Summary: This is a reformation sermon designed to deepen our appreciation of the freedom we have in Christ
Happy Reformation Day. Today is an important day. It is the perfect day to talk about Freedom. As this current election closes in, we are blessed to have the freedom to cast a vote for the person we would like to be our leader. But the sad truth is, in this country, and in many others, there are people who are free when it comes to their state, but slaves when it comes to their souls. Our lessons today tell us about the most important freedom; spiritual freedom. My prayer for all of us this Reformation Sunday is simply that God’s Word would touch our hearts, and that we would leave here with a deeper appreciation for the joy of being free in Christ.
This is precisely the kind of freedom Christ himself talks about in our reading from John. Here we meet up with Jesus as he is surrounded by a large group of people who are challenging his authority. These people were slaves. They were slaves not only to the Roman authorities, but more importantly, they were slaves to their sin, to their traditions, to their empty self righteousness. In our reading, we hear Jesus give these spiritual slaves the key to loosen the chains that bind them. Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
This was the simple truth, but the trouble is, it was too simple. It was too much for these Pharisees, these big-shots in the Jewish faith to accept that Jesus was the answer; that Jesus was the way the truth and the life. It was too much for them to admit that they; the crowd; the self-righteous; the pure blooded Jews; were not themselves, the answer. Their response to Jesus was one rooted in denial. 33They answered him, "We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"
If it weren’t so sad, it would be funny. Here the Jews are denying they have ever been slaves. They denied the reality of the Roman oppression. They denied the very history of their people who had been slaves in Egypt and Babylonia. But most of all, they denied their own slavery to sin. They blindly tried to believe that their own choices, their own actions, their own merit could save them.
They were in denial because the truth hurts. Yes, it is Good News that we truly free through the cross of Christ. But, in order to reach that Good News, we have to accept the reality, that without the cross, we would be truly bound, truly condemned, truly hopeless. They truth requires us to venture into a very dark place. Ironically, this is a day that we thank our Lord, celebrate, and sing praises, because the Holy Spirit led one man into this dark valley, into this tunnel of chaos, into this pit of despair.
Martin Luther, the brave, confident, vibrant leader faith; a man who is considered to be one of the most influential people in history, a man who God used to change our understanding of God’s Word, who tenaciously pursued the truth, who renewed the proclamation of the Gospel. He came to this by way of fear. Martin Luther, like the Pharisees from the reading, did all the right things. He devoted himself to the study of God’s Work, he took monastic orders and became a model monk, he made trips to adore the holy relics, he confessed his sins with forthrightness and a burning passion.
By human standards, he had earned every right to feel secure, to feel free, maybe even to be a little smug. The church at the time even told him so. They freely pointed him to all the rules he followed, they lauded him for the life he chose, the told him to find peace because of who he was and what he did. Martin Luther should have been relaxed, and very comfortable with himself. But he wasn’t.
In all these things that he did, Luther realized he was not free. In fact, he was as bound, as hopeless, as despairing as he ever was. He tried even harder; he fell even shorter. There would never be enough holy relics to see to ease his heart. His vows would never be kept perfectly enough to rest his soul. There would never be enough study to ease his worry. He could never deny himself enough pleasures to cleanse his body. There would never be enough time to confess all his sins.
Taught to rely on his own works for his freedom; he found it was never enough. His sin was like quicksand; the harder he fought with his own strength, the deeper he sank. The more he tried to rely on himself, the tighter he could feel Satan’s spiny grip on his soul. Luther was tortured by his own conscience, paralyzed by his own sins. Luther found himself in the predicament all people eventually find themselves in when forced to confront the reality of God’s Holiness, and the reality of our own frailty. We all have to face the truth, the truth unsheathed, the truth made plain, the truth unavoidable. God has standards we cannot attain. God has rules we cannot follow. God has demands we cannot meet.