Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Pastor Marc's sermon on Reformation Sunday (October 26, 2014) on John 8:31-36. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
So, if we journey back a bit, maybe 497 years or so, and we take a little trip halfway across the world to a little college town in the middle of Germany, I imagine that the day started like any other. The sun rose, people woke up, farmers tended their fields, and a young college professor in a black robe got up from his desk, put on his overcoat, went down the stairs carrying two pieces of paper that he just finished working on, and he walked out the front door into the dusty street, and headed to church. On the way there, I imagine he said hi to the people he knew, walked up a few short steps to this big, large wooden door - heavy and painted a bright red - and I imagine he stood there, looking at the other papers and flyers nailed to the church door - and then this young professor slowly nailed one of his papers onto that door. I imagine he stood there a moment, making sure everything was straight, reading through what he wrote one more time, before walking back down the steps and heading to his local postmaster to mail his second piece of paper, an exact copy of the first, to the local archbishop who lived a few towns over. With the mailing done, he walked back home or maybe to his office, going over in his head the lecture he was preparing for later that day. That young professor didn’t expect what happened next. He didn’t know he started something big. All he did was write 95 thoughts about the church, God, and what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and he posted those thoughts in public, sending a copy to his boss too. If Martin Luther, our spiritual ancestor that gives our flavor of Christianity its name, never sent that letter to the archbishop - the fights - the theological struggle - what happened next wouldn’t have happened. But they did. And, if you look around, you’ll notice that we’re the heirs to that struggle. We’re a product of that history. Us, here at Christ Lutheran Church in Woodcliff Lake - we’re here because a young professor took a look around, listen to the Holy Spirit, and told his story of God, his story of Jesus, his story of God’s love and our call to bear that love into the world - he told that story - and he wasn’t afraid to share that story with his boss.
So, when we look at our Gospel reading today, these short verses from the Gospel of John, we find Jesus in Jerusalem, teaching and talking to his disciples and others gathered around him. Jesus turns to them and says “if you continue in my word...you will know truth...and the truth shall make you free.” And these words kinda shock those gathered around him. They turn to Jesus and go - “now, wait a minute. Free? What do you mean free? Are you talking about us being slaves? Now, we know we’re not slaves. We know slaves - slavery is all around us - in the time of Jesus slavery was very real and affected millions - but we are gathered around you in the Temple - how can we be slaves? We are the descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.”
“We have never been slaves to anyone…” That’s a very odd phrase to say. Maybe, presently, they could say that. Sure, they might not have been slaves right now. They might not be physically owned by anyone. Sure, the Roman Empire occupied their country and their government - the Roman Empire picked what they could do and when they could do it - but that’s not like the slavery they saw around them. Those gathered around Jesus - they focused on the present - on the right now - and, for that, Jesus calls them out on it.
Their focus on the right now - it causes them to forget their story and their history. It causes them to forget who they are, where they came from, and their cultural identity. They were, as a people, slaves once. They were slaves in Egypt but God, through Moses, led them to Israel. They were in Israel when Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem, taking their leaders and teachers far from home in exile. Their story was full of slavery - and, in that slavery - in the twists of history that gave them their culture - that story also gave them their identity as God’s chosen people, as the people God loves, walks with, struggles with, and continues to live with and through. When Jesus heard that they didn’t remember their slavery - he heard them saving that they did not know their story. They didn’t know who they were. They didn’t know whose they were. And they didn’t truly see the present standing right in front of them - and a future through the one standing before them, face to face - a future through Jesus Christ.
Now, today is Reformation Sunday - it’s the one Sunday we officially, by name, recognize as the birthday of the movement on why we’re all gathered in this place today. It’s a day - like all holidays and celebrations - that can easily be stuck in the past. We could stand up here, recite Luther’s past, talk about how awesome we are, have a potluck with a few casseroles, and just call it a day. We can make the mistake of telling our story - and forgetting the most important parts of our story - we can see our story as a series of events rather than a series of people having epic encounters with God - women and men of deep faith, deep fears, deep doubts, who, unlike those disciples gathered around Jesus in the Temple - these faithful women and men looked in Jesus and they saw God’s mercy. They saw God’s love. They saw God’s future. And they saw God claiming them right now - saying that they matter, that they are important, that their story is God’s story. These faithful people looked at Jesus, looked at the one who died on the cross for them, saw God taking the initiative to reconcile the world, to forgive the world, saw God love the world - and these faithful people, in their own journeys of faith, asked - now what? Jesus walked the earth. Jesus died on the earth. Jesus is resurrected from the earth. God saw the distance between what humans did, thought, and believed, and God crossed over it - God grabbed onto us - and closed the distance. So, when God has done everything, now what? What do we do now? What are we suppose to do - all of us, as a ‘now what?’ people?
