Worship Theme: Faith Rejoices in the Freedom of God’s Good News
Sermon Theme: Freedom
Worship on Reformation Sunday is not designed to honor a man named Martin Luther but to honor Jesus. Based on John 8:31-36, we hear him proclaim, “I have won freedom for you, freedom from slavery to sin.” October 30, 2022.
With a whack of a hammer sparks flew. Martin Luther thought that posting statements in a language only his fellow university professors could read would lead to a debate about whether or not a neighboring preacher had a leg to stand on when selling sheets of paper that said, “Buy me, and your soul will spring free from the halfway house between here and heaven and will even set you free from the flames of hell!” Little did Luther know that someone translated his debate statements into the language everyone used and copied and distributed them through a new-fangled invention called the printing press. His document spread like wildfire and was the first spark that led to Lutheran Christians worshiping in this Lutheran church. That hammer whack happened five hundred five years ago tomorrow.
Several years ago, I heard a friend of mine explain to church folks in a seminar that the best time to invite a friend to worship would be Christmas Eve or Mother’s Day, not Reformation Sunday because that was a day most preachers bash the church body Martin Luther came out of. I disagree. Bashing another church body is wrong, and we absolutely refuse to do that, especially on Reformation Sunday because this is a great time to invite guests to hear the bottom line about something we all desperately need and want: “Freedom!”
“I’m stuck, and I can’t get out.” Martin Luther wasn’t talking about his monk’s cell as if he was not free to come and go. He was not talking about his career as a university professor as if he could not quit his job. He was talking about his sin. Keenly aware that a rebellious, “I-can-do-what-I-want,” “I-can-do-whatever-makes-me-happy,” “I-can-do-whatever-makes-me-look-good” attitude had infected his mind and heart from birth, he longed for freedom but felt like a commuter who slipped off a subway platform and got stuck under a train that screeched to a stop over him. “What to do? How will I ever find freedom?”
He had about six months to go, six months before the religious leaders would tie him up and haul him before the high priest on trumped up charges so they can get rid of him once and for all. In Jerusalem’s temple courtyard Jesus had announced, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12), a call for people to trust in him to light up their miserable lives with God’s forgiving love that spotlights the path all the way to heaven. His enemies wanted nothing to do with it, “You don’t look strong enough, rich enough, flashy enough to be our leader. Besides, we don’t need a leader to light up the path to God because we are Abraham’s descendants.” They were convinced that they had become members of God’s family by birth and had already met and surpassed whatever requirements God has for entrance into his presence. But Jesus issued a stunning statement, “If you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be] you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24). Pharisaic eyebrows flew up. Then sparks flew with this hammer whack, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” His opponents could not escape. They had to admit that they were not perfect. Neither are we. “If we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). King Solomon was right, wasn’t he, “Evil deeds … ensnare [us]; the cords of [our] sins hold [us] fast” (Proverbs 5:22).
Jesus’ enemies dug the hole deeper. When he told them, “If you hold to my teaching … you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” they pretended like they didn’t get it, “We … have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” But they knew Jesus was not talking about political freedom because the descendants of Abraham had been conquered by other nations many times over and often forced into slavery. In fact, at the time of this encounter the Israelites were under Roman control. No! They knew Jesus was talking about giving them spiritual freedom, yet they brushed his words aside like cookie crumbs on their robes because they had convinced themselves that they had earned spiritual freedom on their own. As much as his opponents wanted to talk about what they had accomplished to enter God’s presence, as much as they wanted to brag about their DNA status, they were going to end up a day late and a dollar short, like waiting in line for a movie with only $9.25 in your pocket, finally getting to the cashier, only to find out the movie is ten bucks. Jesus’ enemies didn’t want to believe it, but when they ended up in front of God at the pearly gates, they would get the gut-punch: Blood ties are not a ticket into God’s family, which is true even if you’re a fifth generation Lutheran. The Bible makes it clear, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law (by doing stuff); rather, through the law (through proclamation of God’s high, holy, and unreachable standards) we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20).
