Sunday, October 27, 2013

Reformation Day Sermon

Reformation Day Observed – John 8:31-36 – October 28th, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Ah, Reformation Day!  The day where we celebrate the fact that we are Lutherans and we have it right.  The day where we can say, “I’m Lutheran born and Lutheran bred and when I die I’ll be Lutheran dead!”  We can be tempted to treat this day like it’s a pep rally, a celebration of our most excellent heritage and our superior culture.  And when we do, it’s a good thing Luther is dead, because he would be shocked and ashamed of this type of approach.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a wonderful thing to be Lutheran… but not because we happen to be Lutheran, not because we were baptized at this particular font or because long ago at Confirmation we answered some questions and did some memory work that we have long since forgotten.  No, what is the heart of being a Lutheran is the turning away from pride in ourselves, our heritage, our own worthiness, and rather being focused upon the Truth, Christ Jesus, the Son of God.  And this plays out in our text for this morning.

          “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.”  So here’s the set up.  Jesus has been preaching, He has just in the verses before this declared He is the light of the world, that belief in Him will rescue people from dying in their sins.  Great stuff.  And people believe that – oh, isn’t that nice and wonderful.  And then Jesus adds this.  If you abide, should you abide in My Word – then you are truly a disciple… and you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set us free.  Now, as we have the rest of the Gospel, we know where Jesus is going.  Jesus declares a few chapters later, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life – no man cometh to the Father but by Me.”  Christ is pointing to Himself – He is saying, “Listen to the Word, listen to what I preach.  I will teach you, I will train you, I will give you Myself, and I Myself will free you from sin and death and the power of the grave.”  And this is what He had just preached – I am the light of the world – listen to My Word and you will be enlightened.  You will not die in your sins – you will be free from them.

          But there’s a problem.  Jesus has done something – He is no longer speaking abstractly about light or life or death… things that are abstract, or distant.  No, now He has turned things to people directly – you will be set free.  Yes, you, right here – you are in sin and bondage and you need to be set free.  And this is when the indignation sets in.  “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?’”  This is one of those statements in the Scriptures where if you think about it, you just want to go nuts.  This is one of the dumbest things ever uttered in the scriptures, this even tops Cain saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper.”  These are Jews saying this.  Now, first thing about the present day for them – they are in Jerusalem… a conquered city.  You have tons of revolutionary movements promising to free them, to drive the Romans out.  I mean, it would be one thing if you were a Jew and heard Jesus promise to free you and you thought it would be the glorious revolution where Rome would get theirs.  But nope – pride kicks in, ignoring the present reality.

          But it’s worse than that – it’s not just denial about the here and now.  It’s a denial of the past.  If you go to Exodus 20, where God gives the 10 Commandments, the Law that basically defines what a Jew is, how does it start?  God declares, “I AM the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Who are you, O Jew?  What is your identity?  You are not just a child of Abraham, but you are the children of Abraham whom God rescued from slavery!  When Jesus says that He, the Truth, will set you free, this is Jesus pointing to the wonder and mystery that He is God, the same Lord God who freed them from temporal bondage in Egypt, the God who has come to free them from bondage to sin and death and give them everlasting life.  And instead of hearing this and rejoicing – these folks get their dander up.  What’s this about me being a slave – um, forget you Jesus, we ain’t never been slaves to nobody no how, no Sir-ee!  And suddenly, the entirety of the Old Testament from Exodus onwards is tossed out.  Over and over God is identified as the one who brought His children out of Egypt – that’s the heart of celebrating the Passover, that’s the heart of all the Old Testament celebrations.  But nope – not us.

          Do you see how big of a disconnect this is, how glaring it is?  And yet, the purpose here is not merely to see how far off these folks are, but let us be warned of the same thing today.  The Jews in the text had begun to make assumptions about themselves.  They were from the right family, the right people, they did all the right things – surely that means everything was hunky dory.  But what had they abandoned?  The Word.  The Scriptures.  And so when Christ points to the Scriptures, points to Himself as the fulfillment of the Scriptures, they become indignant.  This, dear friends, in the same danger that confronts us today.  How easy is it for us Lutherans today to become complacent, to rest on our laurels, as it were.  Good family, was baptized, was even confirmed – hooray me.  And then we will run with our own thoughts and ideas, no matter how strange or crazy they are, and think that they must be good and right.  It’s not a far cry to go from saying, “We’ve never been slaves to anyone” to saying, “We’ve never done it that way before.”  We can fall prey to the assumption that what we do is right simply because *we* are the ones doing it, and we are the good people after all.  And suddenly, our focus is no longer upon the Word, no longer upon Christ, no longer constantly studying and listening to Him.  Instead, we have put up a new God – ME.  And that is whom we follow.

