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This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to present the message/sermon/homily for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral.  While the message isn’t strictly related to finances or stewardship, I thought I’d share it with my readers here anyways.  I hope you may draw some insight from it…

Good morning.  As you have probably already figured out, Pastor Rus isn’t here this morning.  He had the pleasure of doing a wedding for some old friends of his back in West Virginia and asked me if I would mind doing the message for this week.

We’ve been talking a lot over the past few weeks about the early church – the Christian community that formed following the resurrection and then Pentecost, the blessing of the Holy Spirit on these young believers.

Just a quick aside – do you realize that the term Pentecost is not strictly a Christian term?  Pentecost, translated from the Greek literally means ‘the Fiftieth Day,’ and is actually taken from the Jewish term Shavuot, which was the Feast of Weeks, taking place 50 days after the Passover and memorializing the time when Moses and the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  It speaks volumes that this was also the day that God again gave his chosen people a gift – the greatest gift – his very spirit living inside them.  I could go a lot more into this, but I want to go a little bit further forward in time with you today, and take a look at another early Christian community that I think we can hopefully learn from.

But first, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have you take part in my brand new game show (drum roll)…

Is That in the Bible?

I hope you brought your Bibles.  I’m going to have a series of phrases up on the screen and I want you to vote with me whether they are from the Bible or not.

“Leopards don’t change their spots” Bible or non-Bible? (highlight hidden text for the answer)

Jeremiah 13:23 (New International Version)

Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.

“God works in mysterious ways”

William Cowper,

“On The Loss of the Royal George”

“Money is the root of all evil”

1 Timothy 6:10 (New International Version)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from

the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”

Charles Wesley

Sermons, no 93,

‘On Dress’

“God helps those who help themselves”

Aesop

“The gods help them

that help themselves”

“Spare the rod and spoil the child”

Samuel Butler (Hudibras, 1664),

paraphrasing Proverbs 23:13 (New International Version)

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.

Okay, hopefully you’ve learned a little bit today… A lot of what is attributed to the Bible, that is more traditional, in fact, has little or nothing to do with the Bible and Christian beliefs.  But believe me, we’re not the first ones to make this mistake.  I titled this message, “What Would Luther Say,” for an interesting reason.  If you look at Luther’s life, historically, you see that at the time he lived, very few people actually read the Bible.  Now, some of that could be attributed to the fact that it was in either Hebrew, Greek or Latin, and few could speak those languages.

In fact, if you know your Lutheran history, you know that was one of Luther’s major quests, was to translate the Bible into the German language so common folk could read and understand it.  But if you look even closer at the people of the time, you realize that even the priests themselves, who spoke Latin, Hebrew and Greek, did not read the Bible either.  It’s not too far different from what we know today, unfortunately.  As we just pointed out, there are a lot of misconceptions about what the Bible actually teaches, in the heart of many American churches, and I am sure that the European churches can’t boast much better.

I think, after all of his work, Luther would be appalled at the attitude in many churches today that people just don’t read the Bible.  Imagine from his perspective, as a priest, he didn’t read the New Testament until halfway through his career as a priest.  We know from history that he use to flagellate, or whip himself, forced himself to climb stairs on his knees and was constantly sure that he was not worthy of Christ’s favor.  Then he was encouraged to read the New Testament, and he discovered the letters of Paul, which opened his mind to the concept of salvation through grace by faith alone, a revolutionary idea to the people of his day.  In fact, Luther felt his rediscovery of that principle was so important, so revolutionary that the Devil himself would not be able to bear it and would rise up, bringing about the end of the world.

What’s interesting to note is that Luther was in the Augustinian order of the Catholic Church.  The Augustinian order followed the model of fraternity lived by the Apostles and found in the early Christian community. Augustine of Hippo himself wrote, “Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one soul and one heart seeking God.”  It also carried out the mandate of the Church to proclaim the good news of the Gospel – more on that in a moment.  From the beginning, the Augustinians tended toward a universal service to the needs of the Church.  Gregor Mendel, the monk considered the father of modern genetics, was an Augustinian, as was Myles Coverdale, who translated the first English Bible, under Henry the 8th.  Augustinian monasteries pattern themselves after the life of the early church, in Jerusalem, and also held strongly to the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

So traditionally, Augustinian monks held to the teachings of Paul.  Which makes you wonder why Luther was not familiar with them and found them so revolutionary.  To go one step further, there is another somewhat famous German Augustinian, a man by the name of Thomas á Kempis.  Just a generation before Luther, he wrote a treatise titled, The Imitation of Christ.  Within this book, he says that there are two things essential for human life – food and light – which in the spiritual realm is Communion and the Scriptures.

