Reformation Sunday

Reformation Sunday

Oct 28, 2018 (Reformation Sunday)
Call to Worship: Psalm 46:1-6, 10-11 Ps. 124:8
Prayer of Invocation
Gloria Patri (#735)
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone): 2 Peter 1:16-21
Sola Christus (Christ Alone): Acts 4:11-12
Hymns of Praise: The Word of God is Solid Ground; In Christ Alone
Sola Gratia (by Grace Alone), Sola Fide (through Faith Alone): Romans 3:21-24, Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9
Hymn of Assurance: God of Grace
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory To God Alone): Ephesians 3:20-21
Sung Response: Not Unto Us
Heidelberg Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-13
Sermon: Rev. Shiv Muthukumar, “The Rejected Solas of the Reformation”
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us; The Power of the Cross
Closing Hymn: A Mighty Fortress (#92)

“Not unto us, not unto us, O Lord, but to your name be the glory!” (Psalm 115:1)

This Sunday is Reformation Sunday. So, if you will permit me to “reform” these lessons a bit I’ll tell you a different set of stories, not ones that are associated with hymns, but rather with our liturgy as a whole. For liturgical renewal was at the very heart of the reformation, and we would do well (especially in our current culture) to recall what was once lost and how we can find it again.

We’ve all heard about Martin Luther’s 95 theses and the famous five Solas of the reformation. But one of the central areas of focus for the Reformers was worship, or more specifically a liturgical reformation.

The sixteenth-century Reformers shared a deep underlying concern that late medieval worship had become a kind of spectator event. The congregation was largely passive. “Worshipers,” if they could be thus described, were essentially observers of the drama of the Mass, and listeners to the words of the choir. The service of divine worship was not an event in which the congregants were participants so much as spectators. The “quality” of worship was therefore measured not by the holy joy of the worshipers but by the standard of the music, the excellence of the singing of the choir, the display and spectacle, etc.  Worship was, for all practical purposes done for you – vicariously. (Sinclair Ferguson, Foreword to “Reformation Worship”)

The Reformers sought to right these wrongs by pulling a sort of liturgical Robin Hood act: taking the richness of the liturgy from those in charge and giving it back to the people. They crafted liturgies in the vernacular, filling them with many thoughtful prayers and hymns. They were passionate about the centrality of Scripture and its exposition, the exaltation of Christ and the wonder of His grace, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in making all of it possible. For without his power, they knew that the finest liturgy is lifeless, and the sweetest music is but noise. Above all, their liturgies were written out of a passion for the glory of God alone.

We should be grateful for the liturgical legacy of the Reformers. And we need to remember the things for which they fought. Our world is not so different from theirs. In the area of public worship, the church must once again speak up against the falsehoods and failings that have boomeranged back in our face after 500 years. Consider the stories of these two men.

Meet Heinrich. Heinrich is a German shoemaker in the year 1500. He owns a modest shop in the village of Wiesdorf, a small town nestled on east bank of the Rhein. Heinrich is a hard worker, and though he does not earn much as a cobbler, his wife and three children have never wanted for food or clothing. They live in a cottage on a plot of land a few miles south of the town. Every day Heinrich walks to and from his shop along the path that skirts the river. Most days he doesn’t mind the distance, as he fills the time with spontaneous prayer and song.  When the weather is bad, and the way is muddy and difficult, Heinrich reminds himself that he is doing God’s work by helping “restore people’s soles”.

Heinrich believes in God and he wants to go to Heaven. He faithfully attends mass at the local church, receives the Eucharist, and gives money to the poor. Every week he kneels and confesses the Kyrie (the only Latin he really knows) in the same church where he was married, and where all of his children were baptized and confirmed. And yet, Heinrich constantly worries about his salvation and his children’s salvation, too. After all, he has never read the Bible. But why would he need to when the church holds the keys to salvation, and he has done everything the church has told him to do?

This year on Easter, Heinrich and his family will make the day’s journey to Cologne to worship in one of the grandest buildings in all of Europe. The city is about twelve kilometers south, and on clear days, the Cologne cathedral’s gothic spires are visible from Heinrich’s bedroom window. Heinrich made sure that he and his family traveled down the day before so they could arrive at the church early the next morning. Just after sunrise on Easter, before the church doors had opened, Heinrich stood back in the courtyard and admired the elaborate masonry and the many sculptures and arches. He walked the perimeter to see the many saints and stories carved in stone. He was a craftsman himself, and he knew just how much time and effort went into such detailed work.

Then the time came to enter the church, and this is where the real show began. What a spectacle it was!  There was a grand procession that led the people in. As the drama of the Mass unfolded, Heinrich and his family gazed with wonder at the ornate stain-glassed windows which were dazzling in the morning sunlight. The ethereal sounds of the choir came from all around them. It did not bother Heinrich that he couldn’t understand the words being sung, because the music was so beautiful. And it wasn’t just the music that captivated him. There were the vestments, the bells, the incense, and yes – even the Latin. The aesthetic impressiveness of it all was overwhelming. Heinrich was enraptured, enthralled, entranced. During confession, he cried. And at the Eucharist he wept, but he knew not why. As the mass ended, Heinrich whispered to his wife “Der himmel ist hier” (Heaven is here).  Then he said the prayer he always said as he left the church. He quietly told God he would work harder and be more faithful.