          That is what is going on in this text, and that’s why Christ comes back hard here.  Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.’”  So, not a slave?  Well, clearly you are perfect and never fail then – right?  That’s where the rubber meets the road.  Do you sin?  Still?  And don’t do the comparison thing – don’t do the “Well, at least I’m better than so and so” – being better than the Gentiles or the jerks out there doesn’t mean squat.  Do you still sin?  If so, you are a slave to sin – and you know what that means?  On your own – you are stuck outside the house – outside the kingdom.  Period.  Only the Son gets to stay inside the Kingdom.

          This, of course, drives to the heart of the matter.  It drives to repentance.  Reformation Day is not the day where we celebrate that we are right, or that Luther got it right, or that because we are in this Church, surely we have it right.  My family is all ELCA, and let me tell you, I have seen where the “Well, we are Lutheran, we must be right” leads when the Scriptures are ignored.  It ain’t pretty.  But I say that not to congratulate ourselves on having been right 40 years ago – I say it as a warning that we too must take heed lest we fall.  And that is the point of this day, it is Thesis number 1.  When Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31st, 1517 – he wasn’t trying to build some new Church or denomination.  He wasn’t trying to shout out how he was right and everyone must listen to him.  Nope – here is Thesis number 1 – “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Not rest on your laurels, not assume you are okay – whether it’s because you are a good little Jew, or today a good little Lutheran, or back then because you bought a nice little indulgence from the peddler.  No, as a Christian, you have been called by Christ Jesus to repent.  To see in your own life sin rearing its ugly head.  To see and know that you, in and of yourself are a slave to sin – that you sinned last week, and you know what – Next Sunday even though I’ll be on vacation, Pastor Roggow will be here/at Zion and there will be confession and absolution and it won’t be wasted because you’ll need it, and I’ll need to hear it from Pastor Brennan up in Denver too.  Because our lives are ones of repentance – because we are stuck in sin that we can’t deal with.

          But Christ can and does.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  And Jesus Christ frees you.  His Word of forgiveness, which His death and resurrection for your sins give Him the right to declare, frees you.  And you are free – when you die you will rise to life in Him.  The problem is our own sinful flesh rebels against this.  We are baptized, we are not slaves but sons of God, co-heirs with Christ…but our sinful flesh wants to keep running out into the muck and mire of sin.  And so Christ comes, and He calls us to repentance, to turn away from our sin unto Him, to be His disciples, to hear not our own thoughts and plans but His Word of truth and life, to be conformed to Him, to be forgiven and set free by Him.  And so He calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light – over and over and over again.  Even as the world, even as Satan, even as your own sinful flesh try to make you in your pride and arrogance forget Him, Christ comes to you again, and He brings you to repentance, and He brings you forgiveness, and He sets you free again.

          Dear friends, now is not yet the time for the celebration of how wonderful we are.  We are still sinners in the sinful world.  We are those in the Church Militant.  We still fight daily against sin and temptation.  We still must lead lives of repentance, lives where we do not trumpet our own works, but rather confess that even our most righteous seeming deeds are but filthy rags, that all our boasting must be excluded.  Until we die and are raised at His return, we are to repent and place our trust solely in Christ.  And Christ is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, all thanks be to Him.  Lord, Keep us Steadfast in Thy Word!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

1 comment:

the Old Adam said...

I too have seen firsthand where one can end up when God's Word is thrown overboard.

And I have also seen where one can end up when they adhere to a Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word.

Neither case is very pretty and they lead away from Christ and into 'the self' (license, or legalism).

"The entire life of the Christian is one of repentance."

So much for throwing out God's law...OR trying to use it to advance along the way of being Christian.

Thanks, Rev..