9 AM [This was Luther’s question. And this is our question too. The Reformation continues - it pushes us into the future because we live in a very future oriented way. God loved us. Jesus died for us. Jesus is resurrected for us. We’re living in the post-Jesus event. We’re living after the party that God caused by living a very human life. We’re in God’s After Party - living out God’s and humanity’s future right now. We’re living out what it means to be free - to be the heirs of God’s promises through Jesus Christ We are free to shower our neighbor with love. We are free to raise them up when they are down. We are free to walk with them, through strife, struggle, conflict, and worry. We are free to fight for justice on behalf of those who cannot. We are free to march the picket line for those who cannot. We are free to facedown oppression in all its shape and forms - sexism, racism, agism - just to name a few - because we have been freed to be that love. That’s the cost of being a member of the Now What? people. God walked the earth. God loved Creation. God continues to shower grace, mercy, and forgiveness on humanity and God continues to raise up co-creators of the kingdom of God to fight for justice, tolerance, love, equality, and forgiveness - to do what God did in the act of the Cross - in that party that started on that hill at Calvary. We are a ‘now what’ people. We are living through our future, through God’s future, in the party after the party - we are, so to speak, living in God’s After Party - so just how is God calling us to live out that love today?]
10:30 AM [In a minute, we’re going to ask Evan R., his parents, and sponsors to come on up here. And we’re going to make public his part of God’s story. With a little water, much prayer, and the Holy Spirit, we’re going to make known that God claims Evan; that God loves Evan; that Jesus will walk with Evan, no matter where life takes him; and we’ll promise as parents, as sponsors, and as this congregation to pray for him, to educate him, to love him, and to share our story with him. We’ll promise to confess with him the faith that we are given, the faith that the Spirit gifts us with, the faith that causes us to be here right now - to make public witness to God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness. In this “now what?” moment, we’re going to make the Christian church one person bigger, we’re going to proclaim God’s love to one more person, we’re going to promise to grow the Kingdom of God by proclaiming what it means to be free. Like Jesus in Jerusalem, surrounded by those disciples and those others listening to him - when they turned to Jesus and said “What do you mean - you will be made free?” - we’re going to proclaim that Evan is free - that he is now part of us, that he is part of what it means to be a “now what?” people. We’re going to share with him that this ‘now what’ - the time we live in now - isn’t a relic of the past. We’re not gathered here just to celebrate what happened yesterday. We’re not here to lament what yesterday was like - the bigger church, the bigger budget, the bigger services, the bigger Sunday School, and Youth Group. No, we’re here to share with Evan that the Reformation isn’t over, that we’re not finished quite yet. No, we - like him - are called to be like Martin Luther before us, to take a look at the world around us, to pay attention to what the Spirit is telling us, and to see the possibility of change - and just what that might mean. Because the Lutheran Christian story is always a story looking forward, mindful of the past, fully aware of the present, but knowing full well of who stands before us. When we look up, Jesus is there. We might not feel it. We might not acknowledge it. We might wonder if he’s really there - if he really cares - or if anyone really knows who we are. We might not know Jesus - but Jesus knows us. Jesus makes us free. Jesus makes God’s love very real for us - and that’s the gift given to Evan and to all of us.
We are free - as heirs of God’s promise through Jesus Christ - we are free indeed. We are free to shower our neighbor with love. We are free to raise them up when they are down. We are free to walk with them, through strife, struggle, conflict, and worry. We are free to fight for justice on behalf of those who cannot. We are free to march the picket line for those who cannot. We are free to facedown oppression in all its shape and forms - sexism, racism, agism - just to name a few - because we have been freed to be that love. That’s the cost of being part of the ‘Now What?’ people. God walked the earth. God loved Creation. God continues to shower grace, mercy, and forgiveness on humanity and God continues to raise up co-creators of the kingdom of God to fight for justice, tolerance, love, equality, and forgiveness - to do what God did in the act of the Cross - in the party that started on that hill at Calvary. We are a ‘now what’ people. Evan is part of the now what too. We are living through our future, through God’s future, in the party after the party - we are, so to speak, living in God’s After Party - so just how is God calling us to live out that love today? ]
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