The Truth Will Set You Free- Sermon for October 25, 2020 from Pastor John
Sermon for Reformation Sunday
October 25, 2020
Several years ago I was visiting a parishioner in the Aspirus Hospital in Wausau. I was the man in black. It was a Sunday and I was wearing my black shirt with black pants and black coat. Actually it was Reformation Sunday. It wasn’t long and I met another man in black. He was a Roman Catholic priest and he thought I was the same. When I told him I was Lutheran he said “I supposed you celebrated Reformation Sunday, but please know I did not.” He said so with a smile and I grinned back. I don’t understand why not. Reformation Sunday is not only a Lutheran party. Reformation Sunday celebrates reformers in all churches who worked to make their church more faithful to the Good News of Jesus and the importance of God’s Word. It is God’s Word that guides and inspires us, in short makes us true disciples. Let us keep in mind that reform in the church is not just a do-it-yourself kind of project. As we heard in the prayer for the day, it is the Holy Spirit that renews the church in every age, the Holy Spirit who keeps us steadfast in the Word of God.
In today’s gospel reading the setting is Jerusalem, and Jesus is teaching the people in the Temple. He told them “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Many people believed in Jesus. Jesus was concerned that faith could become complacent or faith could become a casualty when life became difficult. So Jesus spoke to those who believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” This is a theme Jesus will repeat and repeat throughout the Gospel. It is like the old story of a student telling his rabbi barely concealing his pride: “Rabbi, I have read through the Scriptures three times.” The rabbi responded “It is not how many times you have been through the Scriptures, but have the Scriptures been through you. Is the living Word of God dwelling or living in you.”
Jesus talked about knowing truth and being free which caused some of his listeners to object: “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone, so Jesus, what are you talking about, “you will be made free”? I have heard people tell me that they consider this church as their church, that they are members even though they have not come through the door for years. Their argument is based on their descendants, their parents or grandparents were faithful members of the congregation. They were baptized and confirmed and that would be enough; they saw no further need for attending worship and hearing the living Word of God. What truth could the church possibly give to them?
In our reading Jesus made clear the truth about us: “Very truly I tell you, everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.” This may not be a comforting truth to hear. We all would acknowledge that no one is perfect, we have all made mistakes, but Jesus did not use such words, he said “commits a sin”. And even more, we are slaves to sin. We are not only captive to sin and cannot free ourselves, we can very well be captivated by sin. The fundamental sin Jesus was speaking of was unbelief. We break the commandments by thought, word, and deed because we do not fear, love, and trust God above all else. We are all good people. We care about others and we come to church and even give of our money to support the congregation. Just where does unbelief come into the picture? This requires soul-searching and honesty. I think of examples from the Bible. I think of Martha who kept a clean house and was no doubt an excellent cook. When Jesus came to visit she became busy, too busy to the point of distraction. She was trying to be perfect for Jesus working at a feverish pitch in the kitchen. But what about her thoughts about her sister who was listening to Jesus, continuing in his Word. For Martha there was no time for that so she lashed out at both Mary, her sister, and revealed a resentment toward Jesus. Jesus did not scold her but saw what was going on: she was anxious and worried about too many things, which distracted her from the truth, she neglected what was truly needful, listening to Jesus and be blessed and guided by his grace. Yet many people who read about Martha and Mary take Martha’s side and feel Jesus was being unfair to her.
Think of Jesus’ disciples who had a tendency to argue among themselves as to which one was the greatest. Now we may think what a crass bunch of clowns. But it is easy to be swept up by the culture’s measurement of a person’s worth and status often based on wealth and the accumulation of things. And there can be a dark side for seeking status judging people by the color of their skin, fear of immigrants seeking a better life, and blaming those who are poor. We find it hard to love others made in the image of God and do not want to continue in Jesus’ words calling us to trust him to teach us compassion and the ways of peace.
Preacher and author Richard Rohr tells about a prayer he heard at a worship service in Africa. And elder prayed “Lord, let us never move into stone houses” Rohr had no idea what he meant, so he found him after the service and asked about his prayer. The elder said “You know many of us in Africa are poor and live in huts which have no doors. That is why your family is my family, and my family is your family. But as soon as you move into a stone house, you build a door. On the door you put a lock, and behind your door you begin to accumulate more and more things. Then you have to spend the rest of your life protecting all that you have acquired.” This true story has plenty of food for thought. We are captive to sin. We are captive to wealth. We are enslaved to putting ourselves first and not responding to the needs of others. We may think “Me First” and feel that is what freedom is all about.
Jesus teaches a different freedom than “me, myself, and I” and gives true freedom that comes from him In the lesson Jesus gave the illustration of a household. In biblical times slavery was all too common. Slaves were property and as Jesus said of that reality, have no permanent place in the household. But the Son has a permanent place, so if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Think of the freedom Jesus gives to you: after making clear the truth of our slavery, and one can use a stronger term, our addiction to sin, unbelief in our thoughts, words and deeds, Jesus reveals the greater truth that God does not reject the world, but loves the world, God loves us. Even though we are as guilty as sin, Jesus reveals the greater truth he was sent to this world not on a mission to condemn, but to save, to heal the broken relationship between heaven and earth. If we are lost and burdened in this world and we wonder just where Jesus is, he reveals the truth: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak the things the Father has instructed me.” You will know the truth of Jesus, the truth that makes us free, when you see Jesus lifted up on the cross. Revealed at the cross is the Lamb of God who takes away your sin, my sin, and the sin of the world. Revealed on the cross is the love of the Savior who draws you, desires you, declaring you are loved beyond all measure and we will not ever be abandoned to deal with sin, death, and evil alone. This is what makes us free, what Jesus has done for us, that by his life, death, and resurrection, it is all ours, eternal life or a permanent place in the household of God. Luther wrote about this freedom in his well-known hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”-“were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, the kingdom is ours forever.”
An expression for Reformation Sunday is “The church is always reforming”. By the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit we must not become petrified and fearful of needed change. So we must be alert to the needs of the community ever asking how best can we be witnesses of the love and faithfulness of Jesus. Reform, change, and challenging times can be scary but Jesus says know the gospel truth: he sets us free to serve and love others. We may still wonder how, but Jesus shows us the way to be true disciples: Continue, remain, abide, and make your home in his Word. Jesus reveals that God ever continues with us.