Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sermon - Reformation Day (Observed) - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36
“Free at Last”

“Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last” So ends the famous “I Have a Dream” speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the well-known civil rights activist. I don't know if you have ever listened to that speech, but it was part of my studies in a public speaking class long ago, and to this day, when I hear it, it gives me chills. What a powerful case King made for the freedom – the true freedom – of African Americans from discrimination and institutional racism.

Today, we celebrate Reformation Day. And we have on our minds another Martin Luther – the original one. He too was concerned with freedom, but of a different kind. He too had some powerful words to share. His famous speech, the “Here I Stand” speech, was uttered before the Roman Emperor who told him to recant or face the consequences. For Luther, a different kind of freedom was at stake.

And then there is Jesus Christ himself, whose words in John 8 tell us what true freedom is really about. Freedom from sin, which comes by knowing the truth. Freedom from slavery. Freedom as sons. This freedom in Christ, the freedom of the Gospel, is what the Reformation of the Church was all about, and what it's still all about today.

Someone recently pointed out to me that when we Americans think of freedom, we usually think of the freedom to work where we want, to practice what religion we want, to choose what to eat and how to dress. But liberty, freedom, is much more than just this kind of thing.

Throughout the ages, people have often been enslaved – or at least had their freedoms limited. The ugly history of African slavery in America is just one chapter in the long story of humans being cruel to one another. Despots and tyrants of all fashions have enslaved and taken captive various peoples for various reasons. I just heard this week on the radio, that some 25-40 million people around the world today are still effectively living in slavery.

Slaves are treated poorly, usually. They are considered to be worth less than the free man. Perhaps not even thought of as persons, but as property to be used and abused at the master's will. None of us would like to be a slave of any kind in any place or time of history.
But we're not here today for a history lesson or a lecture on contemporary social justice. We have bigger fish to fry.

Jesus gets to the heart of it. Slavery to sin is the real problem. Since everyone who sins is a slave to sin, then that must include all of us. This slavery cuts across ethnic and national lines. It is a slavery of the rich and poor alike. It affects all who have Adam's blood running through us. All who have inherited his nature and likeness. We are slaves from birth. Slaves to sin and under the shadow of the death sin brings.

But this slavery goes deeper. Every time we do wrong, every time we break the law, sin becomes our master all the more. Though we are born into the slavery of original sin, we have no hope of working or earning our way free. Sin rules our lives, our speech, even our thoughts. Everything we do is touched and tainted by sin. We are captives. We wouldn't even now how to get out of our predicament, much less where to run if we could.

And what a cruel master sin is. It causes us heartaches and pain while promising pleasures untold. How many times have you been tempted to sin, to do something you full well know is wrong, and you also know exactly what the consequences will be, and you go ahead and do it anyway. Sin becomes the master. We are enslaved.

Sin brings discord and dissension, war, suffering and death. Sin is worse, because it separates us from our true master and Lord, the one who created us in his own image – an image now smeared and unholy. We are slaves to the cruel master sin which would bring us to the worst of places – an eternity separated from our God, an everlasting punishment we so thoroughly deserve.

As slaves to sin, we are also prisoners. There is no escaping to an underground railroad of good works. There is no sneaking away from sin, or fighting it. We are not strong enough. We are helpless, and we are hopeless. Until Jesus comes.

Jesus tells us the truth that sets us free. What is this truth? We call it the Gospel. The Good News. The Good News that he, Jesus Christ, died on the cross to earn forgiveness for your sins. The Good News is not that you have the opportunity to pay for your own sins. The Good News is not that if you try hard enough, God will do the rest. The Good News is that Jesus has done it all – as a pure gift, free, without cost – by grace.

He is the truth that sets us free, he is the way to the Father, he is the life that never dies. The way, the truth, the life, Jesus Christ. His Gospel sets us free from sin, death and the devil, and even from hell and its fiery threats.

In our nation's history, one man in particular is credited with freeing the slaves. Abraham Lincoln, who delivered the Emancipation Proclamation and thus declared all slaves in the southern states to be free. For this, and for winning America's bloodiest war that finally did bring the institution of slavery to an end, Lincoln is known as “the Great Emancipator”.

We Christians have an even greater Emancipator, who frees us from an even worse slavery. Jesus Christ declares, proclaims, decrees: “The Truth will set you free”. Jesus Christ wins the freedom for you, for me, for all the world. He paid a bloody price, gave his own body into death, so that we are freed for eternal life. And he still gives his own body and blood to us, in his Supper, for the forgiveness of our sins, for our life and salvation.
Martin Luther was merely a man whom God used to bring the truth to light again. It was never fully lost, only obscured. The church was never really enslaved, but she was beset by false teaching. So in his great mercy, God brought reform and renewal. That's what the Reformation was about, and what we remember on this day. Many of those who taught and preached falsely repented, and learned about freedom anew. Today we too step back and appreciate the freedom of the Gospel – freedom from sin, freedom from death, and freedom to live as Christ's people, walking in his light. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last! Amen.

1 comment:

Lutheran Lucciola said...

Great post! Especially for me, as the topic of slavery is a daily discussion around my parts lately.