John Wesley believed that Salvation is a gift from God. It is not something we achieve on our own. John realized that he was trying to make himself righteous and worthy of God’s love. While at a prayer service with Moravians, his heart was “strangely warmed.” He realized that God loved him and that was a gift of grace.
John rose at 4:00 am to study, pray, and preached to the crowds and helped the needy. He did them out of a love and thankfulness to God. He did not do it in as an attempt to save himself.
He taught people that being a Christian was not about being in church occasionally, but living the Christian life on a daily basis. He taught people to read their Bibles. He preached to the people and sent them out to preach in the streets and the fields. And in the end, he founded a new branch in the Protestant church: the Methodists.
In our Gospel lesson, the religious leaders and bodies of Jesus’ day had grown corrupt. The Scribes, Pharisees, and the religious leaders used religion for their own gain. They read and taught the Scriptures, but they violated the spirit of the law by their actions. Instead of helping people to live righteously, they placed burdens upon them. Instead of using their positions to teach others, they used them to gain benefit for themselves.
Jesus called attention to their hypocrisy. Jesus told his followers to listen to what the religious leaders had to say. After all they were following in the footsteps of Moses. But they should not follow the example of the religious leaders. They are to practice what they preach.
Jesus’ followers live by a different standard. The religious leaders lived by the standard that says that being looked up to by others is what is important. A standard which says you should look out for number 1 - be the king of the hill. But Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”
It seems to me that the church has the same problems way back in Jesus’ day and today. People in positions of leadership allow the power they have to go to their heads. They seek the praise of people instead of trying to be servants of God. They accept bribes of cash for religious. They allow the comfort of their positions to calm them into laziness. It is all about using positions of power for their own benefits.
That still happens in the church today. People seek positions of leadership today in churches for reasons of personal gain sometimes. Perhaps they seek them for reasons of sincere faith. When they are in those positions they become corrupted. Instead of seeking to use their office to serve God - they seek to serve themselves.
I’m not talking just for bishops and denominational presidents and senior pastors of large congregations. Sometimes people want positions in the church so that they can be looked up to.
“Lay Leader” or “Chair” of this or that committee or “Sunday School Teacher” or any positions can be meaning either service or privilege. As Christians - don’t we all at times fall into the trap of exalting ourselves.
We like people admitting we are “Good Christians.” We can fall into that trap. We build sanctuaries to worship God in or is it to show off how nice our church is? We built steeples to hold up the cross for all to see or is it to say we have the tallest steeple in town? Or perhaps we do the right thing for the right reason initially, but then we puff out our chests and say “Look what I have done.”
Maybe the reformation began 2000 years ago when Jesus said “the first shall be last” and “those who humble themselves shall be exalted.” Maybe the reformation did not begin on a piece of paper nailed to a church door by Martin Luther, but in the hearts of believers. Maybe “Reformation Sunday” should not be about the history of the Protestant church. Maybe it is really about people like Luther and Wesley and you and me having our hearts strangely warmed by the love and grace of God.
When I thought about writing this sermon, I said I should end with where the church needs reforming today. I thought I would outline my 95 theses and nail them to the front door of the church. But I only have one thesis for reforming the church today and I didn’t even write it.
Jesus said, “whoever exalts themselves will be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12) That is where all reformation needs to begin. It begins in the hearts of believers who humble themselves to serve God and their neighbor. Would you care to start a reformation today? Then start here. (heart.) Shalom and Amen!
Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12