What is it about being an American that is so wonderful? Freedom. What is it about being Jesus’ disciple that is so wonderful? Freedom! Don’t you want to say to Jesus, “I don’t want to be stuck in my sin. Please, Lord, remind me again how you get me out of this slavery”? His answer rings out as clearly as E, F-sharp, G-sharp of our church bells on a quiet Sunday morning, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” words that have the miraculous power to kindle faith in our hearts. There’s evidence of that a few verses before this exchange between Jesus and his enemies. He had been preaching to a crowd of people, and even as he spoke, many believed in him.
Here’s an additional miracle. His words not only have the power to give us the status of being his followers but also the power to keep us as his followers. It would be ridiculous, in fact murderous, to feed a baby only one meal and then expect that baby to live on by itself. Human bodies need on-going physical nourishment. Our souls need on-going spiritual nourishment. Do you recall what Jesus said on another occasion, “People don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)? If you think you can stand before God at his pearly gates and say, “I put my soul on a starvation diet. I popped in for worship when I felt the need, listened online sometimes with one ear as I scrambled eggs and heated up my coffee, ignored the Lord’s Supper because it’s not that big a deal, how do you think that will play out?”
You drop your keys and valuables in a locker, walk through a scanner, and head down the yellow corridor as the door clangs shut. The smell of anger, fear, and disinfectant oozes from the walls. Visiting someone in jail is creepy. The good news is that you get to share a message of Jesus’ comfort with the person you are visiting, and the other good news is that you get to leave. Can you imagine what it would be like to be lose your freedom? If you are walking around thinking, “The sins of my past are so bad, that God will never forgive me,” you are stuck in the slavery of your guilt. If you burdened by thinking, “I have to do better to earn God’s favor and smile,” you’re stuck in the slavery of your save-myself ego. Jesus announces us, “The truth will set you free.” The truth is that God performed the greatest miracle of all time by declaring that, thanks to what Jesus did, we are free from the slavery of guilt and the pressure of trying to earn God’s approval. Listen to your Savior, “If the Son of God sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Rejoice with the Bible writer, “Though we were slaves, God has not deserted us in our bondage” (Ezekiel 9:9). Worship on Reformation Sunday is not designed to honor a man named Martin Luther but to honor Jesus, who proclaims, “I have won freedom for you, freedom from slavery to sin.”
More times than I can count, I have heard someone who heard that ask, “What’s to prevent people who believe that from going out and doing all kinds of bad stuff?” That’s what Martin Luther addressed in his debate statements nailed to the town bulletin board. He had seen a couple of his students teetering from misuse of alcohol and when they sobered up asked, “Why?” When they flashed the get-out-of-hell-free card they bought, he was incensed and wrote his debate statements proclaiming not only how we get freedom from slavery to sin but also that that powerful message changes us from the inside out.
The change is so radical, so one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees different from what was inside of us when we were born! It changes, “I-can-do-what-I-want” into “I-can-do-what-others-want,” and “I-can-do-whatever-makes-me-happy” into “I-can-do-whatever-makes-others-happy,” and “I-can-do-whatever-makes-me-look-good” into “I-can-do-whatever-makes-others-look-good,” which is exactly what we pastors heard and saw the after the tragedy two-plus weeks ago. Everyone we heard from expressed, yes, shock and sadness, then comfort in Jesus’ gift of eternal life, and “How can I help? What can I do?”
The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” and “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:1,13). I know that’s what you have been striving to do in your life, and you want to do that more. You can because God is going to give you the spiritual muscles to do it, which is what we celebrate today. Worship on Reformation Sunday is not designed to honor a man named Martin Luther but to honor Jesus, who proclaims, “I have won freedom for you, freedom from slavery to sin and freedom for service.” Live your life in that freedom! Amen.
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