we find anew the eternal priest who is from God, always alive, and who was made sinless and our Savior forever—yes, our advocate!

 

                                                                                               

                                                                        Thanks be to God.                  AMEN.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

               

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