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2017 is the Reformation 500 year. In 1517 Luther nailed his 95 protests to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

In the midst of my research this week I came across a vivid description of the tumult of that entire century. It was “an era of great social ferments, natural catastrophes, famines, plaques and unusual men.” There was a Pope who was the father of four illegitimate children and another Pope calling down curses on a second Pope who set up shop in Avignon, who responded in kind. Then I read the following and thought about our century, particularly how the climate change prophets and people who tell us a warm summer means we are all about to die.

“The fourteenth century was a strange century indeed. In this period the ice drift cut off communication with Greenland, and the advancing glaciers almost literally pushed the settlements into the sea. European chroniclers of the century recorded two excessively cold winters. Crops failed in Norway and then in England and in France. There were excessive rains. The Sequoia tree rings in California ran to abnormal width, the Caspian Sea expanded, and the Rhine, the Danube, the Thames, and the Elbe froze. Fifty-five summers of this century saw violent floods, and the Cathedral of Mayence was submerged to the famous frieze over the door. In the Netherlands seventy-two cities were destroyed by the sea in one night and 200,000 people were drowned in one year….”

Hit pause.

Imagine if the Prophet Al Gore were alive then?

No wonder above the 1500 “Nativity” painting (still hung prominently at the National London Gallery) the painter inscribed: “This picture was painted by me Alexander amid the confusions of Italy at the time prophesied in the Second Woe of the Apocalypse, when Satan shall be loosed on the earth.”


“…The Black Death, the Asiatic Cholera, The Athenian Plague, and famine killed thirteen million people in China and reduced the populations in France an England by one-third. The common people were impoverished, ill-fed and ill-housed. Yet, at the same time the secular and ecclesiastic princes lived in a byzantine luxury that only accentuated their aloofness from the common hoi polloi (the many). While the peasants complained that they “haue the payne and traveyle, rayne and wynd in the feldes,” the doorways of the castle of Vincennes had to be raised in order to accommodate the three-foot tall head-dress of Isabelle of Bavaria. A rigid caste system, perpetuating itself by a ruthless exploitation of the common people, was entrenched on the whole continent of Europe, upheld by secular powers and sanctioned “urbi et orbi” (To Rome and to the World!) by the Church. The popes and the princes knew the difference between a good statue and a bad one, but they knew not the difference between good and evil; they fought each other in palace and the field, with daggers and with crosses…” (Enrico C.S. Molnar, doctoral dissertation, 1947)

There is more but you get the idea. Maybe we could say when the Lord’s patience runs thin with a Church that has entirely lost its way, no longer looking or acting even remotely like Jesus, he shakes the earth, even the natural order, and sends in Reformers.

I only wish that a hundred years before Luther the Bohemian reformer Petr Chelčický had prevailed. His was a Reformation back to precepts of the Sermon on the Mount calling the Church to more resemble Jesus. Misreading Romans 13, Luther gave God’s sanction for the State to crush with great cruelty the masses in the Peasants Revolt of 1520. Oy.

This morning I preached in Zurich on walking in step with God and discerning the pace of the Holy Spirit.  Then came the Sabbath nap. Then a large block of delightful reading hours – cool, kind of rainy today – my the beauty out on the second floor patio – I’ve been blowing through highlighters and found I could get a couple more chapters out of this one simply by touching the dry tip to the raindrops that periodically hit my arm.

Part of my reason for the extended read time today was I wanted to get through my book on Calvin before we head 2.5 hours south tomorrow to enjoy the city in which he served… Geneva, Switzerland. I grew up going to our family’s cottage on beautiful Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. To be heading to the real Lake Geneva makes me wish my mom would have lived long enough to have joined us here.  I regret that she died during some very hard days in our household last fall and know she would have benefited as we are from this heavenly respite. (Those of you who knew her may not know she and my father were fluent in German – though Geneva is Swiss-French, not the Swiss-German up here by Zurich and Germany). We would have had trouble getting Kaitlyn and Grandma out of the cool clear Lake Geneva water that’s for sure.

Kristen says my posts are way way too long so for now I will spare you the five or six lengthy posts that are in my spirit from the two Zwingli books I’ve read and now this Calvin one. Three of them center in some way on how brutal we are to others in the Body of Christ.

Luther was the worst (of the Reformers), Zwingli was deeply hurt by him (and many others – but it hurts far more from those who are supposed to be on your side). My big Zwingli book here says the story of the Luther/Zwingli relationship was “one of the saddest in the history of religion.” These apostles of grace (not works) were sorely lacking in grace toward others. Wow. 

Even though Zwingli was abused by Luther (who didn’t even consider Zwingli a Christian because he disagreed about the meaning of the word “IS” in Jesus’ last supper statement… this IS my body), Zwingli himself showed not shred of grace to the anabaptists or the spiritualists (those having Holy Spirit encounters, trances, dreams, visions, etc). It all reminds me of ex-church folk who have tried to influence others to come out from among us because they “care” and “want them to go heaven” as if staying in our midst, under my “heresy,” calls ones salvation into question. Ha! Please.

Look in the mirror. Repent. Love. Why do we so often strain gnats yet swallow camels?

Calvin was so violently opposed (his friend poisoned, false accusations, riots/mobs firing into his house at night) they evicted him from Geneva (he was later called back to his post there after his four main opposers each died suddenly– accidently/fell out a window or were executed/for killing a man in a fist fight). Calvin was so deeply wounded he, at first, refused to even consider going back to the church in Geneva having “made up my mind never again to enter any ecclesiastical charge whatever unless the Lord should call me to it by a clear and manifest call.”

Imagine that, one of the greatest theologians in church history was content to leave ministry forever and go back to being a lawyer because he felt pastoral ministry was too abusive. He did decide to go back to serve the parish and city in Geneva. (BTW, it wasn’t any better for him when he went back (1541) but he did stay until his death twenty three years later (1564) – great stuff in all that about following the hard call of God on your life, making a city/territorial commitment, staying the course, staying steady, crossing finish lines, etc).  Though Geneva was “an unstable city” he still “felt a responsibility” and his sufferings there “ought not to prevent me from embracing it with paternal affection. For God, when he charged me with it, bound me to be faithful to it forever.” As you can see, in case you are wondering, there are powerful and positive things I have to reflect on too.

I’ll leave you all to your own armchair pscyho-analysis of me as to why those aspects stand out to me and why I felt like getting them out of my head and plopping them here first- but don’t think too long and hard about it – those of you who have been following my sabbatical musings here know I’ve been soaking in the seven parts – one a week – of what I’m calling my sabbatical verse (given to me before I left by CATG friends/elders Glen and Dianne Heynen).  That verse again is 1 Peter 5:10;

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
after you have suffered a little while,
will himself restore you
and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

The phrase for this fourth week has been… after you have suffered a little while. We covet your prayers for week five’s focus phrase… will HIMSELF restore you!!!  Can’t wait for that!

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