Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

There We Will Not Fear


It is Reformation Sunday. One of the few Sundays our of our church calendar where our emphasis is not on Bible Stories, but moments in history where the understanding of God and church and being a child of God took a turn. Moments of history that changed the whole direction of the church and of God’s people. Moments in history we really need to recognize because these historical events shape how we come here and how we worship.
So a brief recounting of what happened during the Reformation. From the time of Jesus until about the year 300, the church was a loose collection of individual churches. They were loosely organized but there was no real council or person who joined them together. The Catholic Church came along about the year 380 and all churches, everywhere, were collectively pulled into this organization. The word “Catholic” means ‘universal’ - idea being there was one universal church of Jesus Christ. And a hierarchy which included a Pope and Cardinals and Bishops and priests began which began to govern all the churches, establish a pattern of worship, a system of how to live and work and it was mandatory for all people. Everyone was automatically included as part of the overall church and their local church.
Now I have to admit there is a part of this system that I believe is attractive and useful.
A church was established in every neighborhood - just one and you went to your neighborhood church. Churches were the center of everyday life because of their proximity to the people and the people in the neighborhoods literally worked and worshiped together with a Priest to care for them.
But like every organization that is made up of humans, no matter how well meaning, the leadership of the church - the Pope and the Cardinals and the Bishops began to enjoy the power they held and the Catholic church not only became a source of spreading the care of God to the people but a means to regulate the lives of the people and they became an authority that dictated all aspects of your life and if you did not conform, or agree with every teaching of the church, you could be arrested or fined or even killed. The church became not only about discipline but about money. Church attendance was mandatory but it would also cost you. There were ‘taxes’ or ‘dues’ that were required, tithing was not an option, and the church became rich while the people became poorer and poorer.
Then the practice of indulgences began. An indulgence was a price you paid to get to heaven. You bought the indulgence, which was a piece of paper, and the church taught that if you did not have that piece of paper you could not get into heaven. And they were expensive. People would spend their savings and often would buy multiple indulgences so that if they lost one sheet of paper they would have a spare. And then to make more money the church began to allow you to buy indulgences for your family members so you could make sure they made it to heaven. So if Uncle Frank dies and you aren’t sure he had his piece of paper with him you would buy a special indulgence for him just in case to make sure he made it to the pearly gates.
It all sounds rather bizarre to us but this was real and this is really the way people lived…. We talk about the difference in economic status today between the have and have nots but in this period of European history it was far more extreme than anything we are familiar with - and the fault was with the church.
This was also the time in history when the church ruled the governments. There was no concept of a democracy or a constitutional republic or any form of government which involved people making decisions. All decisions regarding your life were made by the church and then supported by the government. And the church and the government cultivated a culture of fear - fear of the government, fear of the church and fear of God whom they were taught wanted nothing more than to find a reason to send them to hell.
It is also important to understand that the local parish priests had no power either. They were not permitted to read the Bible on their own. Their sermons were sent to them by the Pope and Catholic service was much

as it is today - by following a standard liturgy.. which actually made sense back in the middle ages because very few people could read so the worship service had to be something people could memorize and repeat.
Then comes along a man named Martin Luther who changed the course of the church - one person who heard the call of God and responded. Martin Luther was a professor at the University of Whittenburg in Germany where he had access to a Bible - written in Latin because in that day and time all Bibles were in Latin to ensure that the common people would never be able to read it… But Luther began to read the Bible, specifically the book of Romans, and he quickly realized how far off the rails the church had gotten. So he came up with 95 things the church was doing wrong and naively thought the church would actually consider changing their practices…..
Luther also began to write little tracts which explained further how the church had strayed from actual Biblical teaching.
And in God’s good timing just at this time Guttenburg, who lived in the same area, invented the printing press and began to print Luther’s tracts which quickly spread throughout the area and people began to see what the Gospel really was about - faith and grace.
Without going into the details, what happened then included Luther’s arrest and appearance before the Cardinals of the area and his excommunication from the Catholic church where he began to hold services for the very first time in history which were not part of the Catholic Church. Now this wasn’t easy - he and the members of his church were harassed and as new church leaders began to grow and spread this ‘new way’ to worship and understand God they were killed and forced to leave Germany. which was actually a good thing in that it spread this new ‘church’ throughout Europe.
And from this came a man named Ulrich Zwengli who began the evangelical movement and a man named John Calvin who began the Reformed movement from whom John Knox began who we are today as Presbyterians.
And all of this brought about the simple message of the Gospel - it is by faith and the grace of God through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. that we are made one with God. And once we believe, we will never have to fear the wrath of God. The fear of our eternal future is removed and we can live in the peace and joy of life with our God.
Psalm 46 was Luther’s favorite Psalm. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
That is why we remember this day, this time in history, a time which allows us today to be able to live in the freedoms that come from a relationship with Jesus Christ - free from the fear of the wages of sin and death, free to come and worship because it is our choice not because the government has told us we have to, free to share the love of Christ with others, free to read God’s word for ourselves.
We will close the service today with Martin Luther’s great hymn A Might Fortress Is Our God which he wrote as he was on his way to be examined by the Council at Worms where he was sure he would be executed - but because he lived with faith in Jesus Christ he had nothing to fear.
And because of Luther’s work and the great moment called the Reformation - neither do we.