October 31st, 2010
“Truth and Freedom and Christ”
A happy and blessed Reformation day to you all. Today, October 31st, marks the beginning of the great Reformation of the western Christian church. On this day, a monk named Martin Luther stirred up quite a debate with his 95 theses, posting them on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He wanted to debate the sale of indulgences – documents the church promised would forgive sins – but he ended up rediscovering the Gospel itself. And in the years that would follow, others who discovered this Good News about Jesus which had been obscured for so long – they would come to be known as Lutherans. There's more history to all this, of course, but those are the main points.
So today, many protestants and all Lutherans around the world mark and remember the Reformation. There's a danger here of course. We don't want to fall into the trap of triumphalism. One pastor puts it this way:
“Reformation Day is not simply a self-congratulatory, back-slapping day. It is not V-R Day. It is not "We got it right and everyone else is dumb" Day.
It is a day where we ought to be focused on one simple truth. Because the Church is full of sinners who will wish to twist and corrupt doctrine, who will want to turn away from the clear and pure Gospel and substitute things of their own devising, the Church is always, always in need of Reform.” (Rev. Eric Brown - “Confessional Gadfly”)
In short, the Reformation was and is still about the truth. Maybe that's why John 8 is our Gospel passage today, in which Jesus talks about the truth that sets us free. The truth that is his word – and he calls us to abide in it – to live and remain in it. The truth about us, and about him.
To the Jews who believed in him, Jesus spoke this strange saying about slavery and freedom. He wasn't talking about earthly slavery or temporal freedom. He was talking about slavery to sin.
It's a form of slavery we are all born into. There's nothing you can do to free yourself from it. Like bonds or shackles – sin is fastened tightly to you, corrupting your entire nature. Everything you do and say, even every thought you think is chained to sin.
What makes it all the more insidious is that it's hard to see. But Jesus says even if you simply commit ONE sin, you are a slave to sin! Amazing! We like to convince ourselves that we don't sin that much. Ah, maybe a little. Maybe we are “sinning under the influence” but we're not hard-core, full-bore sinners. We just have a little problem, not an addiction. It's like a cold, it'll go away on it's on. But we fail to see the depth and darkness of sin's hold on us. We fail to see the walls of the dungeon that hold us captive here in these corrupted sinful bodies. We are blind to our own blindness.
The Jews Jesus was talking to didn't see it. “We're Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves to anyone”. They didn't see it. They didn't even know they were slaves.
Perhaps they were also ignorant of their own history – and a lesson to draw here today is to know our own. For Abraham's descendants certainly were slaves to someone – named Pharaoh. God went to great trouble to bring them out of bondage in Egypt, sending signs and wonders, and working through the great deliverer, Moses. Throughout the Old Testament God continually reminded the people of these events – not to worship Moses, and not to think they were something in themselves – but to remind them of his great mercy and his mighty arm to save.
Do we know our own history? As Lutherans, we can look back to how God worked in mighty ways to deliver us from the bondage of false doctrine – man-made doctrine – under the power of pope instead of pharaoh. We can remember the man God used to bring about such freedom – a monk named Luther. But we should first and foremost give thanks to God the true deliverer who brings us to the truth, and frees us from error, so that we may see Jesus our Savior clearly.
He is the true deliverer, Jesus Christ. Abiding in his word, his truth, means keeping him central to our lives and our doctrine. Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, perfect and without sin, the Son of God who sets us free from our slavery by ransoming us in his perfect death on Calvary. This is the point of Reformation day – and of every other day we mark and observe. Christ was crucified for you, the slave to sin. Christ died to set you free from sin.
He reforms you by grace through faith, in the work of his Spirit, and not of yourself but this is God's gift. No one can boast of their own works of righteousness – but we do boast all the more about how good God is to all people in his Son.
Abiding in this truth, the truth of Jesus, the church is always being reformed. Because individual sinners are being reformed. By repentance and forgiveness, God renews and reforms us toward his own image. He makes slaves to sin into sons of righteousness. He makes helpless and hopeless, wretched and wicked men and women into holy and righteous children of God. He does this for you – in Jesus Christ.
So be free – from all the sin that would cling to you. In Jesus, be free from the guilt and shame of your wicked works. He died for those. They're gone. Be free from the devil's lies and man's deceptions – and cling to, hold to, abide in Jesus' word. A word which says, “I've done it all for you – it is finished!” A word of grace and mercy, and word of hope and faith. A word which bespeaks us righteous. A little word that can fell even the devil himself, and has, at cross and tomb, at font and rail, forevermore, in Jesus Christ, Amen.