Sermon Reformation 2012
Jesus says to his disciples and to us: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Truth and freedom are the key words. We hear a great deal about truth and freedom these days. So we ask the perpetual Lutheran question, “What does this mean?”
Truth is important. People need the truth to get along in the world. If you have beliefs that aren’t true, you are going to have problems. You will make bad decisions based on false information.
Telling something that is not true can get you in trouble. If you do that in a courtroom, you can be in legal trouble.
Truth has had a variety of meanings or understandings throughout history. The dictionary gives the first meaning as being faithful or constant. Think about it as being true to your principles.
Being true means being faithful to what you say you stand for – being true to your word. In this definition, being true is also being sincere in your actions.
The next definition of truth is factual truth. Something is true if it exists. Something is true if it actually happened the way you say it happened.
The fact checkers in our election process are concerned with this meaning of truth. They check carefully to see if the politicians are stating actual facts, or embellishing them, or just plain making things up.
The fact checkers have a scale that starts at true, then goes to mostly true, half true, mostly false, false, to finally – “liar, liar, pants on fire.” Fact checkers don’t see truth as black and white. They see stages. They see shades of gray.
The fact checkers would probably call, “Pants on fire” to Jesus’ audience in today’s gospel. They said, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” What???
Have they totally forgotten the most important story in their history? The descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people, were slaves in Egypt. And they were slaves to the Assyrians, the Persians, and the Romans.
Another definition of truth goes beyond the facts. There is something called ultimate truth. Jesus is usually talking about ultimate truth, the deeper meaning. For example, Jesus uses parables to teach people the deeper truth about their relationship with God.
The parable stories themselves did not happen historically. There was never really a person who was the Good Samaritan. And an actual man did not sell everything he owned to buy a field with a pearl in it.
Does it matter if these stories did not happen in history? Does that make them untrue? Of course not. They are true because they teach us about our relationship with God.
Jesus is talking about ultimate truth, our relationship with God, when he tells the disciples two important truths in today’s gospel.
Here is the first truth. It is a hard truth. Jesus tells the Jews who believed in him that they are slaves to sin. They don’t want to hear it. They are in total denial. They have forgotten their past. But, here is an even harder truth. Jesus is talking to us, too. We are also slaves to sin.
When we are a slave to sin, we cannot free ourselves. Sin makes it hard for me to trust anyone. Sin makes me think that people are out to take advantage of me, or make fun of me, or hurt me in some way.
Sin makes it hard for me to share with other people. It makes me afraid that there isn’t enough to go around and I should get mine first.
It makes it hard for me to see the future the way God sees it and Jesus preaches it. It makes me want to keep things the way they are and just do the best I can for myself, without taking care of my neighbor.
And it isn’t just my individual sin that enslaves me. The whole world is broken and fallen. Every decision I make – from the way I spend my money to the way I spend my time – can contribute in negative ways to the health of the planet and the well-being of people who live on other continents.
The words, “We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves” may be the truest words we speak every week. We can say we are fine when someone asks us how we are doing, but the truth will always be that we do not live up to the vision God has for us.
The truth is we can grow and do better, but we can never fully change ourselves. We can help the world, but we ourselves can never save it. We can never save ourselves or anyone else.
That is the first truth – we are slaves to sin.
The second truth is good news. The second truth Jesus tells – is about God’s great love for us. The second truth is about freedom.
Slaves are owned by their masters. They can be bought and sold. Their families, their wives, their husbands, their children can be bought and sold. They have no control. It isn’t their house. They are at the mercy of the master.
Freedom means new life for a slave. Former President Franklin Roosevelt talked about four freedoms that should be world-wide objectives: Freedom of speech, Freedom to worship God, Freedom from want, and Freedom from fear. A slave has none of these.
The sons and daughters in the house have a permanent place. They have security. They have a home. They have a future. They have freedom from want and fear. They have freedom of speech and freedom to worship God.
If you are a son or daughter in God’s house, you have these freedoms. You have been redeemed from your slavery to sin. You have been forgiven.
One version of the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts.” Our sin is like a debt we owe. When we forgive someone we take on the burden of their debt. We don’t keep asking them to repay us or make it up to us. We no longer remind them of what they did. We don’t hold it against them.
When God forgives our sins, Christ takes on the burden of the debt. Christ no longer reminds us of what we did. Christ does not ask us to repay, not that we ever could.
The truth that makes us free is the truth at the heart of the 95 theses that Luther nailed to the Wittenburg church door 495 years ago. It is the truth that we are sinners, sinners that no indulgences or good works could ever redeem.
It is the truth that we are sinners for whom Christ died. We are the sinners who are now free to love and serve our neighbors, care for the poor, share all that we have, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
It is the truth that we who have died with Christ will rise with Christ to new life. To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen.