The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 10/27/02
Text: Hebrews 11:passim - 12:1
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

This is a special day in the life of the church - REFORMATION SUNDAY. The last Sunday in October recognizes that portentous day in 1517 when a German priest named Martin Luther challenged the medieval church for its spiritual laxity. On what was his town's equivalent of a public bulletin board - the front door of the castle church - he posted 95 theses (or propositions), statements of belief, as a challenge to the church authorities. That act of ecclesiastical effrontery began the Protestant Reformation, the effects of which continue to effect you and me today.

As time went along, Luther was called before a church council to recant his views. As the story is told, Luther refused with words that have become famous. He is reported to have said, "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise."

Where do YOU stand? It matters what YOU believe despite those folks who say " long as you believe long as you are sincere." That is not true. If you did not believe that iron and steel moving at any speed at all were stronger than flesh and blood, you would never bother to look both ways when crossing Market St. at rush hour. If you did not believe that crack and cocaine can be deadly killers, you would never bother to tell a youngster, "Just say NO!" If you did not believe that spiritual matters are important, you would have never bothered to make your way to First Presbyterian Church this morning. What you believe determines how you live.

In our New Testament lesson this morning, we read of some of the great heroes of the faith: Noah, Abraham, Moses. What they believed determined how they lived. Noah built a huge ark far away from any water, suffered the derision of his neighbors, because he believed that God had a reason for telling him to do it. Abraham pulled up stakes and moved to a strange land because he believed God would provide him a home. Moses rejected the easy life of a prince of Egypt because he believed God would deliver him and his people to a better life. The list goes on and on. Read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews all the way through (not just passim) and you will see evidence piled upon evidence of the fact that people live the way they do because they believe the way they do.

Let me share with you what I believe. First, I believe in God. That is hardly a startling statement from a Presbyterian pulpit, I know, but I believe in a particular God...not a whimsical god to whom I can go for deliverance from the rain or the sun when they do not suit my fancy. I do not believe in a God who is at my beck and call to bail me out from some hole I have dug for myself, not even one who can steady me over that three-foot putt when the match is on the line or work some miracle for my Braves to give them the World Series next year (although that WOULD be nice). I do not believe in a celestial butler.

I do not believe in a God simply in terms of moral values, good and evil, because those values are relative. For example, is killing ever good? Of course. When a cancer kills a patient, that is evil. But when a surgeon kills a cancer, we cheer. What is good and what is evil are concepts that are humanly judged. To be sure, the God in whom I believe, the God who shapes my life, is quite definitely "good" as we understand "good," a God who takes sides, a God who loves love and hates hatred, a God who wants us to behave in one way and not in another. That is the Christian idea. I believe in that God.

But there is more. That good God, I believe, is the source of creation. God made the world and everything in it: heat, light, space, time, colors, dogs, cats, broccoli...everything. God made them up out of the divine head as we make up a story. Then it was turned over to us to operate properly...Genesis says "to have dominion over." That shapes what I do because I BELIEVE I am called to handle that task in a way that is consistent with God's wishes. "Here I stand."

Of course, I also believe that a great many things have gone wrong with this world that was once all good (after all, it is the creation of a good God), and that God insists, and insists very loudly, that we put them right again. In this, we have been given help. And that logically leads to a second point of belief. I believe in Jesus Christ.

Why God chose to operate like that is beyond my comprehension. It would have been much simpler just to wipe this old world out and start over with a more cooperative creation. But God did not. The only explanation is the one the scripture gives: that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Jesus was only here briefly, just thirty-three years. But during that time, he explained what was needed to get things back to the way they once had been. He reminded us of the relationship we should have with God as well as our neighbors. He said it was not good enough to continue on the way that we were going. It was not a popular message. They crucified him. But not for nothing. I believe that Jesus died so that you an I might live. "Here I stand."

But there is more. That little band of friends who were Jesus' original followers could not have done what they did on their own, nor could they have done it just on the memory of one such powerful personality as Jesus Christ. They needed help, and they got it. That is why I believe in the Holy Spirit.

Granted, this one is difficult. How does one define or describe the Holy Spirit? Jesus did it best. In the third chapter of John's gospel we read, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with...the Spirit."(1) Wind. We know it is there. We can feel it. We see what it does. We cannot control it. It is immensely powerful. But we cannot see it. Thus, the word of Jesus: "so it is...with the Spirit."

