Sermon for Reformation Day 2023
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed 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 answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)
The worst kind of slavery is the kind that you do not even notice.
Let’s give a real simple definition to slavery for the sake of meditating upon the words of Jesus.
Let’s say slavery is serving someone or something without any choice in the matter.
Now with the most obvious form of slavery, actual human slavery where people are owned by other people and are forced to work without pay, there is no illusion of freedom there. That is obvious to all. In those historical examples throughout the ancient world or more recent examples like here in the US up until the civil war slavery was obvious and there was no denying it.
But there are many forms of slavery. You can be a slave to sin, a slave to guilt or shame, a slave to some sort of substance, a slave to the opinion of others, a slave to bitter memories which still control your behavior years later.
The examples are endless… Chains of bondage come in many many different forms.
But most people walk around with these chains on without any clue they are even there. We delude ourselves into thinking we are completely free.
One of the tricks of the enemy to get people into slavery, serving something without any choice in the matter, is to give people the illusion of choice and therefore the feeling of freedom.
Marketers very much prey upon our desire for freedom and choice while at the same time trying to affect our choices… “You are special, you are smart, you are sophisticated, YOU deserve this, so that is why you will always choose to buy OUR PRODUCT…
And the next day when you go ahead and buy that product is that an example of exercising your freedom of choice, or is it an illusion of choice and you are in fact a slave to manipulative techniques of expensive marketing?
Jesus told a crowd, supposedly a crowd that believed in him that if they abide in him and in his Word that they would know the Truth and the Truth would set them free.
Now you might think they would ask, How can we abide in you? How can we know the truth? Or maybe they would say, “Help us to be set free!”
No, they didn’t say any of that, they got stuck immediately on that point. We don’t need to be set free, because we are not slaves to anyone or anything.
They proudly talked about their ethnic descent from Abraham.
This is the worst kind of slavery when you are convinced you are utterly free, not even knowing the chains are there.
And slavery can work in more than way, not only to sin but also to the law of God, or to superstition. When Martin Luther visited the city of Rome in 1510 what he found so disturbed the young monk that he was changed forever. What he found were lay people enslaved to trusting in Christian Relics, holy items that if they visited them or heard mass next to them they would receive an indulgence a certain number of years off of their punishment in purgatory.
Luther himself visited many of these relics and performed many of these rituals until he began to question why the Gospel was no where to be found. Where was the truth? Where was the freedom that comes with abiding in Christ? All there was was this slavery to sin, and slavery to the church’s superstitious rituals… No true freedom in Christ.
In order to be free first you need to see those chains. On that trip to Rome, Luther saw the chains, and what he did after that changed the world forever.
Being a Christian is not about continuing in slavery to sin, saying to ourselves we can sin because we know we are forgiven.
Being a Christian also is not about becoming a slave to a set of rules, becoming a slave to tradition or things we think might please God in order to keep him happy.
Being a Christian is about abiding in Christ… living in that framework of a relationship with the Redeemer of the world, and living in true freedom within that relationship.
The Christian is free… free from the compulsion to sin, free from the shame surrounding that sin, free from empty religion full of pointless ritual, free from the law, free from the pressure of Good Works, but free to walk in Good Works out of love.
If the Truth has set you free you are free indeed.
The truth is if you read on in John chapter 8 the conversation becomes increasingly hostile until they accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan and having a demon.
The crowds could not get past that initial sticking point that they were in fact slaves… “No.. We are free! We are children of Abraham!”
Please don’t get stuck on that point. We are all slaves, we are all bound up to things that control us at times…
And if you do claim to be free, whatever you do, don’t claim your freedom on the basis of nationality or ethnicity or history or outward actions or anything other than your status as a believing child of God who is forgiven and redeemed by the blood of the lamb.
That is our only basis of claiming true freedom. Any other basis is faulty.
Today we celebrate a day a little over 500 years ago when that Gospel light had grown very dim, and the typical Christian had no idea what true freedom in Christ really meant…
And then along came Luther and many others as well, and they stoked that Gospel light brighter fanning it into a flame that helped to restore that true Freedom in Christ.
So, on this day above all other days in the church year we remember and celebrate the freedom that Christ won for us on the cross.
We remember that if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.