Proper 25

October 29, 2006
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Reading 2: 
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Reading 3: 
Hebrews 7:23-28
Reading 4: 
Mark 10:46-52
By Ignacio Castuera

The observance of Reformation Sunday would require that we refer much more to the heritage of the Reformation which allows us now to have a different form of Christianity. It is important to emphasize that the triumph of the Reformation enriched all of our faith and not only that portion which is referred to as the Protestants since then. The Roman Catholic church also became more enriched as it struggled to redefine itself in light of the challenges of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others. Without the Protestant Reformation it the “counter reformation” and all the movements that sprung up in the heart of the Roman Catholic Church might not have happened at all. I really don’t believe that Ignatius of Loyola and the Company of Jesus would have come into existence without the theological ambiance that the Protestant Reformation created.

The texts today do not lend themselves to adaptation for the observance of Reformation day except, perhaps, the Gospel story of a blind man who wishes to “see again” and does. It is important to take a fresh look at old concepts, familiar texts, ancient observances, etc. Marcus Borg has written several books which include the idea of fresh looks at old practices. This is truly in the spirit of the Protestant Reformation.

I would like to suggest that on this last Sunday of October pastors share with their congregations several concepts that emerged from the Protestant Reformation and continue to enrich our worship and our service to the world.

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda the church is always in need of reform. This is, as far as I am concerned, one of the most important ideas to come out of the Protestant Reformation. We must never stop growing, changing, re-imagining ourselves and our faith. Our faith must be a living faith addressing living issues of our day. The ideas that have been offered through this month would not have been possible without the concept that we are always in need of reform. Our brothers and sisters of the United Church of Christ have the wonderful statement that they borrowed from Gracie Allen, God never has a period, only a comma. That is a great translation of the statement at the top of this paragraph.

The priesthood of all believers: The texts from Hebrews have been emphasizing the priestly role of Jesus but important as that is it is from the letter of Peter that Luther draws power and authority to affirm that in the Christian faith we are all equidistant to God. The newest twist, or translation, of this concept comes to me from John Cobb as he states that theology is too important to be left up to the theologians. Consistent with that, Cobb has been writing quite a bit to strengthen the participation of the laity in the life of the church . Pastors today have an opportunity to preach and model the great idea that we are indeed a church that believes and acts on the basis that all believers are part of the royal priesthood.

This concept radically democratized, at least in principle, the relationships in the church. As we know, the principle does not always find actualization in the way we order our common life. Luther himself, failed to act consistently on the basis of this belief. But the concepts sooner or later get actualized first imperfectly, then in bursts of creativity, then regressions can happen, but the concept is already there, waiting for more perfect applications. This is worth sharing with our congregations.

One of the democratizing tools is literacy and that is also part of the legacy of the Reformation. It is consistently true that as people became Protestants a higher degree of literacy accompanied their conversion and commitment. Protestantism made the Bible central to the life of the church and reading of the Bible became an important part of our public and private religious practice. It is true that the fact that the printing press made it possible to produce more Bibles more cheaply helped fuel the increase in literacy. This providential confluence of resistance to the hierarchy of the Roman church and technology to produce more reading material quicker and more affordable aided the Protestant movement and increased the desire for literacy. People no longer had to depend on the few literate priests to provide them with the reading and interpretation which the church wanted to foster. More readers meant more possible interpretations and in spite of the negative effects of misinterpretations the present situation is preferable to the totalitarian way in which the church ran its common life.

Finally, I would like to suggest that the arts, especially music, received a decidedly new impulse and direction thanks to the Reformation. Bach might have appeared in history any way in a Catholic context, but I seriously doubt that the glorious production we have been privileged to receive from him could have happened in the more hierarchical context of Roman Catholicism. Bach had enough run ins as it was and he had a difficult time introducing the organ into the life of the church in Protestantism. I really don’t think it could have happened if the part of Germany where Bach lived had not become part of the Protestant world.

Finally, since the first Sunday of October I made some remarks about Luther’s evaluation of the letter of James that were not altogether appreciative I would like to close the month thanking God for the fact that Luther believed that baptized Christians were called to be “little Christs.” Given the presuppositions stated in that first set of comments for October it is important to state that to be “little Christs” today implies a commitment to resist the Empire in which we find ourselves with the same vehemence and power with which Luther faced a church that acted in imperious and punishing ways. Many died at the hands of the church that Luther finally broke away from. Luther survived and we are now free and empowered to have for our days the same courage he displayed for his time. As Bach signed at the bottom of all his wonderful works, Solo Dei Gloria, to only to God be the glory.

Ignacio Castuera, a United Methodist minister, is currently serving Trinity United Methodist Church in Pomona, California, and also serves as the national chaplain for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Rev.Castuera has served churches in Mexico, Hawaii, and California. In 1980, he became the first Latino District Superintendent of the Los Angeles District of the California Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.