Sunday October 31st, 2010
A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes. Thomas Huxley, “Address on University Education,” Collected Essays, 1902, III, p. 236.
Friends, it is interesting that the gospel word for Reformation Day is this part of John’s gospel. It is part of a long and very heated exchange between those who believed they were absolutely right with God and a Rabbi who said they were absolutely in bondage to sin in their belief! You can see why it was heated! This whole conversation eventually ends up with the Jewish leaders present picking up some big stones to throw at this Rabbi Jesus!
Hopefully there will be no stone throwing today as we hear some confronting words from Jesus, at least at first.
This would be an offensive word from Jesus to us if we replaced the word “”Jews” with “Christians”.
“To the Christians who had believed in him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are REALLY my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“What, you mean there are Christians who have believed in God’s existence and gracious love, but are not REALLY disciples, and not truly free from being bound up in sin?” the “Jews” and we might ask? Well, it seems so, according to Jesus.
“Is he saying I am not really free and not really following?” Maybe….
As he made this charge against them, those in his hearing rolled out the truth they always returned to. “We are free. We are not slaves to anyone. We know this because we are Jewish. We are of the family line, the community, the history of Abraham – the father of all – the father of God’s promised acceptance”.
We might respond the same way. “I am not a slave to anything or anyone. I am free. I am a Christian. I have connection, belonging and history with the church. I have believed in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour’.
“I tell you the truth” says Jesus, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin and a slave has no permanent place in the family….”
Now there is a dent in the pride! Jesus seems to be laying a big axe right at the roots of our faith and saying that we are not a free as we think we are. He suggests that we are not permanently in God’s family. We can fall out of the family. And then even deeper; the fact that we rebel and disobey God and say and do wrong shows that we are still entangled with this sin problem.
Now that is difficult to take. In fact, many Christian folks do their very best to minimize this reality of bondage to which Jesus refers. “You Lutherans are always talking about being “sinners”, people say. “Why can’t you be more positive!? God loves people and is gracious and Jesus has already died for our sin and it is a past reality. Got over the sin talk and stick with God’s grace……”
Well folks, therein lies the seeds of a shallow and unfaithful life. If sin really is no big deal, and we are not slaves to it, then what do we do with the reality we find when we look within and around us? And once we admit that we have issues, and the world has issues, then where do we turn for justifying ourselves before others and God?
For the Jews that Jesus addressed, it was family/national pride (really themselves). They were children of Abraham, don’t you know. They were free. They we were above all other nations and peoples.
For us Christians – we belong to the church, don’t you know. I am fourth generation Christian or my grandfather was a minister, or my name is Schultz (for Lutherans) or I am a moral person and I do not deliberately sin. I am trying my best, you know!” we might say. Really it is the same place we return to – ourselves.
But the truth that will be the beginning of our real freedom is that our words and actions confirm our status.
Surely, as we reflect honestly on our life and relationships, we are entangled in many “unfree” things – words, actions, inner wounds and the addictions, idols and harm they bring, lack of understanding, lack of attention to God and his Word, envy, greed, just plain weakness and doubt about Jesus and his presence in my life….and so it goes.
These things tell us that sin is a present reality – a “clear and present danger” as one Harrison Ford movie was called back in the 80’s.
When one accepts this reality check of being still entangled with all that is offensive and unfaithful to God, then one just cannot rely on family heritage, church history, someone else’s faith in God or anything else – except one thing.
When the reality of my sin is brought to my attention – by the Holy Spirit, by the way, “who convicts the world of sin” (John 16:8), I am led by the Spirit to the only source of true freedom, and therefore, true following and true reward.
“A slave has no permanent place in the family, but a Son belongs to it forever. So, if the Son sets you free, then you will be free indeed”
The Son is the permanent freedom for all slaves. Jesus is the permanent source and giver of complete freedom. Seeking him for our justification is true freedom.
Friends, the great and complete freedom we already have to live truly free – in love and compassion and faith and confidence is only found in the grace of God poured out in the person and word of Jesus.
May we find that great release from bondage and the freedom it brings that Luther and millions
of others have found – God has done a new thing that is deeper and more far reaching than mere family tradition, church tradition or national pride – he has done something in the heart of a human being that changed a person from within – beyond family ties, or national boundaries.
God has poured out his undeserved gifts of faith and love and grace in the giving of his Son and surely taken all human sin into himself in his Son’s death and resurrection and created the environment for true freedom now.
We are free only in the Son. We are truly free from sin by faith in this grace of God given in the Son. Our faith rests on nothing else – our moral purity, our efforts to be Christian, our church going, our efforts
to be above reproach, to be better than anyone else, our intellectual understanding of Christian faith, our knowledge of the bible even.
Our true freedom from all the sin and evil which still so easily entangles has its source in the Son – Jesus Christ and his dying and rising and his word speaking now.
“I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)
Now that is complete freedom – freedom even from death and its shadow over us. That is freedom that re-forms the church into a living, active, gracious, community of faithful followers of Jesus’ Way.
The freedom from sin and death that Jesus gives in our baptism and ever since is that which transforms the community into a community centred on the truth of things – and the ability to speak the truth in love and forgive and restore each other – in all truth and with all love.
Friends, the new deal has been made, God has done his new thing and is calling us to find freedom in his Son. Lt’s not justify ourselves or rely on anything less than the grace of God freely given in the Son, Jesus Christ – and let’s follow where he leads us.