This weekend in our church calendar, we celebrate Reformation Sunday, and specifically as Presbyterians recognize our Scottish heritage. The Presbyterian Church is one of many Protestant churches whose identity is part of the Reformed Tradition. Now for most of us, the term the Reformed Tradition is about as interesting as dirt. For many talking about history and tradition can put an instant glaze over our eyes and we at once start thinking about what’s for lunch. Perhaps one reason for our disinterest is because surveys suggest that very few people identify themselves with their denomination any more. People are not as loyal to their denominations as they used to be, and therefore are not as invested in the denomination’s history. Today, Presbyterians as individuals are such conglomeration of different denominations and church backgrounds, the principles that first ignited the formation of the Presbyterian Church have been lost in the shuffle.
So in case you need a brief refresher course, here is the story of the reformation in a nutshell: 496 years ago in the 16th century in Germany, the reformation began, it jumped to Geneva Switerland, and then traveled to Scotland where it became Presbyterian. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther an Augustinian monk and university professor marching up to the door in Wittenberg, Germany and posted his ninety-five theses for all to see.
Luther’s argument is that God deserves all of the credit for salvation and humanity deserves none.
Not long after the Lutheran movement in Germany, a slightly different form of Protestantism emerged in Geneva, Switzerland. Its leader was a French humanist intellectual, John Calvin. Calvin’s idea was that political authority begins with the people, who have a God-given right to decide who gets to exercise power in the church, but also in the political arena. It’s called democracy, and in the sixteenth century, it was a revolutionary and heretical concept.
It was in Switzerland that Calvin’s student, John Knox, took these principles to Scotland where he reformed the church and the Presbyterian Church was born.
Saint Andrew is Scotland’s patron saint, for it is believed that the relics of Andrew were brought to Scotland in the middle of the 10th century. Andrew of course was one of the original 12 disciples, he was Peter’s brother and a disciple of John the Baptists. He preached in Asia Minor and along the black sea was martyred by crucifixion in Achea an x-shaped cross, at his own request as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross on which Christ was crucified.
So that’s the history lesson for the morning. If you are bored out of your gored you can come back to us now. History is important because it tells us we got where we are. But what is more important I think in today’s non-denominational society, where people are less interested in being associated with a specific denomination and more interested in going to a church that fits their needs…the more important question is what does it take to be a good Presbyterian?
You could say that it takes an appetite. Being a Presbyterian requires enjoying food. Potlucks, Pitch-In’s, Chili cook offs, First Tuesday’s, fifth Sundays, dinners, receptions, brunches, and donuts with coffee, yes we love our food and we rarely gather without something to eat as part of our business. You could say, being a Presbyterian takes an appetite.
You could say that you need patience. Presbyterian process moves at sloth like speed. Nothing is done without upturning every rock and rehashing discussions for the 100th time. The Vatican took 3 days to find a new Pope. Presbyterian churches can take up to two years to find a new pastor. You could say being a Presbyterian requires patience.
You could say that you need at least a tolerance of bagpipe music. It would be better if you loved it, if it sang to your soul, but you have to least tolerate it. If you are Presbyterian you are Scottish by default. The Scotts like to remind us that we have them to thank for the Presbyterian Church.
You could say that you need to like meetings. Better yet, you should enjoy long meetings. If you have an idea to bring to the church, there is a subcommittee that will need to talk that over. The subcommittee will do a study, and take two years to talk it out and then they will take your idea, totally change it, after which you will never bring an idea to a committee ever again.
You could say that you need to have a mastery of acronyms. Presbyterians like to talk in code. For example, let’s say you want to become a Presbyterian minister. Well, first you need to contact the CPM and after three years of seminary you will get your MDIV. If you get your Doctorate, you will get your DMIN. After lot’s of meetings with the CPM you can create a PIF. The CPM will want to make sure you understand the BOO and are up on NFOG. You will need to interview with the COM who might ask you how you feel about G60106b and if you have ever served as a YAD. Eventually this kind of code talk will become to normal to you.
