Reformation Sunday (NL4) John B. Valentine
1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13 October 31, 2021
“ARE THERE ANY HEROES ANYMORE?”
It’s Reformation Day .... and Halloween .... and so the topic on the table is ‘heroes’.
No ... not those trick-or-treating ‘superheroes’ of the Wonder Woman / Black Panther / Ironman ilk that I suspect you may be visited by later on this evening ...
But ‘heroes’ of the ordinary flesh-and-blood variety. Real human beings. REAL heroes. The sorts of people whom we admire for great deeds or brave acts or fine qualities.
After all ... this last day of October has long been a day that Lutheran Christians have made something of a hero of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther.
For it was on this day ... in 1517 ... Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg .... and in so doing ...
• Spoke truth to power at grave personal risk ... and
• Spoke out against the corruption of the very church he so dearly loved ... and
• Sparked a Reformation that would challenge and change the trajectory of human history.
But thinking about Reformation Day and Doctor Luther this week got me to thinking about heroes more generally ... and what we make of heroes these days ... and what it is that may make someone ‘heroic’.
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For instance ... there was an article in the news earlier this week about a fellow named Serranus Hastings ... the founder of Hastings College of the Law that is a part of the University of California system.
You see ... back in 1878 ... Mr. Hastings donated $100,000 in gold coins ... no small chunk of change back in the day ... to found the school that carries his name. It was California’s first law school ... and as a part of its charter came the stipulation that it was “to be forever known and designated as ‘Hastings College of the Law’.”
And the assumption that came part and parcel with that donation was that Mister Hastings – in his abundant generosity – was doing something that was truly ‘heroic’ ... and worthy honoring in perpetuity.
But a deeper dive into the historical record muddies up Mister Hastings’ reputation something fierce.
For while Mister Hastings was our state’s first chief justice and was among California’s first millionaires ...
He was also was the mastermind behind a series of massacres!
It seems as though Mister Hastings coveted some land up near what is now Calistoga and Healdsburg ...
So ... to expedite his land grab ... he cobbled together a militia that killed nearly 300 Native American men, women and children of the Yuki tribe
And ... to top it off ... he somehow got the State to refund his murderous militia for their ammunition and travel expenses!
So should we call Mister Hastings a ‘hero’ ... worthy of being memorialized in the annals of history .... or something else???
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Honestly ... we should probably look at Doctor Luther with that same sort of sober-mindedness with which that reporter investigated Serranus Hastings.
After all ... while Martin Luther DID do some things that changed the Church and the world for the better ... he certainly made his fair share of missteps along the way.
So ... for instance ...
• While Luther was a champion for truth and free speech in theological circles and for the overthrow of the tyranny of the Pope ...
He refused to so much as consider supporting the cause of those who clamored against unjust politics back in the day.
• And while he urged that we “not to betray, slander or lie about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and explain their actions in the kindest way” ...
He didn’t bat an eye at denouncing in colorful and scatological terms those who disagreed with his interpretations of Holy Scripture ...
• And while ... as a scholar of the Old Testament ... Luther was quick to note the vital place of the Jews as chosen people of God ... and wrote a beautiful piece entitled “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew”
He was ... at least in the latter years of his life ... a raging anti-Semite who was quick to denounce the Jews and his words were appropriated by later anti-Semites to justify their hatred.
So ... on the one hand ... while we may well want celebrate much of what Luther did ... and what Luther taught ... and how Luther lived ... as heroic ...
We do so in the honest awareness that there is some of what Luther did ... and what he taught ... and how he lived ... that is anything BUT heroic.
Which ... surprise ... surprise ... leads us right smack dab into the ext of this morning’s Bible reading!
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You see ... this morning’s Scripture lesson from 1st Kings is focused on the deeds of a fellow named Solomon ... KING Solomon ... Solomon the son of David and Bathsheba.
