Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Festival of the Reformation (Transferred)

Sermon on John 8:31-36
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
October 28, 2012 (The Festival of the Reformation - Transferred)

What Jesus says in today’s text centers around the concepts of “freedom” and “slavery.”  Those concepts are also important concepts for us as Americans as well, as both words have played a significant role in our history as a nation.  Americans value their freedom, especially since our nation was born out of the attempt to free those who lived here from the tyranny of King George III of England.  And, partially because of that background, the framers of our national Constitution were careful to add to that document a list of provisions, called the Bill of Rights, insuring that the government would not restrict our freedom in certain important ways.  For us Christians the most important is the freedom to worship according to our conscience without government interference or government support of competing or contrary religions, as well as the freedom to have and express our opinions publicly, including and especially unpopular ones, and sometimes the Christian testimony on a particular issue, such as abortion, will be unpopular.  Of course, since that time the freedoms we enjoy here have been misinterpreted as freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want, no matter how offensive it may be to those around us.  It has also been misinterpreted to say that anyone who disapproves of someone else’s behavior needs to keep their opinion to themselves, or risk being accused of “censoring” the other person.  This isn’t what our nation’s founding fathers had in mind.

Now, as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel lesson, that which many modern Americans think of as “freedom” is in fact a form of slavery, slavery to sin.  Whoever sins is a slave of sin, as Jesus points out.  Sin has the capability to control us, to dominate our lives.  Certain kinds of sin have been labeled by psychologists and counselors as addictions, whether you are talking about alcoholism or gambling addictions or pornography addiction or whatever, but the fact of the matter is that every sin is addictive.  Every time you sin, it makes it easier to commit that same sin the next time, and in fact it breaks down your resistance to that sin and makes the desire to do it again stronger.  It dulls your conscience and begins to make you think that what you are doing is simply normal.  Sin is the ultimate addiction.

Now, of course, Christians have sometimes disagreed with the labeling of various sins as addictions, because such a label tends to make the person sound like a victim of a disease instead of being a guilty person who needs to repent.  There is some truth to that objection, because a person who is an alcoholic or an addict of some other sinful substance or activity is a sinner, and not simply the victim of a disease.  But at the same time we realize that sin itself is an addiction, a disease, and it is an addiction or a disease that we are born with.  You have all heard on the news about babies born already addicted to various substances because their mothers abused drugs or alcohol while they were pregnant.  Well, every one of us was born addicted—to sin.

This is the picture Christ is trying to paint for us when he says that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now, the people Jesus was talking to, the Jews, were not, most of them, addicted in any obvious way that we know of to any specific sins; in fact, they seemed to be totally free of those kinds of entanglements, as they point out to Jesus.  Of course, when they say that they have “never been slaves of anyone,” they are conveniently forgetting about the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans.  But more importantly they are forgetting the master who had a tighter hold on them than any of these earthly rulers, namely sin.  Even these outwardly righteous people are slaves to sin, because their behavior shows that they are constantly afraid of it.  The Pharisees built a hugely complex system of rules and regulations in order to prevent them from coming anywhere near sinning.  The fear of sinning which causes a person to do that is itself a form of slavery, and it was also this kind of slavery from which Jesus came to free us, and against which Martin Luther later fought so hard in the Roman papacy of his day.  The Pharisees followed their complex system because they were afraid of sinning.  The medieval church also created that kind of fear in the hearts of the people, as we can see from the amount of money they were willing to shell out for indulgences.  A person who is constantly afraid of sinning is dominated by sin just as much as is someone who is constantly giving in to the temptation.  He is simply not free.  And besides, often this extreme fear of sinning also causes people not to do good when they have the opportunity, for fear of sinning.  Fear of sin paralyzes a person and causes him to sin by not doing what he should do, because he’s afraid of sinning by doing what he shouldn’t.  And this only makes the cycle worse.

Over against the slavery to sin, both the slavery of indulgence and the slavery of fear which drives the sale of indulgences, Christ stands and promises to set us free.  “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  He is the one who can set us free, for He as God has authority over sin, death, and the devil which have enslaved us.  He is the Son of God the Father, and as the Son he can free those who are slaves.  The power of sin is not broken when we try our hardest to not sin.  The power of sin is broken when the sins we have committed, and those we will yet commit, are forgiven and no longer held against us.  This breaks the fear and the despair which lead us either into works-righteousness and paralysis or deeper into the addiction to actual outward sins.  Forgiveness carries with it the power of the Holy Spirit to amend our sinful lives, and to live as God’s free children rather than as hired servants in His world.

We have become the adopted children of God’s house because the Son of God became one of us and became our brother.  His innocent life, his suffering and death, and His resurrection and ascension set the pattern for our life, death, resurrection, and eternal life.  Where Christ has gone there we shall go, and in fact we have already gone through those things in Holy Baptism.  We already in this world partake of the feast of Heaven in the body and blood of Christ Jesus.  We already have a life that is free from sin, though while we yet live in this world this is hidden underneath the old sinful nature and the old troubles, pains and hurts.  But even while we are troubled by temptations and by guilt from our sins, and even while we suffer and must put up with life in this sinful world, we are already living the new life which Christ has given us.  We have already died and been raised with Christ, and this freedom gives us the ability to live as God’s free people in this sinful world.

This is the kind of freedom that the Reformation was about: not a political freedom, not a freedom from government authority, not a freedom to do whatever we want, and not even the noble freedoms we enjoy as Americans, but freedom from sin, freedom from condemnation, freedom from hell.  The Gospel, which grants us this freedom, is what the Reformation was all about, and it is still what the Lutheran Church is all about.  The Festival of the Reformation is not just a celebration of an old historical event or the Lutheran equivalent of a patriotic party.  The Reformation is not about bashing other Christians, even though we must recognize and clearly point out that many other Christian church bodies are indeed wrong about what this freedom means for us as well as about certain other things the Bible teaches.  The Reformation is not about the church war between the Lutherans and the Pope, even though it’s true that many of the concerns Luther raised with the Pope’s church are still a concern to us Lutherans today.  Instead, the Reformation is a commemoration of the larger war against sin, death, and the devil which was won by Jesus Christ by dying on the cross and rising again for our justification.  Sin, death, and the devil no longer enslave you.  The Son has set you free, and so you are free indeed.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

No comments:

Post a Comment