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10.29.17 Journeying Together Matthew 4-5 Sermon Summary

by on October 30, 2017

On this Reformation Sunday it’s appropriate to give thanks, but also to inquire about the reformations still needed in the church.

Summary Points

  • Reformation occurs within the cultural context
  • Remembering Luther and the Protestant Reformation
  • Jesus’ reformation program, then and now
  • Walking towards a more blessed Christmas

This week commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, because it was All Saints’ Eve in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, sparking the sustained effort of reform in the Western Christian church. Church reform always occurs in the culture context, and the context in Luther’s day was the church’s corruption by its over-involvement in politics and power.

As Luther approached his famous act, he had to go through the “dark wood,” that place of spiritual sojourn during which we feel disoriented and confused, a place of doubt. For Luther, the dark wood included his vocational shift from law student to monk, and later from professor to reformer.

He had some success in reforming the church, but he also had some failure navigating his cultural context. Just ask the peasants or the Jews.

What about reform today? What is our cultural context today? What cultural forces are DEforming the church?

This week we remember Luther, but Jesus was also a reformer. The summary of his reform program is his first message: Repent; the kingdom of heaven has come near. We can paraphrase this as, “Open your eyes, change your living, and enter heaven now.” The response of his original audience must have been, “Heaven now? Here? Where? How?!” His audience was poor, oppressed, and powerless. Talk of heaven here and now was crazy. It would have occasioned a dark wood experience.

How different is it for us? We’re not poor, or oppressed, or powerless. American culture is all about spending and individual self-actualization. The way history has always envisioned heaven is the life we take for granted already. This has caused American culture to say there is no heaven, or heaven is the life we await after death.

So it turns out that despite the differences between Jesus’ first audience and us, his words of reform are hard also for us to believe. How, we may ask, can we open our eyes, change our living, and enter heaven now?

To follow Jesus, or to enter the kingdom of heaven, is to enter into the dark wood. For us, it is the dark wood of counter-cultural living. And here Jesus’ words begin to make more sense, for he described it as “poverty of spirit.”

Why are the spirits of Jesus’ disciples impoverished? It is because they “mourn.” They are aware of the paradise lost, of God’s good intention towards us which is threatened by sin. However, in our culture, we avoid mourning.

Jesus says his disciples “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” By this he means they desire intimacy with God and just relationships among us. But in our culture God is an afterthought and personal rights supplant just relationships. And Jesus says his disciples are “meek”: Is there anything meek about our culture? Or “merciful”? Or “peacemaking”? Does our culture encourage “purity of heart”?

But these are the markers of following Jesus. This is what it means to enter the kingdom with him. These are the characteristics of living in heaven now. Because they are so counter-cultural, no wonder following Jesus occasions the dark wood experience!

And this is why the beatitudes end with how blessed are those who are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” because those who follow Jesus, who live counter-culturally, will be or at least will feel persecuted. They will feel alone and vulnerable, like they’re “a misfit” to use Eric Elnes’ term.

In contrast to the dark wood of “heaven now,” there is the light wood of cultural conformity. We could just accept the culture, allow ourselves to be conformed to the culture, instead of transforming the culture by being conformed to Christ.

Here then is the reform agenda today—to be conformed more and more to Christ. And the need for this reformation is no more obvious than at Christmas. Consider this perspective from the Advent Conspiracy.

Christmas is two months away. The pressures of cultural conformity are enormous. But what if we introduced a little bit of reform? What if we remembered God’s answer to our longing was not more stuff but rather to come to us himself in Christ? What if we remembered that Christ invited us to follow him—follow him and not the culture this Christmas.

If we did these things, we might find ourselves in the dark wood. We might be accused of being poor in spirit. But we might also realize that we are blessed.

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