Sermon, Reformation Day, 27-10-2019, St Petri
John 8:31-36 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
God did something big five hundred years ago that got his people back to himself. He re-formed his whole church. It was a radical re-awakening inspired by people like Martin Luther, a Catholic monk. Luther was blessed to hear anew that God’s underserved love is good news that is delivered to us by the resurrected Jesus.
Luther and others did not only know this intellectually or theoretically but personally, in the heart. Luther himself was set free from a heavy burdened life of slavish serving an angry God which was slowly killing him. He was set free by God’s gracious acceptance to a life freely lived in love and forgiveness. Is this your story too?
This re-forming was painful for everyone. It did not appear to be very freeing at times. It seems that we Church folks don’t like being ‘re-formed’, even if it is by good news of new freedom!
Maybe we are like a prisoner who has become so used to the confines of prison that the thought of being set free in open society is too scary to know!
Today we hear how the Jewish people who had begun to believe Jesus’ words objected to being re-formed by his truth and its freedom.
Jesus goes beyond their religious observance. He goes much deeper. They don’t like it.
They believe they are ‘all good’ when it comes to God. He says, “only the truth will set you free”. That implies they are not free; they are still slaves to someone or something.
When Jesus says that they “slaves”; that they are under the control of another master that is not the God of Abraham, they are upset. They don’t like where this is going.
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
They believe they are free already. They are children of Father Abraham and therefore God’s children. They are this because of their family heritage and their good behaviour. That assures them that they are “free”; that they are accepted by a holy God.
They have the right name, the right story, the right traditions, the right temple, the right Law and they keep it. That is what assures them of their acceptance by their ultimate Father – the One God.
Jesus says different. True freedom from the Father is not based on political or ethnic family lines or on people keeping God’s rules. His freedom is not based on mere right belief to a set of words or moral behaviours.
Jesus says that their trust in their family name, ethnicity and good behaviour shows they are still slaves: slaves relying on, trusting in and seeking their own version of truth according to those things.
Their version of the truth about themselves and the world does not set them free into a living relationship of love and kindness with God their Heavenly Father but keeps them at a distance from him; not really experiencing his kindness in the heart.
They are like a dutiful daughter who is working hard in the business to one day get what her Father has, not for any love of her Father or free relationship with him.
Their trust in their ethnicity and good behaviour as what makes them free shows that their real father is not the God of Abraham but the father of lies, Satan. Tough words to hear! No wonder they don’t like it.
But this is the truth.
“…everyone who sins is a slave to sin”, Jesus says.
“Sins come from sin”. We do good and bad things because we trust other things way more than the good forgiveness Jesus brings in the human heart; in my heart.
Simply put, we have a heart that believes “I obey, therefore I am loved”. “I perform the right way, have the right name, do the right things, be the right person, and therefore, I am accepted and loved by God.”.
Jesus’ says the truth is actually the very opposite. Jesus’ truth is, “I am loved, therefore I obey”. I live and do and serve and give, not to earn God’s gracious favour and blessing but BECAUSE I already have them, or more accurately, I have him. He is all of this in human form for me.
This is bad news for the Jews who had begun to believe it seems. They are not free at all. The form of their faith needs to be re-formed.
It is very good news for those with the wrong form; those without family name, right behaviour, right nationality and unholy standing around Jesus. They welcome the re-forming of their heart and life. They could not get enough of this truth. Which is it for you today?
They needed and we need the real truth and nothing but the truth, please help us God. The trust was with them in a person. He is with us now.
The only truth that is actually the truth is him. The only truth that truly sets you free to be at peace with a holy God and his free witness in his world is Jesus and his teaching; his words.
Freedom not only comes via Christ alone, as we Lutherans are big on saying. Freedom comes by Christ himself.
It is not only Christ alone –to the exclusion of all others—who brings true freedom from this chasing after other words and people and promises; it is not only Christ alone that can deliver true and lasting belonging in divine peace, belonging to a community, self-giving love and lasting good future even beyond suffering and even after death, It is also that Christ himself does this for us.
How do you get it? Experience of him in his word.
This freedom is deeper than mere behaviour or right thinking or human vision. Freedom does not come from a strong will to do more or to resist more bad things or be very, very good. It does not come from or rest on your church membership or family name. Freedom does not come through mere overflowing emotions or intellectual agreement. Freedom only comes to the heart by experience of him and his words – by “abiding”, staying with, living with Jesus and his words.
“If you hold/abide to my teaching, you are really my disciples”.
Friend, Jesus is abiding with you, holding you, staying with you and he calls you to return, to stay, the live, the listen and know true freedom from all that binds us.
With his holding and staying and abiding you don’t need to be squeaky clean, keep up appearances, never make a mistake, be really smart, win the argument, find emotional highs to be happy in life.
He is not saying that you simply subscribe to a news service, sign up for a Facebook account, join a club or fall into line with a set of intellectual propositions to be free. He is calling you to one thing: Himself. He demands and offers nothing less than an encounter with himself. His abiding, holding, living resurrection power to re-form you is what sets me free.
That is his “teaching”. His teaching proclaims that “I am loved; now I can do and be; now I can freely obey from love not from fear.
It is Reformation Day. Jesus is re-forming you. Jesus is always re-forming you. He always reforming his people; his church.
It can be painful. We tend to default to the “I obey, therefore I am loved” way. So, we might not like his truth. But it is worth it to get that freedom of his.
Ask a little German monk! Ask a whole global community of faith in this Jesus! Ask a friend who knows him in the heart.
And when you who know him and love him are asked about his truth and his freedom, tell them.
You are loved today. Now you can go and live in him as he abides with you.
Lord, re-form me! Re-form us in your truth, for your Word is truth and sets us free.