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Freedom

This is the message I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Sunday, Oct. 29. The gospel text is

John 8:31-36.

 

Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, a movement that not only impacted the church of that age, but all ages.

What one word would you use to describe the distinctiveness of the Lutheran movement? Is it grace, justification, the good works we do through Lutheran Disaster Relief, ELCA World Hunger, or something else? These are all good answers, but they are not unique to us as Lutherans.

The word freedom is the one most celebrated by Martin Luther. He was in bondage to a view of God as judge and went to great lengths to try to appease God by bringing his body into submission by extreme deprivation such as intensive fasting and beating himself with a whip. It was not until reading in the book of Romans of salvation by grace through faith that the burden of working to be saved was lifted from Luther’s shoulders. This is the freedom about which Luther wrote most frequently. In fact, he wrote a short pamphlet called “The Freedom of a Christian,” specifically about that subject.

Had is such a little word, but it packs a punch in today’s gospel reading. Jesus was addressing the Jews who HAD believed in him. They were not addressed as disciples, as current followers because they had not continued in Christ’s word. If they had, they would have been disciples who would have experienced the truth that would set them free.

These Jews, like all of us, needed to come face to face with the truth that we must come clean about our need. Can we receive freedom if we do not understand that we need to be set free? Freedom in Christ is only good news if we know our need.

Notice that Jesus’ audience declared they had never been slaves to anyone! Wrong! At the time, their land was ruled by the Romans. Earlier in their history the Jewish people had been enslaved by the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians and others. They could not face the truth about their history or themselves.

Luther wrote, “For truth does not consist merely in hearing Christ or in being able to blabber about him at length but also in believing in your heart and in experiencing with your heart that Christ wants to set you free. This is what makes a true Christian.” It is this kind of person that experiences God’s freedom.

The kind of freedom Jesus speaks of has two aspects to it. First there is freedom from meaning liberation from all spiritual bondage. We are freed from saving ourselves and having self as center of the universe. This liberates us from estrangement with God and with one another.

The second aspect of such freedom is freedom for. In Christ we are set free for loving and serving others. It all boils down to relationship with God and one another.

Freedom in Christ is scandalous because it is not based upon who we are or what we have done. The scandal is that it is based on unconditional, not propositional grace.

Luther put it this way, “…if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death and the world…Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.” In other words, we are not to sit on our hands for fear we may do something wrong. It’s like the business world’s statement, “Make sure that you generate a sufficient number of excellent mistakes.”

Today’s gospel reading is all about freedom. The Reformation is all about freedom as well. From Paul’s declaration that we have been justified by grace to Luther’s hammering his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Church door to remind us of the supremacy of God’s grace—what the Reformation tells us is that there is nothing we can do, say or accomplish to earn God’s love. It is a free gift. We have problems when we forget that we already have love as a gift from God and try to earn it on our own.

Our futures are not determined by our regrets and failures, but by what God has done in Jesus’ resurrection—giving us new life and hope and yes, freedom. “So if the Son makes [us] free, [we] will be free indeed” v. 36)—free to love just as God loves us.

Amen!

Resources


Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed.  Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehman (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c: 1959), 23:400).

____________, Luther’s Works, Vol. 48, pp. 281-282.

Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com

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