Reformation Sunday – October 26th and 27th, 2019 – John 8:31-36
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior +
We human beings do not reform the Church. We are reformed by God, and often we are reformed, reshaped, renewed by Him kicking and screaming. And this reform is not primarily a matter of moral reform; it's not primarily a matter of going home and rethinking our life and then we are better. Pagans and atheists can get their ducks in a row – might be nice, but that's not what reform is. God's reformation is this: He Gospels you – He takes you in the midst of your stubborness and your passionate stupid love affair with sin and death, and He rescues you. That is what Reformation is.
Consider our Gospel text. Note to whom Jesus is talking. He's talking to Jews who had believed in Him – they were people who thought, “Yep, this is the Messiah.” And Jesus proclaims the Gospel, the Good News of Salvation! If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. This is a great promise! This is fantastic Gospel! We can miss it because we don't understand the word “if” anymore – we think of if simply and only as a word of doubt, a word of maybe. If it's nice today, I might go golfing, but I don't know. That's not what Jesus is saying here – He's setting the stage for a promise most fantastic. If you abide in My Word, whenever you abide in My Word, whenever, wherever, whatever the situation where you are in My Word – the result will be that you are My disciples and you will know Me, the Truth, and I will set you free. That's a promise. 100% guaranteed. Want freedom – it's always here with Me in My Word, and you can take it to the bank! What a fantastic promise! Seek the LORD while He makes Himself to be found, and now He will be found wherever the Word of Christ is proclaimed!
And then the kicking and screaming starts. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone!” People say a lot of dumb things in the Scriptures – a lot of stupid excuses are given. But this one, I think this one might just take the cake. This may be the most brazen, stupid thing said in the entire bible. Because you know what story of the Children of Israel, the sons of Abraham is? Its the story of slavery and God rescuing them from slavery. Seriously. What is the second book of the Bible? Exodus – where God rescues the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. And you know what is interesting? That rescue – that was done all the while the Israelites were kicking and screaming. Moses and Aaron show up to rescue them, and Pharaoh commands bricks to be made without straw, and the Israelites grumble: “The LORD look on you and judge you, because you've made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants.” Don't try to rescue us from slavery, you'll make us look bad. And then there are the plagues, and the children of Israel are delivered – and there they are, at the edge of the Red Sea, and suddenly Pharoah comes upon them, and what do they say? “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done in bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not what we said to you in Egypt: Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? Kicking and screaming – and then the crossing of the Red Sea.
And then what happens? Immediately they start complaining about food and water. “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” How dare you free us from slavery, why you're just trying to kill us! And then comes the Manna from heaven.
It goes on and on. So God gives His commands to them reminding them of His deliverance – I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” This is who I am – I'm the God who rescues you. And still the grumbling and complaining, the idolatry and rebellion continues. My favorite – God brings them to the doorstep of the promised land – and He has fought for them, and defeated army after army for them – took out the army of Egypt – any Caananite army would be small potatoes. 12 spies go into the land – and two of them, Joshua and Caleb say, “It's great, God's giving us a great place” - but the other ten all whine. They're too big, they're too powerful – it's great but we'd get killed. And the people rebel again – they refuse to enter the promise land - “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” Kicking and Screaming against the promises and good gifts of God.
And this is just the first year of the Exodus. There's another 1500 years of this throughout the Old Testament – constant whining and complaining against God, fighting against His good gifts, grousing, grumbling. You've never been enslaved? The Old Testament is the story of your desperate attempts to run back into slavery. Jesus isn't surprised by this reaction in John – He's dealt with it for Centuries from His people. And still the promise is proclaimed – I will come to you in My Word and I will set you free. Even over and against you, I will set you free.
