Semper Reformanda – October 25, 2015 Reformation Sunday
Ezekiel 36:22-27, II Corinthians 3:12-18
October 25, 2015
“Semper Reformanda.” I don’t know if I’ve ever had a sermon title in Latin before! There’s a first time for everything, so they say. So what does it mean? Well, you’ve probably guessed that “Reformanda” has something to do with the “Reformation” – this being “Reformation Sunday.” And any of you who are associated with the Marine Corps, will no doubt recognize “Semper.” It’s in the Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis,” or “Semper Fi,” meaning (?) “Always Faithful.”
So “Semper Reformanda” means “Always Reforming,” or “Always Being Reformed.” And it too was a motto of sorts. It was part of the Latin phrase that became the motto of the Reformation, which began of course with, that “upstart monk” Martin Luther. Anyone want to guess the year? (anybody?) The year was 1517. That was when he wrote his famous letter, entitled, “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” That’s a mouthful! And it came to be known as his “95 theses.” (Thank heaven!) He wrote that letter to his bishop, and he nailed a copy of it to the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg Germany. And that became a major milestone in the long history of the Church!
So, “Semper Reformanda” – “Always Reforming.” The full motto is “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda.” (There’ll be a quiz next week!) That full phrase means, “The Church Reformed, Always Reforming.” And I hope you see that that motto speaks of the ongoing nature of the Reformation. We don’t always think of it that way. We think the Reformation was something that happened long ago, but it doesn’t affect us, except when we celebrate it. But that’s not the case! The Reformation didn’t just happen once, and that’s it! It was the intention of the reformers for this to be ongoing. The church should always be willing to see where it stands in God’s sight. “Semper Reformanda” – “Always Reforming.”
Oh and by the way! Let me say this about Martin Luther. I don’t believe Luther was out to start a new Church. This was not about seceding from the Roman Church. It’s a lot like the people in the american colonies. They didn’t want to secede from England! Not at first. They just wanted to be treated right! Well Luther loved his Church! But he wanted to “straighten a few things out” – particularly that business about “indulgences.” You heard me say that a moment ago. And if you don’t know what that was, it was the church saying, “If you give money, you can buy an indulgence. And that will get somebody’s soul out of purgatory!” And no, that is not part of our Stewardship campaign this year!
I was reading a great article on the Reformation last week. And there are a couple of things about it that I’d like to share with you. And not just because this is history, but because the Reformation is about all of us! We are the “Semper Reformanda” part – the “Always Reforming” part!
The first thing I’d like to say is that, yes, reformation implies “change.” And yes, that’s a “bad word” in church circles! And yes a lot changed in the Church in the sixteenth century. But remember, that a lot was changing in the world, too. The Renaissance, the “Age of Enlightenment” was in full swing. Johannes Gutenberg had perfected his moveable type printing process in 1450, and people were now obtaining their own printed material. And they were starting to read, and to learn for themselves. It was also the “Age of Exploration.” Old “Chris” Columbus had discovered a whole new hemisphere in the late 1400’s. He changed everyone’s thinking about the world. And speaking of changing everyone’s thinking, Nicolaus Copernicus was around in those days, and he was saying that the earth was not the center of the universe! And people in the church were starting to question what they had simply taken for granted in the past.
So, “Reformation” meant “change.” But! The Reformation did not necessarily mean a change to something new! In fact, the Protestant Reformation was a call to think back to what was before. Please understand that! There was then, and continues to be now in the issues we face, a push and pull between the new and the old. (Lord knows we’re aware of that at this church!) Reformation does not imply that new is always better or preferred. Martin Luther was challenging the church to rethink it’s policies. He and the other reformers were not seeking to move forward, but backwards! They were saying “go back to God’s word.” “Sola Scriptura,” “Scripture alone” became another motto of the reformation. The full Latin phrase we started with was “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbi dei.” That means, “The Church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God.”
We cannot forget that part! Because the other thing we need to know about the Reformation is that the Church cannot reform itself! “The Church Reformed and Always Reforming” does not mean that the church alone is the agent of its own reformation. God is the agent of reformation. The church is rather the object of God’s reforming work.
It’s our job to seek and to know what God is doing in us. That’s so important! It’s not us changing things to the way we want them. It’s seeking what God wants! That was important in Luther’s story! Because he was threatened if he didn’t “recant” or “withdraw” his criticism. But, when asked to “re-cant” he said, “I can’t!” (I made that up this week!) And it wasn’t because he had strong feelings about his criticisms of the Church. It was because he believed they were God’s criticisms!
That is such an important point! The Church needs always to be open to the reforming spirit of God. And this is where it really comes down to us. The church is reformed because we too are being reformed. We too are called to measure ourselves against God’s word. We recognize our human frailties. And we see how they affect all parts of our lives. We recognize that we are in constant need of reformation.
That’s our part. We need to know that our faith is not static. We are reformed, and we are being reformed. We are changed and we are changing. Paul told the Romans that we are “…being conformed to the image of God’s Son.” In this great passage for today, he was reminding the people of the Spirit of God evident in Moses when he came down from the mountain and the skin of his face glowed. And Paul was relating that same thing to them, and to us. He said, “And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to the next.” And then, as I said a moment ago, he added, “For this comes [not from us, but] from the Lord who is the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:18) God is the agent of Reformation, or it is no reformation!
God does reform his people, if they are open to him. In our Old Testament reading, God told his people through the prophet Ezekiel, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and to observe my ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:22-27)
What about our hearts? Are we walking in God’s ways? Do we seek to measure ourselves against his word? Are we seeking to be “Always Reforming?” to be “Semper Reformanda?”
Eternal God, we thank you for redeeming us and making us part of your kingdom and your ministry. Help us to feel your Spirit inside of us, changing us, reforming us, challenging us to draw closer to you and to be more like Jesus. For this we pray in his name, Amen.