ARE WE REFORMED YET? SCRIPTURE: PSALM 90; MATTHEW 22: 34-40 GRACE COVENANT PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, ASHEVILLE, NC October 29, 2017 The Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop, Pastor It was an accidental journey, really. He was fleeing his own country—no longer welcome there because of his religious beliefs. He had to get out quickly. He dressed up like a farm worker and scaled down knotted sheets to escape. A lecture that he attended by his colleague raised the stakes in an already contentious time. New ideas were emerging, new ways of thinking. The government was cracking down. And so he set out on the road to a new country—to a place where he could continue to speak out against the abuses of power he saw. He was a refugee. The church wanted him dead. On his journey, he planned to head to a university town and bury himself in books. He loved reading books and he loved writing. But he got wind of some violence on the road he was traveling. Skirmishes were erupting all over—they had been for pretty much his whole life. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t heard talk about change—and how much we needed change. Instead of burying himself in the library stacks until all this blew over, he ended up in another city—just for one night, he thought. That one night turned into 25 years and it wasn’t just his route that took a turn that night, but history. That accidental journey folded into a melding together of ecclesial and civil power that touches our lives as Christians and as citizens of the United States of America every single day. That refugee was a 27 year old French lawyer and cleric, John Calvin, and that city that became his accidental home was Geneva, Switzerland—and that journey was in 1536 when Calvin was run out of Paris for asking hard questions of the Roman Catholic church, of which he was an adherent. Like Martin Luther before him, and many other Reformers of his time, Calvin’s plan was not to start a new faith tradition, but to engage in a conversation about change and integrity with the church he loved. Today we celebrate 500 years since Martin Luther (or someone acting in his stead) nailed his 95 theses to the church door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in Germany. It
was sort of a bulletin board back then—in an academic town—it was a way to engage in conversation, a conversation about power—the church’s power and God’s. When the church pushed back, Luther pushed back, too. He would eventually be excommunicated. Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries was a series of Reformations and Counter Reformations—those were violent times, those were generative times. Today we remember and we celebrate the courage to stand up and ask the hard questions of the most powerful institutions in society—that is the heart of what it means to be Reformed and always reforming. Mikah Meyer: (Shares about growing up and not seeing other Christians like him—believing that God loved him, asking the church to be true to Christ’s love and welcome). Reformed and always reforming is not just a concept to me, it has been my life. Part II Marcia: Calvin became more and more determined to spread these reformed ideas. He would send out secret missionaries to teach people about scripture and God’s grace and God’s sovereignty. He and his Reformed colleagues would send people into hostile territory where they would have secret worship services and Bible studies. They would learn to sing the Psalms—Calvin put the Psalms to music so that people could remember the words—he knew music was a powerful vehicle. Singing the Psalms became the mark of a Protestant in France—and could lead to imprisonment and even death. Those who sang the Psalms were at times even rounded up and massacred for their beliefs. Calvin responded to the forceful crackdowns of his day with determination that in turn created more tension and hostility. And about two years after he arrived in Geneva he was run out of town—some powerful families of Geneva didn’t like what he was up to so he spent the next few years in Strasbourg.