“Without these two I cannot live well, for the Word of God is the light of my soul, and this Sacrament is the bread of life.

“These two can be likened to two tables, set here and there in the spiritual treasure of the holy Church.  The one is the table of the holy altar, having the living Bread that is the precious Body of Christ; the other is the table of the laws of God, containing the holy doctrine which instructs man in the right faith and in the true belief and leads him into the sancta sanctorum, where the inward secrets of Scripture are hidden and contained.  I give you thanks, my Lord Jesus, the Brightness of eternal light, for this table of holy doctrine You have ministered to us by Your servants, the doctors, prophets, and Apostles.” – Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Just a generation before Luther, another German monk in his own order of the church wrote that men must know the scripture for the continuance of life.  And yet, 90 years later, Luther is nailing the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenburg, having just rediscovered the scriptures.  I am thinking that this is NOT one of the grand Lutheran traditions to repeat over and over again throughout history.

And there is another reason to know the Scriptures, to read your Bible, to memorize passages and understand what they say.  In I Peter 3, the Apostle writes, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope that you have.

When I was in high school, my best friend, Dave Rickards, was a PK – a pastor’s kid.  He was the son of a Baptist minister out on Pine Island, Pastor Tommy.  And as we spent our days going to classes at Cape High, we encountered a number of people of other beliefs and non-beliefs.  But the one most troubling was a girl that we were both good friends with, who we learned was a Jehovah’s Witness.  Now, I don’t really have time to go into everything that separates Jehovah’s Witnesses from mainline Christianity, so please take it at my word for the moment, that JW’s do not believe in the same Jesus as we do.  But, and it’s a big but… But they know their Scripture well – better than most folks who do believe in the same Jesus we do.  Imagine the frustration of being in an argument about religion – and we had a few here and there – two against one, and me and the pastor’s kid losing to this person who knew more about what we supposedly believed than we did.

What would Luther say?

In the church today, we have, in my opinion, abdicated too much of our responsibility of doing the work of God to those who are in leadership in the church.  Usually, it’s the pastor or priest that is most on the hook, followed by the lay leaders and church staff.  But all too often, once we leave the walls of the church, we don’t speak of our faith, we don’t live our faith and we don’t represent Christ to those around us.  It’s not uncommon to hear, “Well, that’s the pastor’s job.”

One of the things we’ve been talking about over the last 3 weeks is our mission to talk to the people around us – to invite them, not necessarily to church, although, that is definitely one of our pressing concerns around here lately, but to invite them to know Christ – to become a follower of His love and His truth.  To shine as believers in our respective workplaces and social lives.

You see, the thing is, it’s NOT the pastor’s job.  Is he called to do it?  Yes, but not alone.  Will we have a commune of believers like the early Jerusalem church?  No, probably not, but we are expected to do our part.

What would Luther say?

In 1520, in a paper written to the German Christians in government, in his day, of course, being the nobility, Luther proclaimed, “There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.”

A layman is you and me – normal folks with no particular religious training or scholarship.

Years later, during World War II, an English Bishop by the name of William Temple told his fellow church people that, “We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.”

When I worked full-time for the Sheriff’s Office, I got subpoenaed quite a bit to testify in court.  Here in Florida, prosecutors don’t do a lot of witness preparation, so while I didn’t always end up in court, I was told to take advantage of classes on being a witness.  The first rule of giving testimony is that you tell the truth and you only talk about what you know.  You give testimony on what you know for a fact and, in some cases, as an expert witness, what you are permitted to surmise from your work experience and training.  You’re told to address the jury, not the lawyers and are reminded time and time again to answer only the questions asked of you by either lawyer, especially when the defense attorney is questioning you.

I think what happens a lot in the church is people forget how to be a good witness.  A witness talks about what they know – they offer testimony about things that have happened in their lives, they tell the truth and they answer questions posed to them.  I couldn’t just walk into court and start spouting off my theories on who committed the crime.  But I think a lot of Christians are afraid that that is exactly what they are supposed to do when witnessing to people.  They think that witnessing and missions is telling people “You need to get saved” or “You need Jesus” or “Turn or burn!”  The fact is, none of that is true.  You’re only expected to answer the questions presented to you as you live your life to glorify God.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

The Word of God is a light to my soul.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

There is no difference between laymen and priests – they are all priests, bishops, popes.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

Until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations… this land will never be converted

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have… Amen.

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