Now ... if you’re numbered among those who were or are part of King Solomon’s Fan Club ... you’d be quick to point out:
• That it was Solomon who finally built the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem ...
• That it was Solomon who was the King of Israel at the height of that nation’s power ... and
• That it was Solomon who is known in the biblical record as the wisest man in the world.
On the other hand ......
If you’re numbered among those who are NOT part of Solomon’s Fan Club ... you’d be equally quick to point out:
• That while Solomon was exceedingly wealthy ... his wealth was the direct result of his overly-aggressive tax policies ... and
• That while Solomon was noted for his wisdom ... one could question that actual ‘wisdom’ of anyone who felt that he needed seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines ... and
• That while Solomon was the one who built the First Temple ... he also seems to have built shrines to honor the gods of his numerous foreign wives.
Which all kind of leaves us asking what we ought make of this week’s text.
Should we celebrate this king to whom are attributed the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon????
Or would we scorn this one who betrayed his faith-commitments and lived a life of abject luxury while his subjects struggled and suffered?
Is Solomon a hero ... or is he not???
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Actually ... this is a pretty pertinent and contemporary question ... is it not???
• Whose face and likeness should we put on our $20 bills?
• Whose names should be appended to our streets and our school buildings?
• Should we let statues stand in public spaces or tear them down?
• Should we watch movies made by a man who used his power to victimize young actresses?
Maybe ... closer to home ...
• Should we sing beautiful worship music written by a fellow who has since been revealed to be a serial sexual-assaulter ... or should we consign his compositions to the recycle bin?
Or maybe even closer to home ... as one of our Adult Ed. Participants pointed out earlier this week ...
• What do we do when those who are closest to us are revealed not to be all that we thought they were in our childhood?
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But ... surprisingly ... I kind of think that the answer ... or at least the way to and answer ... to all of those questions ... is staring us in the face.
Where is it that we find everything that we know about King Solomon???
It’s IN THE BIBLE ... isn’t it?
• It is the Bible ... God’s Word ... that tells us that Solomon did some amazing things ...
• It is the Bible ... God’s Word ... that tells us that Solomon did some really despicable things.
In other words ... if God’s Word can acknowledge both those times when Solomon got it right and when Solomon got it wrong ...
Isn’t it an invitation for US to acknowledge that he got some things wonderfully right and other things horribly wrong too???
AND ... isn’t it perchance an invitation for us to be a bit more truthful about those times when people we may NOT like get things right ... as well as an invitation to be a bit more truthful when people we DO like get things wrong???
Even the best of us sometimes get things wrong ... and even the worst of us may sometimes get things right.
Then again ... what day is it that we are celebrating today??
Reformation Day ... right???
And what were some of the key theological insights that the Reformation reintroduced to the Church??
• By Grace alone ...
• By Faith alone ...
• By Christ alone ...
• By the Word alone ...
And this one:
• “Simul iustus et peccator” ... “at the same time saint and sinner”.
“Simul iustus et peccator” means that ... when God looks at us ... God sees “forgiven sinners”.
• Not perfect people or perfectly wonderful people ...
• But not perfectly awful worthless people either.
People who are ... AT THE SAME TIME ... both sinners and saints.
"Simul iustus et peccator" is an invitation to know that God knows and sees the best in the worst of us ... and that knows and sees the worst in the best of us ...
For ... at the end of the day ... none of us is any more ... or for that matter any less ... in need than any of the rest of us!
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For maybe this is all just an invitation not to look so highly on anyone ...
be they a politician or a president or a patriot ... be they a ball-player or a celebrity ... be they a parent or pastor ... or even the person you see in the mirror every morning ...
So as to become blind to their humanity ...
And at the same time an invitation not to look so lowly on anyone as to become blind to their humanity either.
For ... at the end of the day ... ALL of us stand in need of that grace that is greater than all our sins ...
That grace that comes from Christ alone.
Happy Reformation Day ... and Happy Halloween!