And the story continued into the New Testament. The disciples grumbled against Jesus – especially whenever He talked about how He would have to go to the Cross. Or Paul – Paul the persecutor struck blind and led by the hand unto one who would speak the Word to him. Or any of the Epistles – people who have heard the Gospel, yet go fleeing on back to folly and stupidity. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” And on and on throughout the course of Church History – it is the story of people who hear the Gospel coming up with stupid reasons to ignore the Gospel and run back to slavery – a slavery to sin, a slavery to works, a slavery where we want to do for ourselves rather than receive what God would give to us. Even Luther – we call him “the Reformer” as though he wanted a glorious revolution. No he didn't. He had agreed in 1518 to stop writing – provided his enemies stopped taking pot shots at him. They didn't, and being as he was a stubborn German, he fired back, so on and so forth until he's declared an outlaw and basically forced into keeping on writing. Luther went into the Reformation kicking and screaming against it.
And we know why. Jesus said why. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” And excepting Jesus, who gladly prays “not My will but Thine be done” every person you come across in the bible, or in history, or in this room commits sin. Every person is a slave to sin. That means you and me.
So let's ponder our lives for a bit, shall we? If we can spend a few minutes looking at the tomfoolery of the the Israelites in their exodus, we can certainly take a moment to ponder the many and various ways our own idiotic rebellions against God show up in our own lives. So, think about it – what angers you about the gifts God gives you? God gives us stuff – we grumble about stuff. The Israelites complained about the manna in the wilderness (we hate this worthless food), and yet we Americans have wealth and luxury that they couldn't even imagine and still we grumble about the stuff God has given us. God gives us our families and neighbors – we grumble about them, don't we? Or we can grumble about Church – both pastors and congregations – and I'm the Circuit Visitor, so if and when the neighboring Churches grumble too much, I'm the one that gets called in, and when that happens I'll probably grumble more too – even though it's a fantastic opportunity to comfort people by showing them the blessings of body and soul that God has given them.
But it gets worse. We all have our pet sins, the things that are wrong but we like them. A friend of mine tells a story about one of his classes at Seminary – and a nice, pious student asked, “Professor, why do we sin?” And the prof turned around and with an impish grin said, “Because we like it.” And we do. You have stupid sins that you like, that you enjoy, even as you fight against them. Maybe you enjoy it with a side of shame and regret, or maybe you enjoy it with a side of self-rightous indignation – but this is the problem. We are slaves to sin, and we like it – and our old sinful flesh says to God, “Why can't you just let us say in the Egypt of our sin and let us die there?”
Why not? Because Jesus won't have that. Not for you. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Just as the grousing of the children of Israel, both in the Exodus and in our Gospel lesson was no surprise to Jesus, your sin doesn't surprise Him. It might surprise you sometimes, especially when you are given eyes to see it in full detail, but it doesn't surprise Jesus. No – it doesn't surprise Jesus, because He already took up the full weight and burden of that sin from you upon the Cross to rescue and redeem you and deliver you from sin and death. And By Himself, He is going to set you free from sin and death. You are not a slave – you are a son, a daughter. See – He has baptized you. You're His – you don't belong to your sin, you aren't a part of the house of Satan. You are a child of God. Period. And even when you are tempted to run away and whine – you remain a child of God. He has called you His own, and so you are. And He speaks His Word to you again today – makes you to abide in it – right now, that's what's going on. Jesus' Word, Jesus' House – and this is the truth. You are forgiven. You are freed from your sin – even those sins that still call out to you.
And a part of you will always fight against this. You are and remain a sinner, and the Old Adam clings to your flesh like white on rice. And there will be times when his struggling against God will be more obvious, and times when the struggle might be a bit more back burner on the QT – but still the Old Adam will work against God and against you. But you are a child of God. What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. And this is what God does to you by His Word proclaimed and His Word attached to water in your baptism – daily He beats down your sin. Daily He makes you to arise a new creation, enjoying His gifts. And then will come your last day – when He will finally and fully beat down your sinful flesh through your death, and then the Last Day when He will call you forth and you will rise, your body clean and holy, and you will live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This is how He reforms you, and it is a marvelous thing, for which we now and ever more shall give Christ Jesus thanks and praise. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior +