The Rev. Paul J Cain
Reformation Sunday Divine Service, 30 October 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Truth matters. In medicine, proper dosages matter. There are only two genders in procreation, male and female. In engineering, safety depends upon the composition and structure of concrete and steel and carbon fiber. When it comes to your salvation, truth matters.
According to Romans 16:17ff, Christians are given to watch out for all who teach contrary to the Lord’s Scripture. That does not mean that we are to be primarily known for what teachings we oppose. Christians are also given to clearly teach God’s truth from His Scripture. That is when the Church is known for making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching God’s Word and when, as the Body of Christ, the Gospel is the main message.
All who seek truth will find it in Jesus. A person’s relationship with the truth of Christ says something about discipleship and true freedom.
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 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’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
Note that Jesus is not just speaking to any Jews, but those who had believed Him. They were not His enemies, but their follow-up statement shows they set themselves up as His adversaries. They have finally heard something they do not believe. “We are offspring of Abraham,” they say, “and have never been enslaved to anyone. Is this true? No. What about Egypt? What about the Babylonian captivity? What about being enslaved to sin, self, and Satan? No. They don’t want to talk about that. Jesus even recognizes their murderous intent.
Jesus introduces them to freedom. We Americans are used to hearing about freedom in two contexts, Church and State. There’s freedom in Christ and political freedom. Yes, we wish that both be preserved, but they are two different, but related concepts. Both can be misunderstood.
How can “freedom” be misunderstood? In both spiritual and political definitions, if “freedom” is misunderstood as merely the license to do “whatever we want,” then we’re not really talking about freedom. That’s anarchy, selfishness, licentiousness, and another form of bondage. Consider the teen or young adult that comes home to mom and dad and says, “I want to make choices for myself. I want to be an individual. I want to [add shocking thing here] just like everybody else.” This misunderstood version of so-called “freedom” is no freedom at all. It has sin, rebelliousness, and conformity to peer pressure from the devil, the world, and bad human influences all over it.
Freedom in Christ, true spiritual freedom, is freedom “from” and freedom “for.” Let’s talk about both, for Luther does.
A Christian is the freest lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
We are free from sin, guilt, the domination of the devil, and from the eternal punishment we deserve. In contrast, medieval Christianity misunderstood salvation, leading to works righteousness. They felt bound to do good works so that God would forgive them and eventually let them into heaven.
The same folks thought they were free with regard to their neighbor. By locking themselves up in convents and monasteries, they often did not, could not, or would not serve their neighbor in need. Luther explains that this is also exactly backward of serving according to vocation.
Freedom in Christ, true spiritual freedom, is freedom “from” and freedom “for.” As forgiven Christians, we are free from sin and guilt and eternal consequences before the Lord, free for good works in service to our neighbor in need. This, I believe, is the root of the so-called Protestant work ethic. The Lutheran Reformation not only restored the Gospel as the unearned, undeserved Gift of Christ to you because of His death and Resurrection, it also restored Scripture as the proper authority over the Church and the Christian, returned good works as service to neighbor rather than service toward God, and returned Christian freedom to its proper emphasis.
Were there cultural, political, and social changes as a result of the Reformation? Certainly, but they were never the main focus or intent of Luther. For him, it was all about the Word, the Word, the Word—the Lord’s Truth.
We pray that the Lord Himself will keep us steadfast in His Word this Reformation Sunday and always. The Reformation was never really about Luther or Germany or only protesting ecclesiastical authority. It was and is all about Jesus, a return to Scripture, God’s Truth, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reforming human traditions on the basis of Scripture and the Gospel: Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, all to God’s glory alone!
We will observe the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation over the next year. Today is but the beginning. In November, we will observe the birthday of Martin Luther. In February, we will remember his heavenly birthday, the anniversary of his death. In March, I plan to share with you an English version of a German-language Communion service sung here at Immanuel, Sheridan, to celebrate our congregational anniversary. In June, we will remember the 1530 Presentation of the Augsburg Confession with a special service. And then, October 29, 2017 will be observed as Reformation Sunday.
Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” It’s still all about Jesus. Amen to that! Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.