A Sermon for Reformation Day 2016 “What does this mean?”

First Lesson  Revelation 14:6-7

Second Lesson  Romans 3:19-28

Gospel Lesson  John 8:31-36

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [John 8:31-36]

It’s Reformation Sunday!  And not just any Reformation Sunday, but the Sunday that ushers in an entire year of celebration, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  It was in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg; and it was that act that set ablaze the fire we know today as the Reformation.

Other reformers had come before Luther, but none had been so successful; and so Martin Luther has been named the father of the Reformation.  Part of what spurred him to stand up for his faith was his deep concern for his people.  Along with being a monk and a professor, he was a pastor, a deeply concerned pastor; and as a pastor, he saw how the church had failed the people, leaving them ignorant of God’s word and teachings.

The people hadn’t even been taught the basics.  They didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostles’ Creed, let alone the Ten Commandments.  They didn’t know what it meant to be Christians.  They only knew what the priests chose to tell them; and what they chose to tell the people was part of the corruption Luther wanted so desperately to reform.

It wasn’t easy.  Bibles were written in Latin; and even if the common people could’ve read Latin, they couldn’t afford a Bible.  And worship wasn’t anything like what we have in our day either.  Sermons weren’t based on scripture.  In fact, people heard very little scripture during worship.  For the most part, sermons were filled with stories about the saints.

So Martin got to work, teaching his people.  One of the earliest of his writings was what we call today Luther’s Small Catechism.  In the small catechism, Luther explained the six basic pillars of the Christian faith:  the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession complete with the Office of the Keys, and, of course, the Sacrament of the Altar.  This catechism emphasized memorization, but it wasn’t just a book of verses standing on their own.

As Luther listed these six chief parts, he added an explanation to them; and each explanation started with the same question: What does this mean?  And so, as we begin this anniversary celebration, this 500th anniversary celebration, we do well to ask that very Lutheran question: What does this mean?  Not: What does all this celebrating mean?  Not even: What does the Reformation mean to us today?

No, we start by asking the same question the first Reformers asked: What does God’s word mean … to you, to me, to our church, to our community, to the world?  And just look, the Gospel lesson today even points us in that direction. In the lesson today, Jesus is all about, “What does this mean?”  He wants the Jews who had believed in him to understand what it means to be born of Abraham.  But, is it really that big a deal?  Does it really matter?  And most importantly, what does it mean for us today?

Jesus seemed to think it mattered.  For Jesus, our very freedom as human beings was at stake in the answer to that question.  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus had already told them the answer, but their response shows that they still don’t get it.  Obviously they aren’t freed by being of the bloodline of Abraham.  They’re freed by being disciples of Jesus.  And this ‘freedom’ comes from outside of themselves … from Jesus.

This is not an ‘American’ kind of freedom that’s inherent within us, the kind of freedom that’s ours simply because we exist; that kind of freedom that makes us feel independent and self-sufficient.

That kind of freedom is, at best, a social contract and, at worst, an illusion; because every assertion of self holds within it the possibility of a new kind of slavery.  This freedom has the threat of making us slaves to the very ‘things’ we trust in, the very things we desire.

No, Jesus is speaking of freedom that truly reaches into the heart; freedom that breathes new life into every living creature; the truly liberating kind of freedom that breaks through all our self-assertions with a freedom we could never have imagined on our own.

This is a freedom we not only ‘know’ to be true, but a freedom we abide in.  This is a freedom we dwell in; a freedom with an immeasurable mystery of joy and gladness.  “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” 

But what does that mean?  What does it mean to abide in Christ’s word?  To abide in the word of the ‘Word made flesh’ is to live the life of faith; to live a dynamic, abundant life that flows from our Savior to us, and then through us to our neighbors.

Our freedom is found in faith; a faith that shows us our freedom.  This is how we’re made free: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  Did you hear those words?  You’re made free, not born free.

The same Son present at the creation of the world, making all things, visible and invisible, making all things that are and have being, is re-creating us into a freedom that liberates us to live in the life he now so freely gives us; this immeasurable, triune life of God, overflowing and without end.

Christ has taken all that’s ours and exchanged it for all that’s his.  He takes all the things we enslave ourselves to, the things we serve in our sad worldly lives, and through faith he gives us his son-ship with all the unbounded freedom that goes with it.

This is freedom that so_o_o liberates us that it draws us into a life of liberty, with freedom toward one another; not looking down on others, as if we have something that they can’t get, but sharing this freedom with them so that they can drink it in, as the Holy Spirit works to liberate them and give them the inheritance we so graciously enjoy.

It’s no wonder this Gospel text was chosen to be proclaimed on Reformation Day.  It truly gets to the heart of the Reformation.  Our salvation is not in ourselves and not in other men.  We’d be foolish to say, “We are descendants of Martin Luther and have never been enslaved to anyone.”

To proclaim that would not only show ignorance of what the Reformation was all about, it would prove we’re still enslaved from within.  Our salvation is in Christ alone.  He’s the one, the only one, who sets us free from all our sins.  He alone is the son who sets you free.   And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.


In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle