Summary: Reformation Day: In spite of our ’short memories’ God continually reminds us of his love. He points to Jesus time and again to remind us of the salvation He won for us through his Cross and Resurrection.
Reformation Sunday – John 8:31-36
“The Heart of the Reformation: We Fall – We Forget – God Restores”
The lady must have been desperate. She decided to write a letter to Dear Abby. Her letter reads: Dear Abby, I am 44 and would like to meet a man my age with no bad habits. She signed her name, “Rose.” Abby replies: “Dear Rose: So would I.” There’s more truth to Abby’s answer than her typical pithiness conveys. “So would I” – meaning that perfect people are not easy to come by. I think that you and I can relate to that. At some level we know that perfection eludes us. What perfection? Why even the simple thing that Rose asked for: having no bad habits, eludes us.
Military officers have an interesting saying. Whenever they commit a serious gaffe – when they seriously mess up, often they say: “I fell on my sword.” Meaning, “boy did I ever goof.” The person who falls on his or her sword has self-destructed or done something that obviously reflects badly on them.
We fall on our swords too. More often than not, though, we say, “I’ll never do that again!” How many times have we said those words just after self-destructing? In the guilt and anguish that follows, we think or we say, “Never again.” But before we know it there it is - that same ugly sin - you know the one I’m talking about – it just keeps coming back over and over and you can’t seem to get past it. And in frustration we say, “I’ll never do it again.” But before the words “I’ll never,” stop echoing – there we go again - we fall. Why? We want to do good – but we just can’t seem to. Instead, we fall. We fall.
You see, beloved, that is the one common thread that all of us share – people of all tribes and nations, races and tongues all suffer from this – we fall. In the second reading from Romans today, Paul puts it in plain language. He says to us, “There is no difference between people. Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.” It’s been that way this side of Eden. It’s been that way for all descendants of Adam and Eve: for the prophets and the people of times past; for the pastors and their parishioners today. We’re all in that same briar patch – we’re fallen. The good news is that God is willing to forgive when we confess.
But there’s a problem. We forget. We have a tendency of not remembering. You see, it’s not a pleasant thing to be reminded that our very nature is flawed. Paul’s words, “All have sinned,” burn. Nobody likes to hear this. And so like memories of a bad dream, people ignore this fact; set it aside; have selective amnesia. That is what was going on in today’s Gospel lesson. Let’s read it together: [Read Gospel Lesson here]
The dialog was passionate. You see, this exchange between Jesus and some of his followers happened in the middle of several other intense confrontations. A group of religious teachers had just brought a fallen woman to Jesus. They wanted to trap Him. They said to Jesus, “We caught this woman in adultery. Our law says that she should be stoned. What should we do?”
Jesus knew that if He said, “stone her,” they would accuse Him of breaking Roman law. You see, only the Romans could sentence people to death. And if He said, “Don’t stone her,” they would accuse Him of ignoring the Jewish law. So what does the Lord do? He reminded the religious leaders about what they had conveniently forgotten – that they too were fallen. Their condition was the same as the woman. He said, “The first one without sin can throw the first stone.” When they realized that Jesus had just stripped them of moral authority, they dropped their stones and left the woman alone.
The same thing happened in the Gospel Lesson that we just read. Jesus was teaching. He tells some of his Jewish followers that if they continue in his word, they will be truly free. But they react in almost shock. They denied that they needed anybody to free them. “We’re Abraham’s descendants,” they said. “We’ve never been slaves,” they claimed. “How can you say that we need to be set free?” they cried.
Talk about short memories. What about all of that exodus stuff? What about the parting of the Red Sea and the Pharaoh’s army chasing their ancestors through the desert? That whole “Moses-leading-them-out-of-slavery-in-Egypt-thing” was central to their faith. But all of a sudden - they get amnesia. And what about the Romans that were parading up and down their streets. What about the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate? How could any Jew ever forget about all that stuff?