Reformation Day Observed – October 29th and 30th, 2016 – John 8:31-36
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Contradicting Jesus is never a good thing. Really, it's not. That's pretty close to lesson 1 that we learn – the meaning to the first commandment is “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” If we are to trust God, then we certainly ought to trust His Word, let His Word stand, let His Word tell us how things are and how they are going to be. And yet, this is the core of what our sinful nature is – it is an inherent distrust and disdain of God's Word – and so as we observe Reformation Day today, we will give thanks to God that He doesn't just let our sinfulness run amuck, but rather continues to speak His Word of life to us, continues to grant us His Holy Spirit that we would believe and have life and freedom in Him.
We see an example of how human sinfulness works in today's Gospel lesson. Our Gospel lesson really is a turning point in the Gospel of John – it is the point where Jesus says something that is so “offensive” and scandalous, that people decide that He must be killed. Listen to the first verse again - “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him...” Do you see how John describes them? They had believed. They had seen the signs and healings and believed in Christ. They had seen the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and they believed. They even hung around after He had said that He was the bread of life – when lots of people left. Earlier in John 8, Jesus had talked about how He was the Light of the World – these folks are good with that, they like that. But then, Jesus says something that they just can't abide. “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Doesn't seem so bad.... Here Jesus lays the groundwork for how the Church is supposed to operate until He returns – we are to abide, to live in, His Word. When we gather, when we discuss and study and talk and plan and pray – all of that is to be centered in Christ's good and gracious Word. And that Word is God's own truth, and that Word sets us free. Free from sin, free from Satan, free from death even. There shouldn't be any problem with this, right?
The Jews who had believed, well, many of them had a problem. “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?''' Fear, love, and trust God above all things. Well, the problem is these folks loved themselves quite a bit, they were full of pride and ego and were just so sure of themselves. And so they protest – we're not slaves, in fact we've never been slaves to anyone! Which may be one of the dumbest things ever said in the Bible. First of all, they are conquered people, controlled by Rome. So, yeah, don't get all uppity about how free you are now. Second of all – they are Jewish folks – they celebrate the Passover, which is what? The celebration of God freeing them from slavery in Egypt. And besides Egypt, don't forget the Babylonian captivity – where God's deliverance leads to the festival of Purim. Or even you have Hannakuh, which dealt with God's deliverance from the hands of a Greek conqueror who had profaned the temple. Yes, the children of Abraham have often been enslaved. Of course, there was the big one – Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The day where their sin was taken away, where they were freed from sin. In fact, pretty much every holiday that they had was a commemoration of being freed by God. And Christ has come to be the true fulfillment of all of these holidays – the true passover, the true gift given to the poor, the true feast, the true light in the true temple, the true Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And yet, even with this history and worship so focused upon God's deliverance, they instead are filled with pride and arrogance. How dare Christ say that they need to be delivered!
So now, how do we hear today read this text? What do we take from the story so far? Do we shake our heads at how terribly they blew it? Do we jump to the times 500 years ago and shake our heads at how terrible the medieval church had gotten (because as anyone whose been in bible study the past few weeks while we are looking at the history of the Reformation knows, it was a bit messed up)? Do we in our own pride echo their Words and say, “Well, we've never been that messed up”? Do we echo the words of the Pharisee from the parable - “I thank God that I've never been so messed up like these people.” We certainly ought not. Reformation is not the celebration of “we're right and they are wrong” - it is the day where we give thanks to God that He continually reforms us by His Word, reforming and reshaping us in our own lives.
Consider yourselves, my friends in Christ. Consider the world around us, the day and age in which we live. Are we not surrounded by all sorts of strange teachings and all sorts of wickedness? Was there pride and ego in Christ's day – it's got nothing on the pride and ego we see today! Was there bizarre teaching on the eve of the Reformation – we've got bookstores full of crazy teaching! And all of this, and our wealth, and our power, and our greed and passions and lust are all swirling around us, all calling out to us to just forget Christ Jesus, to ignore church and the hearing of God's Word, to just go off and do other things. We are Americans, and we are well off and comfortable – and often slaves to wealth, work, stuff, and trends. Those are the idols the world pumps into our ears and our eyes incessantly. If you don't believe me, simply look, listen – see what it is that you get fed by the world this week. And we are constantly battered by this.
