Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reformation Sunday - October 26th, 2008

Reformation Sunday – October 26th, 2008 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Ah, Reformation Day. One of the great days of the year, a day of
celebration. I like it – we get to sing A Mighty Fortress – and if you hadn't guessed by now, I like the old Luther hymns. A wonderful holiday where we celebrate. . . well, just what exactly do we celebrate with Reformation Day? For what reason do we spend October 31st thinking about more than just candy – for what reason do we take this last Sunday in October and place our focus upon Reformation? I think we can get it wrong sometimes. Today is not “Aren't we glad we aren't Roman Catholic” Day. Today is not “Aren't we glad we aren't like those other Protestants who got it wrong” Day. Today isn't even “Being a Lutheran is super cool” Day.
No, Reformation Day is nothing other than a day of repentance, when we focus again on what Christ Jesus has done for us, and pray that He would continue to shape us and our lives.

We get this focus quite clearly in our Gospel text. Listen again. So
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word,
you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Do you want to know what your life is to be, O Christian? Do you want to know what the Christian life looks like? Christ just described it. Christians abide in God's Word – we remain those who hear God's Word. We hear God's instructions – and so we learn more and more to struggle against our sin and how best to beat it down. We are His disciples, and we train under Jesus, we learn from Him – Jesus puts us through our paces spiritually – drills us and works us to shape us into better people. The Word makes us His disciples. Christians abide in God's Word – we hear God's Word of forgiveness and we are free – free from our sin, free from guilt, free from the fear of punishment – free to worship God without fear. This is the Christian life.

But what is interesting to note about this is that Christ Jesus speaks these Words to Jews who believed, speaks it to Christians. And yet – they hear these Words, and they are not pleased, they are not happy with them. They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, 'You will become free'?” Wait a second here, Jesus. We believe in You, we are good little Jews – what's with all this future tense stuff? What's with all this “you will be free”? We are completely free right now. . . in fact, we've never been slaves to anyone.

Now, perhaps today we don't realize how dumb of an answer this is. . . because we don't live in Old Testament times. Over and over, when God speaks through the prophets, He has a specific way of identifying Himself – He says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” That's who God is – God is the One who has delivered the Jews out of Egypt. And what were the Jews when they were in Egypt? They were slaves! Yet what do they tell Jesus – we are children of Abraham, we are from the good family, and look, we've never been slaves. The very identity of being a Jew is to be a child of Abraham who has been purchased by God from slavery in Egypt – that's what they remembered every Passover. And the children would ask their father at passover – why are we eating this lamb like this, why are we dressed for travel at the table when we eat it. For these Jews to say that they've never been slaves to anyone would be like one of you saying, “Oh, I didn't know that God raises people from the dead.” But God makes a point in Jeremiah – people kept on forgetting the Old Covenant – people kept forgetting that God brought them by the hand out of Egypt. We see that in Jeremiah. The days are coming when things will be right – and no one will have to be taught about what God has done for us – because everyone will know it.

So. . . are we there yet? Have we reached the time when everyone knows God, when we no longer need instruction, when we can sleep through the sermon and not really miss anything – when we no longer should bother with studying God's Word? Well – of course it is Pastor – we are Lutherans! Most of us are even German Lutherans – even better! We got confirmed – we learned the Small Catechism – what more do we need? Who cares if we don't know the Catechism from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog now, we did the work back than – we can just coast along proud and prim – I know I'm right because I'm not Roman Catholic, I know I'm right cause I'm not a Methodist or a Baptist – I'm Lutheran – and it's Reformation Day, let's celebrate! Let's celebrate how awesome I am! The more things change, the more they stay the same. How often we sound just like the Jews here in the text. We are children of Abraham – we were born in this Church. We have never been enslaved to anyone – we've never been anything but Lutheran. And we miss the point. It slides right on by us because in our pride we focus and delight on who we are. . . and forget who Christ Jesus is and what He does in our lives.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” So – how about it, O Lutheran? Commit any sin this past week? Do anything you shouldn't have? Oh – I guess that means you still need Jesus. I guess that means you still need to be His disciple. I guess that means, Confirmed or not, you are still a student who needs to learn more about the Christian life. You see, this is the heart of the Reformation, this is how it came about. This is what Luther observed – that we always, always in this life, need to strive against our sin. The very first of those 95 Thesis nailed to the door at the Church in Wittenberg - “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite [you will pay the whole penalty], willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” Our life is to be one of repentance – not one where we rest on our laurels – not one where we with pride point to what we have done as good little Christian boys and girls, not one where we buy an indulgence or put money in the plate to make sure that we are taken care of for eternity. No – our lives are to be ones of Repentance – lives where we see the simple truth that we still sin – that it still creeps up in our life, that sin still rears its ugly head every day – in our thoughts, in our words, in our deeds. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. What is Reformation Day about – remembering that we are still sinners, that we need to repent, that we need to be made free.

The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. How do we gain our freedom? How do we become free from sin? Is it because of who we are, what we've done? Is it because of our pride that we are free? No – it is because of the Son, Christ Jesus. Do you sin? Does sin still cling to you? Luther says in that Small Catechism that if you wonder if you still sin, all you need to do is stick your hand to your chest and see if you still are flesh and blood, all you need to do is look around and see if you are still in the world. If you are – you are a sinner. So, how to deal with it? We don't – God does. Christ Jesus goes to the Cross to suffer and die for your sin – and then He turns to you and speaks a Word of forgiveness to you and say, “I free you from your sins – I forgive you.”

You realize here that when Jesus talks about the Son setting you free, He's talking about forgiveness – the forgiveness that we receive whenever we abide, whenever we live in His Word, whenever we study that Word and grow in faith and trust in Him, whenever we hear that Word preached and His Gospel proclaimed. If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. God's Word trains us, makes us disciples – shows us our sin, shows us our need to struggle and learn more and do better. God's Word makes us know truth – makes us know Christ Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – gives us the forgiveness won for us upon the Cross.

And that, dear friends, is what Reformation Day is about. It is the day where we remember that as Christians our lives are ones of continual repentance – ones of continual reformation – where God by His Word continually re-forms, re-shapes us. Sin twists and distorts us – we see that – but God's truth, God's forgiveness restores us, shapes us again into whom we are to be. And this is something we need every day of our lives. Today isn't the day that we merely celebrate that we are Lutheran but the day that we remember what it means to be Lutheran, what we as Lutherans claim about God – that the chief point of the Christian faith isn't how I work my way to God, or how I can get God to bless me. Rather it is this – All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. There it is. And more over, on Reformation day, above and beyond just celebrating this old, familiar truth – we acknowledge another fact – that our sinful flesh always seeks to drive us away form this and unto sin – that Satan is always trying to shift our focus off of Christ and His forgiveness. That the strains of this life seek to bend us away from God – and so we are always in need of Reform, of being forgiven and reshaped by Christ. We do not simply rest on our own laurels – we do not say, “Eh, I'm offspring of Abraham, eh, I've been raised Lutheran” - but rather this – we seek all the time to know the LORD and His love for us better – we seek to understand more and more the depths of His love, to increase in wisdom and instruction – to be better disciples, to rejoice in our freedom more and more. Reformation is not something that comes about once a year – it is the constant reshaping of your life in Christ. God grant that He keep us in His Word – so that we might continually be reformed in this life until we see Him face to face in heaven and are brought about to complete perfection, perfectly shaped by Christ's love for all eternity. Amen.

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