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Just Wanna Be Free

This is the message I shared with the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Reformation Sunday, Oct. 28. The text was John 8:31-36.

I’m sure we’ve all seen pictures of the migrant caravan and our hearts are moved, whether or not we believe they should be allowed into our country. I cannot help but hear Honduras over and over as the place from which most of the migrants have come. They want to be free from the harsh life of their land of origin. They want a better life for their children. They want to be free from the poverty and violence in their neighborhoods. It brings to mind the refrain from an old song from the ‘60s by the Rascals:

“All the world over, so easy to see
People everywhere just wanna be free
Listen, please listen, that's the way it should be
There's peace in the valley, people got to be free.”
(Edward Brigati / Felix Cavaliere, People Got to Be Free lyrics © Sony/ATV

Music Publishing LLC, 1968)

Today, as Lutheran Christians, we celebrate the freedom we have in Jesus Christ from “sin, death and the power of the devil” as Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism. He defined sin as being curved in or turned in on ourselves—in other words, self-centeredness. It’s all about me. We may feel like we have all the freedom in the world, but Jesus says we are still slaves if we are in bondage to sin. God has not only freed us FROM sin but has freed us TO live in relationship with God and each other.

We may have more in common with the audience of Jesus’ day than we care to admit. The Jews who were listening to Jesus believed! Isn’t that all that’s needed? Jesus didn’t think so. They may have believed once, but their faith was flawed. The believed something about Jesus but they did not know or believe the whole story. These people had no lasting relationship with Jesus’ word. That is the root of the problem. That is why their faith had died or become flawed (Brian Stoffregen).

It is not a matter of intellectually believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for us. God wants a dynamic relationship with us that will endure throughout eternity. 

Let’s think for a minute about our own families. Would we experience all the benefits of being a member of the family if we never spoke to each other? What if we never told our parents, spouses, or children how much we love them and never acted as if we love them? Wouldn’t we be missing out on something?
In today’s gospel, there are steps to experience the life of freedom Jesus is talking about.

The first step is to continue and to live in Jesus’ word. How do we do that? Take time to quietly, prayerfully read scripture. Listen and expect God to speak to you. You don’t have to have a seminary education to hear God. Study of God’s Word is important. Join us for our current Bible study on the Book of Acts or for a future study. The better we know the Word, the better we will know God. But God’s Word is more than just the Bible. Jesus is the living word of God who wants to live in relationship with us. How well do we know Jesus? How well developed is our personal relationship with the living Word? Just like in a family, we need to talk with God if we are going to be connected to him.  

The second step is the result of this communion with God’s written and living Word.  We will know the truth. We often think of truth in the philosophical (or absolute) sense, or in the intellectual sense, or even (as the Jews apparently took it) in the political sense. John's Gospel refers to truth as that which pertains to the person and work of Jesus. 
The opposite of "truth" in the NT is often "lying" -- concealing something about reality (see John 8:44-46). The Greek word for truth also means-- "what is firm or sure, and thus reliable” (Brian Stoffregen). Truth is the presence of God in Christ. God came to live among us in His Son.

Martin 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.” 
This leads us to step 3-the truth will set us free. Maybe we think we’re free—we’re healthy, wealthy, and wise. Everything is going well in our lives. As some say, we are “living the dream.” We may not feel like we need God. Or perhaps we’re in the middle of an awful situation that we can’t seem to find the way out of. Can God really expect us to experience freedom in a place like that? Yes, he does. 

God’s truth sets us free. “Freedom from the power of death [allows] us ’to live life abundantly. Freedom from guilt [and] forgiveness of sins [allows] us to live by grace. Freedom from despair and meaninglessness [allows] us to live for Christ and for others through friendship and service” (Dr. Mark Vitalis-Hoffman). Our response to the truth determines whether we are free or whether we are slaves.

Resources
Martin Luther, vol. 23, 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. Lehmann 
Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman, professor United Lutheran Seminary
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com

  

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