Sermon for Reformation Sunday, October, 29, 2017 - The 500th Anniversary (John 8:31-36)
Jesus is the contract God has with you, written in blood. Jesus is the covenant, unbreakable between the Lord and you. He is the deed you have to the promised land of God’s grace, and the seat of mercy God has given to you as security to tell you, here and now, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to your sins, your account, your goodness or wickedness. The bill has been paid, the checkbook balanced, the debt squared. Only what is left is this work of the Lord within you, day after day after day, to scream in your ears – YOU ARE FREE!
Unfortunately for us, we are the Israelites of Jeremiah, and don’t trust those words. We are those who come out of Egypt, carried by the hands of God and yet we have looked to other gods, other husbands, other Covenant Saviors. We seek our salvation fortune in the fields of family, of politics, of school allegiance, of leisure time. We succumb to the necessity of having to have someone tells us – Know the Lord, because we always forget. Looking for freedom from somewhere other than Jesus.
Martin Luther, at the dawn of what is termed the Reformation, was struggling with this. Seeing this place of sin, these things we do and are done to us to keep us from our Lord who saved us, and then building a whole world of works to make ourselves worthy of a salvation already given. And he saw that Covenant, that contract between us and God was not manageable on what it was we thought, and still think, is our part of the deal.
Luther then saw, as Romans tells us, we bring nothing. We come to the teller window of the Heavenly bank, thinking that we can bribe our way to the top, but all we have to show for ourselves is briefcase full of IOU’s. Not being able to have ourselves be made right with him. Being made right, being settled with God, is not something that is able to come through any sort of ability of ourselves because everything we have to try and make ourselves worthy are gifts God has given to us in the first place. Our time is in his hands. Our talents are special gifts given by him to make you unique for his work, but are not of your doing. Our treasures are not ours. Those treasures are made up of daily blessings given to us, that we might share.
But we go through life like the Jewish believers, hearing from this pulpit, from the Word, from God himself speaking – You are free, and we think the exact same thing. We get left asking, free from what? We are children of Abraham. We have never been enslaved to anyone. Never kept in chains. Never sold. Never bought. No bondage here Jesus. God, you are wrong.
And yet, we thank Luther for this opening up for us these words. Recapturing for us the truths of God’s work upon us. Upon you. To bring to you the words of Christ each Sunday – no, each day - in hopes of showing to you the chains of sin you cannot break. The moments each minute of each hour we turn our eyes from God and seek something else. The chains of sin that bring with it the reward of death. The loss of our lives for the sake of what we think is freedom from God, which is actually bondage to time. Bondage to all things we cannot change. Death and dying comes, and we can do nothing, save know that we have one who has been there, done that, and broken through the fetters of darkness to roll away the stone of our hearts and bring resurrection and life.
That is Luther’s work. The reformation we celebrate this day. A taking of the words of the Gospel to let them do what they do. A use of history to tell you that Jesus is the Savior. The one who has done it for you, but faith is all is asked for. A trust that when your pastor says that you are forgiven in Christ, that there is a need for it, and when you have it, it is true. Constant. Never going away.
A pastor once told the story of an old woman who came to see him. She had been ruffled by one of his sermons about the forgiveness of God, and how nothing can separate us from it, because it is done. And she came to see him and said, “It just can’t be. I have lived too long, too many years, for such a forgiveness to just be given out without me needing to do something.” And the pastor said, “It is true. In the mercy of Almighty God, he has forgiven you all your sin through the blood of Christ. For if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed. Call me tomorrow and ask me if it’s still true.” And so she did. And it was.
The struggle of my life is that I think freedom to be the opportunity to do whatever I want, never thinking that Jesus has done what was needed to free me from thinking that life is all about me. Freed me from the bondage of all the sin, all the things I do to cover up God, or to gain heaven by any means apart from God. But in steps Jesus, opening the door of God’s kindness to tell me, all the stuff That gets in the way, that has made me think God worthless, or pointless; all of that is erased, and now God has looked on my life, not caring about the composition of my life. Only that my life is his life. My sins becoming Christ’s sins to put to death my death in his tomb so I may be raised from that grave of bondage with him.
That freedom, that salvation, is not some magical formula we have to discover over time, but a word spoken into you by God, engraved upon your heart – Know the Lord. That is the work of Christ. The work of the Gospel. The work of the prophecy of Jeremiah, to rub out all other things, all other distractions, all the other stuff that might capture your thoughts and eyes, and have that mantra Paul gives you in Philippians 3, it is coursing through your veins – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.
As we celebrate the Reformation, what began 500 years ago on Tuesday with a young Augustinian monk posting 95 theological claims upon the door of a church, we must not see it as just some event in history to memorize, or another blip on the radar of life before the end of time. It is a moment in history that we can point to where that young monk, Martin Luther, helped give birth to a transformation in the church to move you from ever thinking you have to make yourself salvageable. Make yourself loveable. Make yourself holy for a holy God. But instead know that Son has made you free. That he has signed on the dotted line, securing your pardon, your ransom, your life, with his. To give you life in his name. Thanks be to God. Amen.