Wade In The Water


Here are my thoughts for tomorrow.

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This is Reformation Sunday, the day that we honor/celebrate Martin Luther’s legendary defiant posting of his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. It does appear however that Luther never did post the 95 theses on the church door; he did however send a copy to his superiors with the hope that there would be a discussion about the direction the Catholic Church was taking. (“Legends about Luther: Nailing the 95 Theses to the Door of the Castle Church” – http://www.luther.de/en/tanschl.html)

I wonder what he might say about the condition of the church today. The Gospel reading for today (Matthew 23: 1 – 12) shows that Jesus is again calling the Pharisees accountable for the teachings and the practices that call the people to follow but which they themselves do not follow. In one sense, all Luther was doing was reminding his supervisors that they are just as responsible to the nature of the church as the Pharisees were in Jesus’ time.

As Kary Oberbrunner suggested in his book, “The Journey towards Relevance”, the Reformers of the 16th Century sought to return the Church to a “priesthood of believers” and put the Bible back in the hands of the believers ( “The Journey Towards Relevance”, Kary Oberbrunner, page 126). The only difference between the church of Martin Luther’s day and today is that the churches of today have allowed the leaders to dominant the thinking process.

There are times when the leaders of a church need to lead the thinking process. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13: 11) As we begin our journey in, with, and to Christ, we must rely on others to guide and direct us. But there are times when we must take over the journey ourselves. The problem is that too many people are comfortable when someone else does their thinking for them.

Many adult Christians never move beyond a stage of faith where they see authority as being outside of themselves. Such Christians see their faith system as a total package; they do not separate it and look at its parts. They feel no need to analyze the words of a service; they do not ask what the rituals mean nor do they question what is done in a church. They are likely to see changes or even simple questions as denials of Christian belief or even as an offense against God. ( From Connections, November, 2005)

This is part of the reason that Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees of the church. Their faith was locked into the structure of the church. The Pharisees were so afraid of breaking the Ten Commandments that they made 613 additional laws, 365 of which were negative in nature (beginning with “thou shall not”; the other 248 were positive in nature, beginning with “thou shall”). (From “The Journey Towards Relevance”, page 37) Like the Pharisees of old, we make rules and regulations that create, control, and curb personal holiness.

But, is there not a time that we should move forward with our faith? The Israelites stand on the banks of the River Jordan today (Joshua 3: 7 – 17) looking at the Promised Land on the other side.

After all the time in the wilderness, they are posed to enter the Promised Land but they cannot do so just standing on the river’s bank; they must get their feet wet. Now, it should be noted that it is the leaders of the twelve tribes, picked by Joshua, who are the ones to wade into water. And once they did, the waters of the River Jordan parted and allowed the children of Israel to cross over into the Promised Land. As I was writing this, I could not help but think how many people will say that it is up to the leaders to get us to the other side, we need not do anything. But all the leaders do in this passage is set the stage for all the others to cross over. Each person must make the journey; each person must cross over. The ground was dry and the passage was easy but each person must make the passage.

Entering into the Promised Land may be a joint effort but there is a point when you or I must take steps individually. If we do not move forward in our faith journey, we will stagnate and die in our faith. Unfortunately too many things are said and done today that suggest otherwise; we seem to think that the more spiritual and other-worldly we become, the more separate from the secular world we become, the better things will become.

Jesus told His disciples not to make a religion out of Him. What He brought was not a religion, for religions tend to get rigid. Religions don’t want to move forward, they don’t want to change. They set up shrines, create museums, organize councils and become stumbling blocks to the world. In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25: 1 – 13) Jesus tells us that there will be some who will make a religion out of Me, a cozy haven, a state of bliss. It is the others who will be the living Christians, always open to change, always seeking something new, until the whole world stands renewed.

Any religion or statement of faith that separates us from other human beings is by nature a false religion. Jesus entered into the human condition in all its ugliness. He united people; He did not separate Himself from them. (From “Against Spiritual Complacency” by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt – http://dailydig.bruderhof/articles/bl/PetrifiedReligion.html)

It is the opposite that is true. The more we learn to seek truth and to act upon it, the better we are. The Savior does not come as an ideal but as a reality, wherever people live and struggle. (Matthew 18: 20) Paul’s concern in his first letter to the Thessalonians was that they would walk in a way worthy of God, a walk to be taken without Paul holding their hands. (1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13)

In a world crying out for the presence of Christ, should we, His proclaimed disciples, be ready to answer. Should we not teach what Jesus taught us in the manner in which it was taught? (From “A Bridge Far Enough?” by Brian McLaren, Sojourners, September – October, 2005) Jesus came into a world stuck on the banks, afraid to go into the water. Jesus came into a world where the rigidity of faith prevented anyone from moving forward.

So, on this day when we celebrate the beginnings of the Reformation, should we not make sure that the reformation has been accomplished? Should we not take the church, laity and leaders, away from the comfortable banks of the River Jordan and cross on over to the Promised Land?

In this world of change, a change so frightening that it keeps many from moving forward, we see Jesus standing, not on the other side calling for us to come across on our own but rather at the shore, beckoning to us to be with Him as we cross over together. If we are not willing to come down to the shore where He stands today, then we will never be able to cross over. Is it about time that we wade in the water?

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water
God’s a-going to trouble the water

See that host all dressed in white
God’s a-going to trouble the water
The leader looks like the Israelite
God’s a-going to trouble the water

See that band all dressed in red
God’s a-going to trouble the water
Looks like the band that Moses led
God’s a-going to trouble the water

Look over yonder, what do you see?
God’s a-going to trouble the water
The Holy Ghost a-coming on me
God’s a-going to trouble the water

If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed
God’s a-going to trouble the water
Just follow me down to the Jordan’s stream
God’s a-going to trouble the water.