Powers and Principalities
Duration:16 mins 20 secs

As I have already mentioned this morning, today we are beginning a several month commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Each Sunday during this commemoration I will be lifting up a theme or theology which grows from our Reformation roots. To guide our entire commemoration, we have chosen as our theme “Treasures of Grace: Living the Reformation.” This theme captures three essential elements of our faith as Protestant Christians:

The first is “grace.” We are a people of grace, completely dependent upon God’s love for us.

The second is “treasures.” We are a people with a treasured history and legacy which inspires our faith today.

The third is “living.” While the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago, God is not finished with us yet. We as individuals and as the church must continue to live lives of faith today and in the days that are to come.

This morning we begin this series in the same place the Reformers began – with scripture. And so, our second Reading for today comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 17-22. So let us hear this Word of God.

17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

There was once a pastor who wanted to visit with a family in his congregation. He called ahead to make an appointment so the family was expecting him. At the appointed time he arrived at the house and was welcomed inside. The wife led him into the living room where her husband was waiting. She asked him to have a seat on the couch while she went to get some refreshments. As he and the husband were chatting, he glanced at the coffee table and saw a hand written note. It was a “to-do” list marked with that day’s date. Not wanting to be nosy, but curious as to what kinds of things had taken up the family’s time before his visit, he read through the note. The last item, in all capital letters said, “GET THE BIBLE OFF THE SHELF AND DUST – THE PREACHER’S COMING!”

Surely you have never had to write that note. Your bible never gathers dust, right? Maybe that is because you were raised singing the same songs that I was. Songs like:

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so; and

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.

Yes, we love the Bible. Although exact sales statistics are hard to pin down, the best estimates by the Guinness Book of World Records are that more than 5 billion copies of the Bible have been printed and sold. Five billion copies! Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other Protestant Reformers would certainly be proud of that. A hallmark of the Reformation was this idea of sola scriptura, scripture alone. That is why we start this series commemorating the Reformation with scripture because scripture is the foundation for everything else.

In our text from Ephesians, the apostle Paul writes that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. Not too many years later, in one of the first post-scripture accounts of weekly worship, an early church father named Justin Martyr wrote: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.” Yes, not just a few verses randomly chosen from the preacher’s favorite biblical book, but every Sunday, scripture, the prophets and the apostles, would be read for as long as time permits! Scripture, the foundation of our faith, read and interpreted is the heart of worship and faith. Yes, the church stands on the Word of God, the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the B-I-B-L-E.

Well, just as the Reformers did beginning 500 years ago, there is a need to call the church back to scripture again, to dust off those bibles, and to cultivate a new piety of the Word. As one of my professors, John Burgess of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary once wrote:

We cannot simply assume that Scripture matters. Rather, we must become much more intentional about opening ourselves to Scripture, so that we may receive it as God’s Word, a Word that is not under human control, a Word that offers us grace and judgment, surprise and dismay, hope and terror. We must become much more intentional about resisting the temptation to wield Scripture simply as a weapon – to lift up and wave it at our opponents – and more intentional about learning instead how to open Scripture as we would a good gift, standing before it together and in anticipation of hearing God’s voice.

Have you ever thought about opening your Bible as a good gift, as a treasure entrusted to you? Perhaps you are familiar with the recent Broadway smash hit, “Hamilton: An American Musical.” With music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show sings and raps the life of one of our nation’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. I had heard about the show. I knew it was supposed to be pretty good. But I had never listened to the music. Then on our way home from Massachusetts this weekend Sarah played the entire soundtrack for me. It was unbelievable. Truly awesome. The music and the lyrics and the passion of the actors captured me. I felt like I could see the entire show in my mind. I thought about it after we got home. I remembered it the next day. The words just captured me.

My friends, we have some Words in our hands even better than Hamilton. Can we cultivate a piety of expectation and joy when we open our Bibles? Can we anticipate that as we open this good gift that we will not just read some rules, some do’s and don’ts for life; not just a mausoleum of religion and someone else’s experience with God; not just an interesting story to remind us of who we are; but to hear a Word of God that captures us and changes our lives. Each and every time we read the bible to expect to hear God speaking to you and to me!

Think about it this way … try to remember or imagine ancient history, well maybe not that ancient history, when people actually used a pen and paper to write letters. Not even typed and printed on a printer, but actually hand written letters. I know this is hard for some of you to even imagine, but in days gone by you would go to the mailbox, you know the metal box at the end of your driveway that only contains bills, catalogues, and advertisements today, yes you would go to the mailbox in anticipation to discover an envelope with your name and address handwritten on it. Perhaps it was from your grandparent or a friend in another town or even a pen pal who lived on the other side of the world. But there it was: a letter with your name on it. Just for you. Not a chain letter forwarded from a friend or a “reply all” e-mail with 95 other names on the list. No, a letter, hand written, with time and effort, just for you.

Can you remember the anticipation when you saw that envelope? Well, scripture is God’s word to you! Every time you open your Bible, you can expect that God has something to say to you. Not just a rule to follow, not the record of someone else’s religion, not a story about who you are – but a living word to you! A present word, a word that makes a claim upon your life, a word that just might change your life! How in the world can we leave our bibles on the bookcase or nightstand to gather dust if by opening them we expect that God will speak to us?

Our Presbyterian theological ancestor John Calvin could not contemplate leaving the bible on the shelf or the nightstand. He wrote:

Just as old or bleary eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.

The true God, the creator, redeemer, sustainer of the whole universe and of you and me has been revealed to us as none other than Jesus Christ. God is always speaking to us, pointing us to Jesus, but it gets all confused, the words all jumbled. To see Jesus clearly we need scripture. For he is the gift, he is the treasure of grace. And as Jesus himself says in the text from the Gospel of Matthew that we heard earlier, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

My friends, if we want to see Jesus, if we want to join our hearts with his, if we want to live the Reformation, we begin with the spectacles of scripture, with the foundation of the prophets and the apostles, with the letter God has written just to you and to me. For the words on these pages, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become a living word for us today.

Yet, recent studies reveal that only about 1/3 of Americans read the Bible at least once a week and 45% of Americans seldom or never read scripture. Among mainline Protestants, like Presbyterians, it is even worse. Yes, even worse. Only 30% reported reading the Bible at least once a week. That’s not every day, but at least once a week! 5 billion copies of the Bible sold and so many of them sit on shelves and nightstands gathering dust. The treasure unopened, the letter unread, the good news of Jesus Christ blurry.

So, will you join me and commit to cultivating a piety of the Word? To daily opening your Bible in expectation and anticipation that God will speak to you? To at least reading the few verses from the Letter to the Romans that you receive by e-mail or see posted on Facebook every morning? I promise you it will be worth it. You just might meet Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: