Sermon – Pentecost 23 – October 28, 2018
Reformation Sunday celebrated
John 8:31-36 ‘The Freedom of Faith’
CT: Christ has set us free from the enslaving power of sin, death, and the devil by His work on the cross. Yet that the truth of His word continues to be heard is the ongoing struggle of the Reformation.
Intro: October 31st brings to mind witches, ghosts, and goblins ‘trick or treating’ door to door. Safety concerns have caused some parents to opt out for tail gate parties where the kids go from vehicle to vehicle in a church parking lot and collect their treats, complete with a camp fire, marshmallows, and hot chocolate. The Skit Guys did a spoof on all this calling it “Hallel-Holy-Ween” or the “Holy Ghost Weeny Roast”. But here in the Lutheran Church we remember October 31st for a very different reason; the Reformation. Some call it a battle for the Gospel, but in reality it’s the age old battle of our self-made reliance against God’s work for us in Jesus Christ.
The Lie: In Jesus’ day, there were many people caught up in that battle. They thought they had an automatic ‘in’ with God because of who they were. Oh, they liked some of Jesus’ words, and His miracles were real crowd stoppers, but what really mattered was that they were the offspring of Abraham. They had their heritage and so really didn’t see themselves as in need of the Christ that Jesus represented. It’s as misguided as placing all our confidence in being Lutheran, having a Lutheran heritage, rather than in Christ and His word.
So they wanted to know where Jesus got His words from—His claim of truth, and the more Jesus told them, the more offended they became to the point of trying to stone Him. We too have trouble wrapping our minds around Jesus’ teaching that He is one with the Father, that the Father sent Him, that His words are God’s words. Have you got the Trinity all figured out yet? Jesus pleaded with them to at least believe His words on the basis of the signs that accompanied them, but they would not. So Jesus told them their claim of heritage is a sham; they are not of Abraham because they don’t have Abraham’s faith. They didn’t believe the Word God sent so they are not God’s children but rather, the devil’s, and are living the lie of the devil’s kingdom. As you can imagine; that went over like a led balloon!
The great lie of the devil’s kingdom is that you and I are in control—that we have this inherent good in us, just because we’re Lutheran (or any other name)—that we are free to choose God when and how we please and fully able to do good works that please Him. We too are quick to say that we’re enslaved to no one and no thing.
Enslaved: Most have heard the phrase, “the old ball and chain,” as if your wife is some kind of anchor around your neck or painful restraint, but being enslaved to your husband is a very real reminder of how a large majority of the women on earth are still treated. In Canada it’s our work that can enslave us because we’re tied to our bills. We can be enslaved to our children’s wishes, our homes, lifestyle, and toys. While we may live in a ‘free’ country, so much of what we have or do does enslave us.
Jesus said much about that kind of slavery; the entrapments of possessions and money, but in our Gospel lesson today He addresses the slave driver behind all those desires; sin. Jesus wasn’t referring to political slavery from tyrants or ruling authorities, or how our material desires rule over us, though all these things are deeply rooted in the same place; Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Paul in our Epistle lesson makes sure that none of us can wiggle out of this one either, “For all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God.”
Sin separates us from God. And sin is not just in what we say, do, or think, or in what we fail to do; sin is what we are. All humanity is sinful from conception; it’s our inherited condition. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “We are by nature (not nurture) children of wrath.” Have you ever met anyone who has stopped sinning?
Grace not Law: The Law with all of its good and righteous demands only and always accuses us. It’s what we ought to do, but not what we can do. The Law makes sin more dangerous, leaving us without excuse. Apart from God’s grace we are helpless, but…and this is a big ‘but’…but “we are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is our propitiation, our atonement; He makes us at one with the Father!
Word: This Good News is the Gospel and it is found in Scripture alone. Nothing else, or should I say, no one else can release us from the damming power of sin, which is why Jesus’ emphasizes the importance of abiding (resting, living, continuing) in His Word. He is God’s answer to sin and our salvation; the Word made flesh for us. The truth is that Jesus willingly took on the chains of our sins, and then suffered and died in our place to break their enslaving grip on you and me. The truth that sets you free is the truth that still makes the Reformation crucial to every Christian today; it’s the truth of who Jesus is and what that means for you. It’s the truth that Martin Luther stood up for, and strangely enough, it’s the same truth that divided the church and divides it to this day.
Jesus alone rose from the dead giving you and me the full assurance that His word is true; eternal life is His alone to give. And the truth is that Jesus, true God and true man ascended into heaven and sits beside the Father and now intercedes for you and me. The truth is that in His word—His teaching—His Spirit not only brings us to faith, but works to keep us free that we might now and always be His disciples. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!
Abiding: As Canadians, we like to think we’re slaves of no one, yet our lifestyles often call us liars. As Christians, we too can be lulled into thinking we’re ok, after all, we’re Lutheran. But the Reformation slogan didn’t include ‘Lutheran alone’, nor have any of us been baptized in Luther’s name. We are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit—into Christ—into the Word made flesh. We are called Christian because of what Jesus has done for us to make us His disciples that we might dwell in His truth and have the full assurance of the forgiveness of sins—freed from sin to live with Him and for Him and under Him in His Kingdom.
All that said, we do have a rich body of teaching, the Lutheran Confessions, based on Scripture alone. These Lutheran teachings stand the test of time because they are firmly grounded in the truth of Jesus’ word. And these are not dull or dead words, but words that give life because they point out that we are free from sin by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. You are free to serve a kinder, gentler master; free to love God and your neighbour; free to walk in a newness of life.