But when they left the cathedral and started the journey home, Heinrich was unsettled. There was a deep longing and profound restlessness in his heart, as if all that beauty had broken something open. His wife noticed, and asked him, “Warum bist du so Traurig, Heinrich?” (Why are you so sad?) He did not know how to answer. But he felt now like one of those old, broken shoes in his shop. He felt tired and worn from years of use. And deep down he knew that his was the one “sole” he couldn’t fix.

Meet Henry. Henry is an American software engineer in the year 2018. He works for Google and lives in Shoreline, a suburb outside Seattle. Henry is a conscientious worker, and he makes good money. His girlfriend works too. They don’t have any children, but they have two dogs. They live in a top-floor corner unit of a new condo building. Every day Henry drives to and from the city. Most days he hates the traffic, but he tries to fill the time with podcasts, sports talk radio, and music from his I-tunes library. When the weather is bad, and the traffic even worse, Henry reminds himself that he is making good money and will one day be able to work from home.

Henry thinks there is a God, but he’s not sure. He is spiritual, but not religious. He grew up catholic, but really doesn’t attend church. He gives to some charities, and he and his girlfriend have the picture of a sponsor child on their fridge. He seldom prays, but when things don’t go his way, he’ll ask God to intervene and “help him out a little”. Henry doesn’t really worry about heaven or salvation. He’s a good person and has enough concerns in this life. He has never read the Bible.

This year before Easter, Henry received a placard in the mail. It was a full-size picture of a smiling, white, handsome couple, their two kids, and a dog; it reminded Henry of the Men’s Health magazines he would sometimes purchase. What caught his eye was how happy the couple appeared to be.  Above their heads were these inviting words. “Come, join us for Easter. Great Music. Uplifting Message. No Weird Stuff”. At the bottom of the placard was the name of the church, the service times, and the address. Henry decided to go.

On Easter morning, they showed up to the church. As they walked from the end of the Theme-park-sized parking lot, Henry remarked at how impressive the church was from the outside, and how it reminded him of the ski lodge he had visited once. They were greeted at the door with a smile and a handshake and ushered into a grand foyer with a tall stone fireplace. On the left was a coffee shop with recliners, and to the right was a bookstore and lounge. In front of them was the entrance to the auditorium with large screens above the doorways that were counting down the minutes and seconds to the start of the service, “8:06…8:05…8:04…” Henry stood back and admired the display of wealth and technology. He did not feel like he was in church. ‘More like Starbucks or Barnes and Nobles’, he thought. His girlfriend nudged him, “We have 8 minutes or so, let’s get a coffee before we go in, ok?”  With their coffee in hand, they entered the auditorium, and this is where the real show began. What a spectacle it was! 

At the end of the countdown, the lights went low, and the two giant screens on either side of the stage came to life with the week’s announcements. It was a highly amusing welcome, professionally-produced, with state-of-the-art video. Henry was impressed. He was a computer graphics guy himself, and he knew just how much time and effort went into such detailed work. During the video, the young and beautiful musicians took their place on stage, all of them casually dressed. There was a low sustained synth pad coming through the speakers, and Henry noticed a dense stage smoke wafting around the musician’s feet and falling gently over the lip of the stage. And then, right on cue, they struck the first chord. The lights on stage went up, along with most people’s hands, and the music team began to play the first song. Henry and his girlfriend gazed with wonder at the screens which were flashing the lyrics over video background images from what Henry thought was Norway. The high decibel sounds of the lead guitar came from all around them. It didn’t bother Henry that he couldn’t really follow along with the notes being sung, because the concert was so entertaining. And it wasn’t just the music that captivated him. It was the whole cool and comfortable vibe. And then came the message from the pastor that was so affirming and funny. There was no confession, and Henry never cried. There was no communion, and the only Scripture that was read was a quote included in the sermon. As the service ended, Henry whispered to his girlfriend, “I really liked that.”  He did NOT say anything to God. He had been sung to, talked at, and entertained for an hour, but he had not prayed nor worshiped.

And when they left the church and started home, Henry was unsettled. There was a deep longing and profound restlessness in his heart, as if the sound system had rattled something in his chest. His girlfriend noticed, and asked him “What’s wrong, Henry?” He did not know how to answer. But he felt dissatisfied, and somehow empty. And frustrated. He would soon lose himself in his work at Google, but deep down he knew that this search had not provided the missing link he was looking for.

How we worship matters, and it often affects what we worship. May our minds be focused on the work of God and not the work of man. May our hearts be filled, not just thrilled. May our services illuminate the cross and not imitate the culture. It is my prayer that you and all those who come to worship at Covenant Presbyterian Church may encounter Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. May all those who witness our public worship find that we are not so much concerned with a beautiful service as with a beautiful Savior.

Beautiful Savior! Lord of the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man.
Glory and honor, praise, adoration
Now and forevermore be Thine!

“Not unto us, not unto us, O Lord, but to your name be the glory!” (Psalm 115:1)