Daily Encouragement - October 27

Matthew 22:34-40 NRSV When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Romans 3:21-24 NRSV But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ[a] for all who believe. For there is no distinction,  since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;  they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, They said it couldn’t be done. With a will, he went right to it! He tried what couldn’t be done - And found he couldn’t do it.  (Anon.) Yesterday, we worshipped with the Lutherans here in Maine one last time before heading back to NC later this week. It was a great day to be amongst Lutherans; Reformation Sunday is their “Founder’s Day” celebration, and they did it up right. (It’s a pity we Methodists don’t make more out of Aldersgate Day...but I digress.)  503 years ago, in late October, 1517, Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” sparked a fire in the Church that is still burning - or at least smoldering - today. There’s some debate among church historians about whether he actually posted his document on the door of the Wittenberg church, or mailed it to his superiors in the Augustinian order of monks; but whether he posted it or he mailed it, he definitely nailed it. The subtitle of his 95 Theses - A Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences - clues us in to the fact that Brother Martin intended his document to be a topic for academic debate (he was a professor of moral theology at the U of Wittenberg at the time), but that’s not how things turned out. His pointed commentary on the abuses of power he perceived as running rampant in a Church afflicted with widespread spiritual malaise was far too contagious to be constrained to academia. He used the social media invention of his own time (the movable type printing press) to get his thoughts out there. To put it in more contemporary terms, he broke the internet; his blog went viral. The world has never been the same.  Because his 95 Theses were about more than the selling of indulgences. Selling forgiveness is pretty clearly wrong, and significantly more than that had gone wrong in the Church, but Brother Martin’s musings grew out of a struggle that was at least as much personal as professional...ain’t that always the way of it. He knew full well what Jesus had pegged as the first and greatest commandment: that’s why he had become a monk, to give his whole life to loving God with his whole heart (and soul and mind). But despite his total commitment and considerable efforts, he found he just couldn’t do it. Wandering thoughts plagued his prayer time (I feel your pain, Martin), and his to-do list at the monastery distracted him from focusing on loving God. His spiritual failures threw him into serious bouts of depression. Then, while he was pondering the third chapter of Romans, inspiration struck: the righteousness of God which he’d always seen as a divine requirement he could never meet, was actually a gift of God’s grace, made effective through faith in Christ Jesus. Eureka! (You might be surprised at how much of the Protestant Reformation evolved from the ponderings of dispirited clergy upon the letter to the Romans; you might even want to google John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience for more on that subject.) So, the bad news for Brother Martin was that he “found he couldn’t do it” - the good news was, he didn’t have to do it. God had gotten there ahead of him, in more ways than one. The failure that had been a deep and abiding source of personal pain for Brother Martin became a deep and abiding source of personal purpose that became the driving force of the Protestant Reformation. The path from pain to purpose is a common theme in call stories, and that was certainly true for Brother Martin. May it be true for you, too...even if it is socially unacceptable. Our culture holds pain in disdain: many of us spend so much time and energy avoiding pain, or running away from it, that we miss the opportunity to ask what it means, or what God might be trying to say to us through it. Don’t get me wrong, here: I’m not trying to say that we ought to seek out suffering; frankly, that’s both unhealthy and unnecessary. Nor am I saying that the pain of child abuse or racial injustice is somehow God’s will, and therefore we should endure or perpetuate it - be that far from me! What I’m talking about is the astounding ability of God to “work all things together for good” (another pearl from Romans), to press the oil of gladness out of the seeds of mourning, to raise up resurrection out of crucifixion. So if pain is your portion at present, if hard times are hanging around your door, don’t dismiss it all, out of hand, as valueless. There’s a reason we wear crosses around our necks: suffering is not without meaning and purpose once God has gone to work on it. Thanks be to God for such unfathomable grace! O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go, vs.1 and 3 UMH, #480 O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be. O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow thru the rain, and feel the promise is not vain, that morn shall tearless be. Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood

Centenary United Methodist Church

309 New Street, New Bern, NC, 28560 

P.O. Box 1388, New Bern, NC 28563

Phone: 252.637.4181

Fax: 252.637.5602

Email: centenaryumc@centenarychurch.com

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