“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.'” Jesus is one to call a spade and spade. If you sin, then you are a slave to sin. This is the sad and simple fact. And guess what? Each and every one of you here has sinned, and as long as you are in this life, you will still keep on sinning. Not that this is good, not that this is okay. Not that we are to just go with the sinful flow. No, we are called to fight against our sin, to struggle against it. But here's the sad, harsh reality. I could preach til I'm blue in the face, and you and I'd still be sinful folks who fall into sin. We could try our hardest not to sin, and we might even get one bad habit licked – but then something else would just pop up. Do you see how stuck we are, how enslaved we are to sin. And the reality is that at some point you are going to pause, look at yourself and say, “I can't believe I did that... again.” That's just how it is.
So what do we do? Do we just ignore our sin and talk about our strong points. Eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive? Well, that doesn't really get rid of sin. Or do we try to do extra work on the side to make our sin up to God? That's just digging ourselves in deeper and deeper. That's why we sing, “With might of ours could naught be done, soon were our loss effected.” No, it cannot hinge upon us – rather, it must hinge upon Christ, and thanks be to God, it does. Jesus says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” As you go through your life, my friends, and as you see your sin pop up and out in new and aggravating ways – don't hide from it, don't pretend it's not sin, don't abandon all sense of right or wrong. Rather this – look to Christ Jesus.
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Consider this. At your baptism, Christ Jesus made a promise to you. He declared that all that He has done – His righteous life, His perfect obedience to the Father – all that is yours. When the Father sees you, He sees Christ's righteousness – in Christ you are good with God. He doesn't see your sin, He only sees a Christian, a little Christ. And yet, Christ Jesus knew that you would still be dealing with sin, with death, tangling with Satan. And so Jesus went to the cross and died and rose – and again, at your baptism He made another promise to you. His death would be your death, and His resurrection would be your resurrection. He promised that the day would come when He would indeed set you free from sin – and when you are raised from the dead, which you will be, for Christ has promised you this, you will then be utterly and totally and completely free from sin. No ifs ands or buts about it. And this truth, this promise of God is the center and key thing in the Church. It's why at the end of Matthew we hear Jesus say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It's the main thing – that all that Christ has done is poured out upon us in Holy Baptism, and we live our lives as the Baptized – as those forgiven by Christ, as heirs of the promise of freedom from all our sin.
Yet the world still batters us, sin still warps us, and Satan still hounds us. We are like a knife that gets abused and made dull and worn – and we lose our ability to cut through all the junk we see through in this life. And so Christ reforms us. He reshapes us, hones us, sharpens us, by His Word and Spirit. He gathers us here to His house, and rather than forgetting who we are, He makes us to remember that we are the baptized. Everything here revolves around everything Christ has given you in your baptism. We begin the service, remembering our baptism. We confess our sins – and Luther notes in the Large Catechism that our repentance is nothing other than a continual return to baptism – remembering who again Christ has made us. And we live in this – we live lives of repentance. We live lives defiant against sin and the world and death – proclaiming that Christ Jesus has lived and died for us. We proclaim this in our hymns, our preaching, in the Lord's own Supper. We sing as the baptized, we hear the Scriptures and the Sermon as the baptized, we come to the altar as the baptized. As Luther again says in the Large Catechism, “Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practise all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts.” Over and over we are restored by God unto our baptism, made anew in Christ, pulled away from sin and death, even until He comes again.
So therefore, my friends, let us this Reformation Day once again give heed to Christ Jesus and His Word – and let us believe what His Word says of us, especially the promise He made to us in the Water and His Word in our baptism . We are indeed sinners through and through, but He is good and gracious and wins us the victory over sin and death, and because of Him we shall be free indeed. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +