Reformation Sunday – October 25th, 2009 – John 8:31-36
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Once again, that time of the year has come that is near and dear to us Lutherans, the time to observe the festival of the Reformation. It was on Reformation Day, October 31st, 1517, coming up on 492 years ago, that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses concerning the abuses of the sales of indulgences, calling the Church of Rome to repentance. It is the date that most people associate with the start of the Reformation of the Church. However, if we turn this day into a mere celebration of history, a mere looking back to the past, we miss the point of all that Luther taught – for the Reformation was not just a one time thing – rather, the Church is always in need of Reform – we here in the Church are always in need of Reform. We are always going to have to check ourselves, our thoughts, our deeds, on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, and we are always going to have to strive to place ourselves in alignment with them. We will always need Reform.
Christ tells us why in our Gospel passage today. 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.” 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’?” So here is the set up. Jesus is talking to some people, people whom we are told actually believe in Him, believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And Jesus says something very simple, very straightforward – if you abide in God’s Word, you will know the truth, and that truth will set you free. And these people who hear Jesus say this are just incensed. They are offended! How can you say such things! We’ve always been free! Do you hear the pride and arrogance there in their response? We’re the children of Abraham, we’ve always been free! How dare you say that there is something in us that is lacking!
And here’s the sad part. These people were Jews, they were people who observed the Passover. And what was Passover – the celebration of when God delivered the children of Abraham from what? From slavery in Egypt. This is what God does, always – He sees His people in bondage and He delivers them. That is what they knew God to do – and yet, for some strange reason, these people have become so prideful that they don’t even understand when Jesus speaks to them in a way that should be most familiar – Oh yes, we understand! When we abide in Your Word, we are free and delivered, for that is what God always does. It slides right on by them.
So then, what of us? Can we here in this place become prideful and secure in who we are? Of course we can. After all, we’re Lutherans, we have the right doctrine. We cast off the yoke of Rome almost 500 years ago, we’ve never been a slave to anyone! Why, we’ve avoided all those silly false doctrines and heresies that come down the pike – in fact, we here are even the good Lutherans, not like those silly, crazy American, ELCA Lutherans. We’re the good Church – we’re the good congregation! Of course, those words I just spoke were awfully general, weren’t they? Any good old Missouri Synod congregation could say that in its pride. But what about us here, we here in this room? Are we prideful? Do we just know that we are better than. . . well, I’m not going to name names. Do we have people whom we look down with scorn upon? Do we rest happily on how we are such wonderful people who care so greatly for our church, are we content how we survived the battles of ages past, while ignoring the present struggles we face?
Our Lord lays us open. Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Well, what about now? Any of you sinned lately? Of course you have. And this is the danger, this is the way in which Satan comes in. Satan pats us on the back with how wonderful we are, and we become content with ourselves. And then pride kicks in, and we start to assume that what we are doing is right, that it is enough, that everything is fine. And then, we even become a little bit lazy, a little bit lax. We stop doing things like we used to, stop giving like we used to, stop participating like we used to – we slide away, make a few excuses that we wouldn’t have made a few months ago, then we give up a little bit more, then a little bit more – and all the while just so certain that we are doing just fine. And we become once again slaves to sin. We become those who no longer look to see how we can show love to the neighbor, we become those who no longer hunger and thirst for righteousness, we become those who no longer make this house, this place, hearing God’s Word here, supporting and defending this place their first priority – to say nothing of bringing our friends and neighbors here. We tell ourselves that we’ve done that in the past, that we’ve done our share – and we turn in on ourselves, focus upon what we would want rather than focusing upon the Word of God – and we become happily enslaved to sin, to sorrow, to misery. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
And I say this to you this morning, dear friends, not as one who is immune, not as one who is high and mighty and simply wagging a finger. I don’t want you to think that Pastor Brown is going off on some holier-than-thou kick. Rather this. This is simply how Satan attacks Christians. Satan is the great enslaver, the great ensnarer – and he wants each of us here to stop looking at God’s Word, stop placing ourselves under God’s Word – Satan wants us to be confident in and of ourselves, so confident that we end up ignoring God – that even if we come to this place we just go through the motions, to where we no longer actually listen to the Word, no longer examine ourselves, no longer strive to be better, no longer desire to be more and more Christ-like tomorrow than we are today. I see it in myself, and I see it in my congregation. It is just what the old evil foe does – it is how he means each of us deadly woe.
We are in need of Reform – we are in need of being brought back to the Word, being called to repentance from our sin – and I’m not speaking just today of a spiffy, special service, or something unique or a one-time thing. No, today on Reformation day, we remember that we sinful human beings, as long as we live in this world, are going to be in need of reform – for Satan constantly seeks to corrupt and deform us. We constantly need to live lives of repentance, where we struggle against any and all sin which creeps there in. We need to constantly be on guard against the ways Satan tries to bind us with all the various temptations that appeal to us, against the ways Satan strives to make us arrogant and prideful and to forget God’s Word.
We are always in need of reform, which is simply another way of saying that we are always in need of Christ, for He alone is the One who can reform us, remake us. “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.” When I speak of a need of reform, I am not simply telling you what you need to do. I am not telling you to pick yourselves up by your own bootstraps or anything like that. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. Consider all your vaunted strength and power and see how it falls flat. What did we just sing - With might of ours could naught be done – soon were our loss effected. A reform, a change in our life does not come about by the strength of our convictions or a display of willpower. Rather this. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Or “but for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected.” Or how about what we just confessed, that Christ Jesus “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.” You see dear friends, reformation is never about us. The reformation was not about the wisdom or courage of Martin Luther; reform in our own life isn’t about our diligence. Reformation is about Christ Jesus – for it is Christ Jesus who sets us free, it is Christ Jesus who bursts the shackles of sin, who wins us our freedom. It is Christ Jesus who goes to the Cross and suffers and dies for our sins and wins us salvation. And what of the times when we in our pride, in our arrogance, forget that it is about Christ? What about the times when we put our plans and wants ahead of God? What of the times when we would enslave ourselves to sin? “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.” When those times happen, when we have been suckered by Satan into slipping away from the Word, what does God do? He speaks His Word to us again, He calls out to us, He speaks His Word of Law to show us our sin, and then He says, “Behold, I have dealt with your sin by My death upon the Cross.” And He makes us to abide in His Word – He reforms us, makes us to be people who are His disciples – He makes us to know the truth – not just the truth of our sinfulness, not just the truth of His forgiveness – but the Word of God makes us to know Christ Jesus, makes us to know Him who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Christ brings us unto Himself, brings us into relationship with Himself. He baptizes us with water and His Word, claiming us unto Himself. He brings us His own Body and Blood in the Supper; He abides with us here in His Supper so that we might always abide in Him, in His Word. Christ acts. The same God who died for our sin brings His Word to us today, so that we might be kept steadfast in that Word, that we might know Him, and that we might delight in the freedom He has won for us from our sin.
And so dear friends, today we celebrate the Reformation – not just the reformation of the Church some 500 years ago, but indeed, our Reformation – that even as we struggle against sin, even as we often fail to struggle against sin as we ought, that Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior comes to us again and again through His Word and He reforms us –He sets us free from sin – He calls us to repentance and then gives us not only forgiveness but His own strength in order to go forth and show His love, speak His peace and word. Christ Jesus has set you free, you are free indeed – delight in, cherish, and enjoy His freedom. We are new creations in Him, delivered from sin unto salvation and eternal life all because of Christ Jesus. This is the heart of the Reformation. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +