Reformation Postings: Luther, Spong, Fox, and Holy Cross – a Reformation Sunday Sermon

95This Reformation Sunday sermon looks at postings from Martin Luther, John Shelby Spong, Matthew Fox and Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket in the hope of string up the Spirit for Reformation today!  The written manuscript is a facsimile of the sermon that was preached on Reformation Sunday 2013, which you can listen to here

Semper Reformanda – Always Reforming: On October 31st 1522, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the cathedral in Wittenburg and the church has been Semper Reformanda – ing ever since.

Luther’s 95 Theses famously itemized the wrongs and the abuses of the church of his day and insisted that change was long overdue. Luther’s list included many theses opposed to the churches selling of indulgences:

41 Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.

42 Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.

43 Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.

But even though Luther railed against the church’s selling of indulgences, he did approve of using threats of hell.

4  Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.

5  And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace

Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Cathedral, and the newfangled invention of the Printing Press ensured that his protests were reproduced for all of Europe to read. Just before the turn of the last century, in 1998 to be exact, the Right Reverend John Shelby Spong, the Bishop of Newark published his own protestations. Bishop Spong, looked around at the state of the church and decided that it was time for a new reformation. Using the newfangled invention of our time, Jack posted his Twelve Theses with these words:

“Martin Luther ignited the Reformation of the 16th century by nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517 the 95 Theses that he wished to debate. I will publish this challenge to Christianity in The Voice. I will post my theses on the Internet and send copies with invitations to debate them to the recognized Christian leaders of the world. My theses are far smaller in number than were those of Martin Luther, but they are far more threatening theologically.

Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
 Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
 The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age. 
There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
 Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behaviour control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behaviour.

All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.”

In 2005, after being silenced by the Vatican, Roman Catholic priest turned Anglican, Matthew Fox looked around at the state of the church and decided it was time to return to the Cathedral in Wittenburg, where with much fanfare he posted his own 95 Thesis for the 21st Century.

Fox began his protests with: God is both Mother and Father. “All the names we give to God come from an understating of ourselves” (Meister Eckhart). Thus people who worship a Punitive Father are themselves punitive.

10 “All the names we give to God come from an understating of ourselves” (Meister Eckhart). Thus people who worship a Punitive Father are themselves punitive.

Religion is not necessary, but spirituality is.

32 Original Sin is an ultimate expression of a Punitive Father God and is not a biblical teaching. But Original Blessing (goodness and grace) is biblical.

9  Therefore unity of church does not mean conformity. There is unity in diversity. Coerced unity is not unity.

The universe does not suffer from the shortage of grace, and no religious institution is to see its task as rationing grace. Grace is abundant in God’s universe.

8  Pedophilia is a terrible wrong, but its cover-up by hierarchy is even more despicable.

70  Jesus said nothing about condoms, birth control, or homosexuality.

Consumerism is today’s version of gluttony and needs to be confronted by creating an economic system that works for all peoples and all earth’s creatures.

The dark night of the soul descends on us all and the proper response is not addiction, such as shopping, alcohol, drugs, TV, sex or religion, but rather to be with the darkness and learn from it.

Authentic science can and must be one of humanity’s sources of wisdom, for it is a source of sacred awe, childlike wonder, and truth.

Three highways into the heart are silence and love and grief.

93 Two highways out of the heart are creativity and acts of justice and compassion.

True intelligence includes feeling, sensitivity, beauty, the gift of nourishment, and humour  which is a gift of the Spirit (paradox being its sister).”

Fox used the new fangeled invention Youtube on which he posted video of his experience of trying to post something in modern day Wittenburg and followed that up by publishing a book.

All three of these postings paint visions of their authors hopes and dreams for the church. In the Spring of 2001 we at Holy Cross posted our own visions for the church in the form of a Mission Statement which was followed up in 2005 by our Statement of Welcome. Both of these Statements are posted every Sunday on the back of our bulletin covers.

Our Mission Statement:

We gather as an open community of Christians, responding to God’s call. We welcome all people as members of our extended family. We gather to support and nourish one another in the faith, equipping people to live the Gospel in the world. Our purpose is to encounter the Gospel in worship, play, study, music, work, prayer, and activism. We provide worship that is diverse, flexible, thought provoking and relevant to our challenging times. We are a voice for compassion and actively seek justice and peace in the world. We identify and serve our neighbours in need. We offer programs that encourage spiritual growth by teaching the Gospel in the Lutheran tradition. We provide opportunities to work, play, and pray together.

 Everyone Is Welcome!

In response to the overwhelming love of God we stand in awe of the wideness of God’s mercy. In faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, mindful of our Lutheran emphasis on grace, and rejoicing in the celebration of our shared baptismal journey, we welcome as members of our extended family, all those who have ever felt excluded by the Church because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental challenges, financial resources, or family status.

As followers of Christ, all members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church are compelled by the Gospel to seek reconciliation and wholeness in a world that is all too often an unloving place. Therefore, rejoicing in God’s abundant grace, we extend a special welcome to all. Whether you are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; whatever your country of origin or ancestry; whether you are a believer, a doubter or a seeker; in Christ’s love, we welcome you, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can work together to usher in God’s Reign of justice, peace, and mercy.

You don’t post statements or Theses unless you expect people to read them and be moved by them. Postings like these are deliberately designed to be provocative and controversial in the hope that the drama surrounding their posting will stir people into action. Being provocative and controversial is only the first step. Martin Luther went on from the dramatic nailing of his 95 Thesis to develop his theology in which he gave the church the gift of his own reading of the Doctrine of Grace. Luther’s teachings changed the world.

Jack Spong followed up his own posting, by becoming one of the 21st century’s most famous and influential progressive theologians and has provided hope, education, and vision as he has tireless travelled the planet to deliver encouragement to church goers and church alumni alike. Jack’s theology has opened many’s a congregation, including this one to ways of following Jesus that don’t require us to check our brains at the door and encourage all who enter here to be all that we are created to be.

Matthew Fox has continued to delve deeply into the traditions of the Church to mine the rich vein of mysticism in order to develop Creation Spirituality in the hope that the church can take the lead in ushering in justice and peace in all the earth for the sake of the health of this planet.

We here at Holy Cross have followed the postings of our own visions of what it means to be church, with our own attempts to live into the powerful visions of reformers upon whose shoulders we stand. We have worked hard over the years to become a church that equipped for the rigours of the 21st century. Reformation Sunday is a day for taking stock. It’s the perfect time to celebrate how far we have come. And so we trot out our histories and we sing of our struggles, as we celebrate who we are. But Reformation Day is not a day for patting ourselves on the back and declaring victory. Semper Reformanda – Always Reforming! This is what it meant to be the church of the sixteenth century. Semper Reformanda has been called for in every century since. And Semper Reformanda is called for in this the 21st century. So, today we will sing our songs of triumph and we’ll sing them with gusto, so as to encourage one another, for what lies before us. Semper Reformanda – Always Reforming! We have many more visions that need posting! And much more work to do to live into those visions. Semper Reformanda – Always Reforming. So that the church can become all that she was created to be, and together we can usher in God’s reign of peace through justice for the sake of all of creation. For Christ lives and breathes and has being, in, with and through us, here in this place, at this time. Let it be so!

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