Quite frankly, no definition is entirely satisfactory, nor will one ever be. But none is really necessary. We do not require a definition of wind before we make use of it. Sailors do not go to the dictionary before they put out to sea. They simply use what they know to build their boats in obedience to what knowledge they have, then run before it or tack into it or even avoid it entirely. The wind is power...and so is the Spirit.

I testify to that out of my own experience. My family and I were living contentedly in North Carolina, and planned to stay right there. But the Spirit moved. And so did we. To Pennsylvania. There was no thunderclap, no disembodied voice that came and said "GET THEE TO WARREN"...just that "still, small voice" of the Holy Spirit. "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise."

But there is more. I would not have even realized that God was calling me here to First Presbyterian or anywhere without the leading of the word. That is why I believe in the Bible. Without that, we would have only the scantiest idea of God; Jesus would have been just an obscure historical figure; and the Holy Spirit would be unknown. The Psalmist says "Your word is a lamp to my feet,"(2) a guidebook for living. The Presbyterian Church believes that. Our confessional documents say that the Bible is our only true guide for faith and practice.

How firm a foundation
Ye saints of the Lord
Is found for our faith
in his excellent word.(3)

"Here I stand [too]. I cannot do otherwise."

That leads to one more conclusion. If I believe in a triune God and I believe in God's word, I must believe in the church. Of all my beliefs, I admit that this is the one most difficult to defend, because throughout history, religion of all kinds has been used to justify the most horrible acts. There were the Crusades, the Inquisition, human slavery, Northern Ireland, the Middle East. The September 11th attacks came in the name of religion. And before we say that was them and not us, simply remember that the church has rarely been anything like what God would want it to be. Mark Twain wrote, "We have made a graveyard of the globe in trying to ease our brothers' way to happiness and heaven." How sad.

But in spite of the spotty record, I still believe in the church, which means that I believe in you. YOU are the church, not some building. In spite of the faults, in spite of all the things to recommend against the church, the people of God, I realize that all my other beliefs tell me that God loves you. God sent Jesus to die for you. God gave the Spirit to empower you. God offers the word to instruct you. That means I had better get in line and love you and believe in you too or, by implication, I say God made a mistake, and I will not do that. The Bible says, "The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."(4) "Here I stand."

At the end of our lesson from Hebrews a few minutes ago, there were words about a "great cloud of witnesses," those heros of the faith whose lives were controlled by what they believed. A word about them. We really cannot say positively what the writer intends to convey. Can those faithful men and women who have gone before actually see us and cheer us on as we run our own daily race? Or does the word "witness" mean one who has proclaimed God's truth to the world, just as when we speak of a witness on the stand in a court of law? We do not know. But if the word does not say specifically that those faithful folk can see us, it does not say that they cannot either. What a thought! That we run that race, that we take our stands, in front of all history and heaven.

I have shown them to you before. Yonder they are. There is the gallery of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And over there, the prophets: Samuel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. And over there, the gallery of the apostles: Peter, James, John and Paul. The Reformers whose work we celebrate today: Luther, Calvin, Knox. Over there, the gallery of the great evangelists: Wesley, Whitefield and Spurgeon. The missionaries: David Brainard, Hudson Taylor and David Livingstone. And over here, a gallery that perhaps means more to you and me than all the others, the one where sit our own fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters whose own race is now done, those who gave us a solid foundation for our beliefs, a solid footing for our faith. They are the witnesses who surround us, watching our conflicts and rejoicing in our victories, saying a joyous AMEN when we proclaim with our lives, "Here I stand." And above them...and watching with them...the one who died that they and we might live, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So there you have it...Here I stand. Where do YOU stand? What do you believe about God? Do you believe God cares for you just as much as He did for Noah and Abraham and Moses and all the rest? Do you believe God has work for you in this world? What do you believe about Jesus Christ? Does what Jesus said and did shape your life? What about the Holy Spirit? Does your belief call you to seek the Spirit's guidance and ask for divine direction? The Bible - is it your primary guidebook for faith and practice? Is it a daily part of your life? How about the church? Is what you believe about God's people enough to overlook differences and to love without reservation? Is what you believe enough to commit yourself to its work and worship? Important questions, every one! Because what you believe determines how you will live.

Happy Reformation Day. May God grant that, as we walk this pilgrimage of faith together in Warren, we can say to all of those questions, "Lord, I believe... and so I live. On Reformation Day...on ANY day...Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise." Amen!

1. John 3:8

2. Psalm 119:105

3. The text first appears in John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns (1787) attributed to "K.''

4. 1 John 4:21

The Presbyterian Pulpit Sermon Library

Mail Boxclick and send us mail