Family Values: Jesus Christ
Acts 4:1-14 and Luke 10:38-42
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
October 22, 2017
This month of October, we are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It all started on Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, seeking to reform the Church from within, nailed 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, thereby igniting a movement that led to Protestant denominations, Presbyterian among them. Luther’s 95 Theses contain core theological convictions which became the slogan of the Reformation. They are contained in five Latin phrases, beginning with “Sola” meaning “alone:”
1. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved by the grace of God received by faith alone.
3. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord and Savior.
5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.
You will see the 5 Solas pictured on the front of your bulletin cover, which illustrates our church which is Reformed and always Reforming. The 5 Solas are in black and white—they are the pillars of the church and are not changing. But, we are also reforming, that is we are open to how God’s Spirit can move us to new ways of thinking and doing. We can add our own interpretations. So, there are crayons in the pews, if you want to color during worship or take it home to color in the week.
I will preach on each of these topics throughout this month, in a sermon series called “Family Values,” to explore the things that our church family values the most about our Reformed faith.
Today we will focus on Jesus Christ.
On Wednesday evening, we went to see my 11-year old niece play volleyball at St. James Catholic School in Sewickley. Admittedly, I felt a little funny going into a Roman Catholic Church during the month in which our church is celebrating the Protestant Reformation, with me preaching on all of the ways in which we are different (and by implication, better). We sat in the stands, among Roman Catholics, and with one voice, cheered on the girls. On the way out, I read a plague that was nailed to the wall: “We are sharing the love of Christ in the heart of Sewickley.” Sounds a lot like our calling: “Bringing Christ to our community and our community to Christ.” Doesn’t it?
I realized that although there are many things that divide the Roman Catholic and Protestant Church, one thing unites us; there is one place where we can find common ground: in Jesus Christ.
The doctrine of Jesus Christ was not a debated doctrine at the time of the Reformation. Protestant Reformers accepted the teachings of the ancient church councils in understanding Jesus Christ.
The early Christians confessed their beliefs in the Apostles Creed.
This ancient creed is still said today in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches alike to express belief in Jesus Christ as both fully divine and fully human. Fully divine—conceived by Holy Spirit, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, from there he will judge the living and dead.
Fully human—born of Mary, he suffered, was crucified, died, buried, descended to hell.
The doctrine of Jesus Christ is not a debated doctrine today.
As Christians, we all agree that Jesus Christ, as both fully divine and fully human, is our Savior.
In the Bible, we see Jesus’ divine power as well as his human relationships.
In today’s reading from Acts, Peter and John are proclaiming the good news of Jesus and many people believed. Peter and John also healed a man by the power of Jesus. The authorities arrested and questioned them: “By what power and in what name do you do these things?”
They answered: “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” When the authorities saw the courage of Peter and John in speaking their truth, they knew they must be with Jesus and so they had nothing to say.
The whole Christian church is united in belief that Jesus, as fully divine, has the power to rise from the dead, to save us from our sins and death, and to grant us eternal life. Only by the power of Jesus are we saved from death. And only by the power of Jesus can we, like Peter and John, stand up and speak truth to the powers of the world that need changing.
In today’s second reading from Luke, we find Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha.
Martha is busy making the meal, while Mary is sitting by the feet of Jesus listening to his teachings. Martha is anxious, upset and clearly overwhelmed, and she asks Jesus to tell her sister to help her.
But, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;
there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus is inviting Martha to sit down, be still, listen, look into his face, and know his love and peace.
Some work can be put aside; some work can be given up; all work is made easier after a time out.
This is where our Protestant work ethic is a stumbling block for us.
We are so driven to do, to be, that we forget to stop and be still.
The whole Christian church is united in belief that Jesus, as fully human can identify with us in our struggles, and is present with us through it all.
Only by the presence of Jesus are we saved from our distractions, worries, and struggles.
Only by the presence of Jesus can we sit, be still and know that God is at work, even when we are not.
These two passages illustrate that Jesus is both divine and human—both powerful and present.
By the power of Jesus we are saved from sin and death and offered eternal life. And in the presence of Jesus, we are saved from our worries and fears, and offered the peace that passes understanding.
By the power of Jesus, we are called to stand up for Jesus and witness to our faith.
With the presence of Jesus, we are called to sit down, be still, and rest and refuel and refocus.
Stand up for Jesus and witness to the power of his love, yes! Call your representative in congress; Go on marches in Charlottesville; resist the power of hate and witness to the power of love of all people.
And Sit down with Jesus and receive his peace. Stop doing. Be still. Carve out 5 minutes and pray each day. Breathe in and breathe out…
It’s not just Jesus’ power and standing up for justice in the world.
It’s not just Jesus’ presence and sitting down and being still for our own peace.
It’s Not one or the other. It’s Both And.
A woman shared with me a true story of the power and presence of Jesus.
She grew up Roman Catholic. Her mother was very devout, not only taking her children to mass each Sunday, but also praying at home. As a child, she remembers that her mother would say to them, “Now I am going into my bedroom to pray. If it is an emergency, then you can knock on the door, but if not, please leave me alone. I need to be with Jesus.”
That witness stayed with her daughter. She grew up and became a Presbyterian, and is very actively involved in mission work. She boldly witnesses to her faith and empowered by Jesus, she stands up for those in need. She also sits down and takes time out to pray. She has a personal relationship with God; she talks with God throughout the day. She has her worries and distractions and struggles, but she knows that with Jesus, she can handle anything that comes her way. Roman Catholic mother and Presbyterian daughter are united in their belief in the power and presence of Jesus.
In the Presbyterian Outlook, I read about how one Presbyterian church in Shreveport, Louisiana is commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year. Pastor Chris Currie writes this:
“We will commemorate the Reformation this year with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ across the street. On Oct. 29, after the benediction, our respective congregations will come together… We will sing, we will worship, we will pray and we will shut down the street while we share a cup of cold water and fellowship together. We will commit to the unity of the church, we will commit to listen to the witness of each other, we will commit to work together for the mission of Jesus Christ for our time and we will give thanks for the care and concern we hold in common for the community in which we are situated and that we seek to serve. While we will try not to demonize Martin Luther or the papacy, we will try to sing a hymn we both hold dear, wrap our arms around each other and for a brief moment, reflect the visible unity that is already ours in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I regret that we did not plan such an event in our community to commemorate the Reformation. But still we can go forth from here, trying not to demonize the papacy, looking for times to wrap arms around our sisters and brothers in faith, and reflect the unity that is already ours in Jesus Christ our Lord.
For whether we are Catholics seeking to “share the love of Christ” or Presbyterians “bringing Christ to our community and our community to Christ,” we are one in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God!