You will need to learn your place in worship. You will need to make sure you sit on your hands and pray that the Holy Spirit stay clear unless we go over time and we are late for our brunch. The Holy Spirit better just stay with our Pentecost brothers and sisters who don’t seem as concerned about being decent and in order.
You could say that this is what is required of us to be Presbyterian, but really these are just things that make us quirky. What is ultimately required –is trust.
The foundation of the Presbyterian church is built on trust.
First, you have to trust God. You have to trust that God is in control, that God cares, that God is invested in our lives and our salvation. God initiates relationship. Being a good Presbyterian requires that we trust God. Trust is the root of our beliefs around theological ideas of total depravity and the providential care for the world. What that means, is that as human beings we naturally screw things up. We sin, make mistakes, fall short. We are in the words of Calvin, “depraved.” As Norman Maclean writes, “Presbyterians believe that man kind by its very nature is a damned mess.” We trust that God alone can rescue us from our depravity. We trust God with our salvation through Jesus Christ. We trust in the atoning power of the cross and in the assurance of the resurrection. Our salvation is not based on our works, it’s based on grace. It’s not based on what we have done, it’s based on what God does for us in giving us his son. We believe that in life and in death we belong to God. Trusting God is easy in principle and difficult in practice.
Trusting God takes significant will power. Trusting each other is even more difficult. Being Presbyterian requires that we trust each other. And this is tough, since we believe that we are all depraved! Nevertheless, the basis of the Presbyterian Church is that we trust our leaders, our elders and deacons to lead and serve. We trust our ruling elders to oversee worship, the budget, the mission, the education of the church. We trust them to be good stewards of our financial giving. We trust our deacons to serve the poor and care for those who are hurting. We trust our Trustees to take care of the building and our endowments. And these elected leaders, trust the congregation to support them, work with them and be a part of the process.
We trust the pastor. We trust our pastors to be a person of confidence, integrity and honesty. We trust the pastor to be a person who is faithful to the Word and who will preach the word of God. This means that the preacher never, ever preaches from their own personal agenda, or uses the pulpit for politics or personal biases. Ever. You trust me with your personal information. To sit with you with struggles and pain and you trust me that I won’t judge you or turn around and hold anything against you. Ever. You trust me to meet you where you are and accept you as you are.
We trust that money will be used for that which was intended. Giving money is a huge act of trust. We trust that money will be used the way we thought it was going to be used, and when doesn’t happen that’s when problems begin and the foundation begins to crumble. So we have to be upfront about how our expenses are used and we have to trust our leaders to be good stewards of our resources.
We also trust that we are part of a larger church. We are connected to the larger church. We are connected to the Presbytery and our other Presbyterian brothers and sisters. We entrust our Presbytery with our resources and our Presbytery serves as a
significant support to church’s particularly in times of struggle and transition.
What does it take to be a Presbyterian?
That you trust God.
That you trust one another.
That we trust each other our broken hearts, our damaged spirits, our fragile egos, our situations, and circumstances, our guilt and our shame. That we trust that in all of our brokenness we come to one another in understanding and never judgment.
Too often we treat the church like a club, and we our focus is on what the programs, the building, the activities can offer us compared to the other club down the street. We know that ministries can lead to God, a faith life, a prayer life. But we wait too long for the church part of life to catch up to the God part of faith.
There is no such thing as a perfect church. At the very best it attempts to live out the great commission to imperfectly express a perfect kingdom.
Fred Buechner beautifully writes, “Jesus says: Be the light of the world. Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. This is what Jesus tells the disciples to be.
That is what Jesus tells his church, tells us, to be and do. Love each other.
Heal the sick, he says. Raise the dead, cleanse the lepers. Cast out demons.
If the church is doing things like that, then it is being what Jesus told it to be.
If it is not doing things like that—no matter how many other good and useful things it may be doing instead—then it is not doing what Jesus told it to be. It is as simple as that.”
Let us together put our trust that our human love of God and one another is the some total of what we were put on earth to do, and that we have everything we need to be human, then redeeming things will continue to happen, both because and in spite of us.
That is what it takes to be a Presbyterian. Amen