Always Being Reformed: “People of God”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)
Several years ago we re-roofed our house, with the help of neighbors who know what they’re doing we did the work ourselves – with a lifetime warrantee! At the end of the project we had most of a square of roofing left over – for repairs and whatnot. But I, with yet unseen quantity of wisdom, decided to use some of it to build a roof over our back basement entry stairwell. And we did this without the help of neighbors who know what they’re doing!!
So, with no building permit, or blue prints, or expertise of any kind, I went to Home Depot and bought some 4X4s, some plywood, some 2X4s, four concrete footings, and miscellaneous hardware.
The final product looks … just fine!
But if we ever put the house on the market that roof will have to come down before the house will pass inspection! It keeps rain and snow out of the stairwell, but when I stand on it to wash the kitchen window above, everything wobbles a little. The foundation is not strong enough and the structure has no real integrity.
This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of what kindled the already ignited Protestant Reformation. This movement was the hope of the Church. The truth is, the Reformation got its start nearly 300 years earlier with the work and the words of people like Peter Waldo (1218) and John Wycliffe (1340s). But it was Martin Luther’s October 31, 1517, act of posting his 95 theological debate topics that really got the fire roaring.
This event created an intense chaos within the Church, and it corrected some insanely wrong doctrines, practices, and power-plays (take a look at the sampling of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses that are on the Sermon Notes page today).
So, what ultimately gives strength to the foundation of the Church? What creates integrity in the Church to hold it together?
Look at your Pastor, at your Deacons and Elders, at yourselves – it ain’t the People of God who do that.
Read with me, from the NIV (although if you read a different translation you won’t find much that differs here), Genesis 6:18. The setting of this verse is that just a few chapters after Adam and Eve the world is so filled sin and sadness that, with broken heart, God calls Noah into a covenant relationship and God will start again.
On your Sermon Notes page is today’s single-verse passage. Let’s turn to that and read together, Genesis 6:18 ….—- God is speaking, and He says, (together)
18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.
I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark …. Sinclair Ferguson, a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, and a Scottsman by birth, has said that “God’s covenant commitment to His people, made in successive promise-bonds, forms the scaffolding within which He builds His Church; its shape and growth are determined by it.”
Today’s reading contains the first of ten times the word “covenant” is used between God and Noah. The word is then used another 285 times in the Old Testament and 37 more times in the New Testament.
What is a “covenant”? Can anyone here answer that?
[It has to do with two parties being bound together through thick and thin. It implies something more than a mere contract which binds people together. An example I use at weddings is that when I go to the store and buy a gallon of milk, there’s a contract between us that says the milk will be good; if it’s gone bad I am expected to return it for a new bottle. Covenant, often between two parties of very unequal status (king and subject, master and servant, God and God’s people), says that the lesser party (us) has responsibility in the relationship but the greater party (God) will be there for us regardless of our response.]
I will establish my covenant with you (that’s God’s promise), and you will enter the ark (that’s Noah’s response).
This covenant is implied, although the word is not used, from the very beginning, in Genesis 1 and 3, between God and His first created people. But, as we know Adam and Eve failed to keep their end, so God kept His end through Noah and his family. In Babel we broke our side of the deal again, and God kept His side through Abraham and Sarah. Then came Egypt and our forfeiting our responsibilities, and God kept His side through Moses. And then the Judges and King Saul, and God’s work through David; and then we abandoned our responsibilities again and ended up in Babylon and Medes and Persia, and God kept His side through the prophets…. And then the Old Testament closes with 400 years of silence.
Luke 22:20 tells us that “Jesus is the Deliverer-Seed who forges ‘the new covenant in my blood’”. Thus, Luke confirms that from Adam to Christ, this unified series of divine covenants created a single family tree. And when we are “in Christ”, we are the next branch in that tree.
Matthew tells us that from Adam through Noah, from Abraham through Moses, from David through Jesus Christ, God’s people have been defined, united, and shaped through an ever-renewed and developed covenant bond; from the Fall of Adam and Eve, always sinners who “found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8); always justified by faith alone, not by works, always trusting in the promise of God, and always conscious that we are one family!
Two weeks ago, on World Communion Sunday, we heard from people in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, from Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic distinctives. If we are “in Christ” we are included!
At our Elder Council Meeting last Tuesday, Scott, our Clerk of Session, opened our time together with a devotional extolling the differences between having an alliance and having allegiance. “As citizens of this great country we live in, we might have an alliance with our home town, or our high school alma mater, or our favorite professional sports team, but we pledge allegiance to the flag of these United States of America!”
As Lidgerwood Presbyterians we might have an alliance to our home church or our affiliated denomination, but if we have not pledged allegiance to Christ alone (solus Christus), revealed to us through the Bible alone (sola Scriptura), that we are saved by God’s grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide), then our alliance does nothing to secure any kind of relationship to God!
Dr. R.C. Sproul has written a hymn called “Saints of Zion” which has for its final verse these wise words of assurance: “
The Church of God triumphant shall in that final day
Have all her sons and daughters home from the well-fought fray.
Look at the words of our second song this morning, “Come to Jesus”. “Come to Jesus” is our response like “enter the ark” was Noah’s. God establishes the covenant with His people – we respond…. Will we?
The strength and integrity of the Church is not us, it is Christ Himself:
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord; …
Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; …
Though with a scornful wonder we see Her sore oppressed, …
Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of Her war, …
Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One, ….
In my effort to be shorter for these sermons I’ll stop talking here, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.
And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more. And for anyone who is able, we have a class on the Reformation, lunch provided, starting today at noon – that’s another place to go deeper….
Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?
Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Ferguson, Sinclair B.; “God’s Covenant People”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 22-24.
Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.
Vandoodewaard, Rebecca; “The Women of the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 28-32.