“Shining in the gift of faith”
A sermon for Reformation 500, 2017
All fall we have been learning these words, this verse:
Let your light so shine before others
That they may see your good works
And give glory to your father in heaven.
And it’s been good. All fall we have been living into the promise of God that we are the light- - that we have been given the light of Christ to shine – and today
– I want to pause, and acknowledge that we are also in a special time and a special day as this is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
We’ve talked a little about that here.
During Lent we studied Luther’s Small Catechism.
Hannah Alfred from our church shared the significance of her trip to Germany this spring, and what she learned about Luther and the Reformation.
There have been events all over our Synod and in fact, all over the country and all over the world commemorating this year and this day. Last Sunday night some of us got together and watched a movie about Martin Luther’s life, and its significance.
In two days it will be October 31, 2017, exactly 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the University church door in Wittenberg.
He didn’t mean to change the world. He just wanted to have a conversation.
He was concerned about a particular practice in the church of his time – the practice of selling forgiveness through indulgences
And He was beginning to experience God – the grace of God – to know God in a different way than he had before – and he wanted to make sure that this message got out clearly.
So he nailed those 95 statements to the door – meaning to start a conversation – and instead started a revolution.
And at the heart of this revolution was Freedom.
You might be surprised to hear that.
You have perhaps have heard that it was the grace of God, or about faith – or you might have heard that it was about the Word of God, and its center in our life.
And all of that would be true. But all of these things – grace and faith and the word of God – brought freedom to Martin Luther.
It was about, as the Gospel reading from John tells us “the truth that sets us free.”
In this short passage from the gospel of John, Jesus is speaking with some of the Jewish people who had followed him. “If you continue in my Word,” he tells him, You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Seems simple doesn’t it? First the promise of knowing the truth, and then the promise that this truth has the power to make us free.
But it’s interesting – instead of meeting Jesus’ words with joy – or gratitude – or anything positive at all
– they say, “Wait a minute! What do you mean ‘free’? We aren’t slaves! We have never been slaves
It’s an interesting response by people who tell a particular story as a part of their history – the story about how they were slaves in Egypt, and how God delivered them with a mighty hand and brought them into the promised land.
That’s the story of Jewish People. Passover. That tells him who they are.
And that’s not even the only time they were slaves. They were slaves of the Babylonians, and of the Persians, and even now – they were living under Roman rule.
(Denial. It’s not just a river in Egypt.)
But that’s one of the truths that will set us free, one of the truths that Martin Luther found in the Scriptures – not the only one, the truth about us.
The truth is that we are captive to sin – not just Peter who betrayed Jesus, and not just the other disciples, and not just the soldiers who put him to death ….
The truth about us is that we are slaves. The truth is that we miss the mark, that we fail, that we fall down, that we hurt one another, sometimes without meaning to, sometimes intentionally.
The truth is that we are broken, flawed, imperfect. And we’re not that good at admitting it.
It’s like the popular song, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
You know that one? And there was one time that I found an old bulletin with the words to Amazing Grace printed on it, and someone had crossed out the word “wretch”. Because you know, that seems sort of harsh, right?
It’s hard to admit, but it’s also the truth behind the very first of Luther’s 95 theses – “that when our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “repent”, he willed for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
I don’t think Luther means that we need to spend our whole lives beating ourselves up – but he does mean that we need to be able to tell the truth about ourselves – that there are things we need to repent of. That there are things about us that need to change. It’s one of the reasons we confess our sins and hear the promise of forgiveness every single Sunday. It’s part of the truth that sets us free.
But it’s not the only truth. It’s not just the truth about us that we need to know.
It’s also the truth about God, the truth about Jesus.
Those of you who were at the Luther movie on Sunday night – there this very powerful moment in it when Luther’s confessor turns to him and says, You are not being honest with yourself, Martin.
God isn’t angry with you. You are angry with God.
Think about that for a moment. And what Luther’s confessor is saying to him. “God isn’t angry with you.”
The truth about God – the truth about the God we know in Jesus is that he loves you
– and he loves you in all over your messy imperfect humanity – so much that he went to the cross –- and he rose to new life – for YOU.
The truth about Jesus is that through his death and resurrection he has imprinted his life and love on us and in our hearts, that he has given us his light to shine in our hearts and in our community,
and that there is nothing that we can do to make him love us less. We can’t earn this love, or this salvation.
We can’t MAKE God love us, and we can’t stop God from loving us.
Like a friend of our family once said to me, a long time ago, during a time when I was sort of down and discouraged with life in general and myself in particular.
I love you, kid. He said. And there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. –( Okay – he used somewhat stronger language than this.)
I love you – and there’s not ONE THING you can do about it
THAT’s the truth that sets us free.
He loves you – YOU – and you the way you really are, not you with the photo touch ups or the you you post about on Facebook, or the you that you put in the resume
And this truth sets us free – there is nothing we HAVE to do to earn God’s love.
There is nothing we HAVE to do – but there are plenty of things that we are FREE to do.
We don’t worship because we have to. We don’t pray because we have to
We don’t read the Bible because we have to.
We don’t serve because we have to.
We do it because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
If the Son has set us free, we are free indeed. Free to see ourselves as we really are, free to trust God in death – to trust God with our lives. Free to love our neighbor, to serve freely those who most need it. Free for another 500 years --– to let God re-form and re-new us as the people of God and to shine that light for the sake of the world God loves