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A WORD FOR TODAY, July 6, 2021
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin. For I don’t know what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I desire to do; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I don’t desire, that I do, I consent to the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good. For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice. But if what I don’t desire, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the law that, to me, while I desire to do good, evil is present. For I delight in God’s law after the inward person, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, sin’s law.” Romans 7:14-25, WEB
It is said that if you ask ten Christians a question, you’ll get eleven answers. I’m sure the same can be said about other aspects of our life, like political parties and even family members. Our answers, our opinions, are based on our own biases and circumstances. We can fail. We can make mistakes. We can say and do the wrong things. And, as Paul suggests, it is most likely that we’ll do things wrong, especially if we rely on our own power.
The 14th and 15th centuries were a time of upheaval in the Church. National partiality created tension between the churches in Italy and in France. At one point, the seat of the Pope was moved out of Rome to Avignon, France. It was moved back to Rome after a time, but the cardinals were almost all French. The Italian people were afraid that the cardinals would elect a French pope, and that he would move the seat to France again. The cardinals elected an Italian, fled the country, and then elected a French man into the office. Who was the real authority? There were people on both sides, which was right? All claimed to be from God, which one was true?
During this controversy over authority, one of the popes sold indulgences to raise the money he needed to wage war against the other pope. Could God really wish His people to fight one another over a position whose official title is “Servant of the Servants of God?” This was the question asked by a man named Jan Hus. We often think of Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation, but there were others before him who laid the foundation for reform. Jan Hus preached about the abuses of the church a hundred years before Martin Luther. The question of papal authority was brought into question during a debate between Luther and Johannes Eck, who asked Luther whether the Church had been right to condemn Hus. Luther thought about it a moment and said that Hus had been unjustly condemned.
Jan Hus was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415, having been found guilty of heresy. The question before the council was about this issue of papal authority. Jan Hus believed that the pope was not a divinely created position, but one of necessity to keep order in the church. The leaders had only recently managed to bring the Church under the authority of one Pope after the confusion between the Italian and French popes, so they did not want anything that might disrupt the shaky unity. They found him guilty and he was martyred. The followers of Jan Hus became what are known today as the Moravian Church. We celebrate him today because he was willing to stand up for the Jesus Christ even when it threatened his life.
Paul certainly had a lot to say about the Gospel message and the Church. We look to him for guidance about how we live and serve God in this world. We might even think that Paul was perfect, yet Paul did not even think so. Paul knew his failures, he recognized his frailty. He knew that he could make mistakes and even that he was likely to do what is wrong. If Paul, who met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, could have no control over his own flesh, how do we expect to be any better? This is why we must always remember that while God does call and ordain His Church to do His work in this world, the Church is made of many members all of which are fallible. We don't have all the answers even though we have a lot of opinions. We don’t have control: we do what we want to do which is not always what God would have us do. That is why we are called to be slaves to God, who can and will bring us to that perfection which is the result of His grace.
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