This is the message I'm preaching later today, Reformation Sunday, at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. If you're in the area, join us. You can worship outdoors, in the comfort of your care for our drive-in service or you can come inside for worship. The service is from 10-10:30 AM. The gospel text is John 8:31-36.
Hello, my name is Ivy and I’m a sinner. As our confession earlier stated, “we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.” Now it’s your turn, “Hello, my name is _______ and I’m a sinner.” We humans find ourselves in a real dilemma. But then God sent his Son to save us, as Luther wrote, from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Jesus declares this truth to the “Jews who had believed in him” (v. 31). Now for some reason they just didn’t get it. They ignored the part about truth and latched onto the part about freedom and took it as a political statement.
Their response that they had never been slaves to anyone was ludicrous! Throughout their history, the Jewish people had been enslaved to the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and now they were under occupation of the Romans. It just doesn’t add up.
What was the problem? How could Jesus tell these people they needed to be made free. Weren’t they good Jews who obeyed God’s law? Weren’t they descendants of Abraham, the father of the faithful? Didn’t they even believe in Jesus?
We don’t know just what John means by “the Jews who had believed in him.” Was it that they had believed once, but no longer believed? Or they had believed and they continue to believe, but their faith just needs a bit of tweaking? We do not know for sure, except they needed Jesus’ admonition to continue in Christ’s word. To continue is to stay (in a given place, state, or relation ..):--abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand (http://greekstudytool.com/). It is sticking close to Jesus like your life depends on it, because it does.
Freedom works in two ways. First, there is freedom from, which is liberation from all spiritual bondage. It is being free from being trapped in ourselves, consumed by ourselves, from the belief that we have to save ourselves. “We are free to get over ourselves,” writes Bishop Elizabeth Eaton (livinglutheran.org, 2017). We no longer need to compare ourselves with others, to see if we measure up. Some of us are always doing this, then feeling like we fall short. We don’t have to do this anymore!
Having been freed from sin, death, and the power of the devil, we don’t just sit around twiddling our thumbs. We are freed from bondage so that we are freed for loving and serving others. It is a relationship, not a new set of activities or the demands of a new law (Eaton).
Luther describes this relationship in these words: “Faith…is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God. It…makes us altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O, it is a living, busy, active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly…without compulsion, a person is ready to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown them this grace” (Luther’s Works, 35:370-1).
No wonder this is called amazing grace! What does this mean for us? This is scandalous freedom because it is based on unconditional grace. It is all the gift of a scandalously generous God.
The truth is that we are sinners whose good works, intentions, and even lots of indulgences cannot save. But we are simultaneously God’s beloved children. Think about the never-ending grace of God. Think about it-do we feel the burden being lifted? Think about it—do we feel the complete love of God? Think about it—do we now see others through God’s eyes, free and beloved children?
Today, on Reformation Sunday, we hear Jesus’ promise, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). On this day, in the midst of people electioneering, in the midst of robocalls asking who you are voting for and reminding you to vote, in the midst of the stress of the Coronavirus, and forest fires, and hurricanes, and whatever else, let us live and work and dance in that freedom God so graciously gives us. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36).