Home > Uncategorized > Sermon for Reformation Day (Observed) 27 Oct, 2013

Sermon for Reformation Day (Observed) 27 Oct, 2013

Sermon on John 8:31-36, by Andrew Smith

Note:  A version of this sermon was submitted to the Göttingen Sermon Archiv.  As usual the audio can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.thesis

The sermon for today is based on the Gospel for the festival of the Reformation from John 8.

Jesus spoke these words to some Jews who had begun to believe in him.  They show very quickly how little of Jesus’ message they were willing to receive.  They did not see themselves as slaves to sin and therefore saw themselves as better than the sinners and tax collectors Jesus typically associated with, and worse they did not see themselves in need of what Jesus came to bring, freedom from slavery.  There is a quote by another famous German that I would like to share with you this morning, “None are more helplessly enslaved than those who believe themselves to be free.  Goethe said that.  And although I’m not certain of the context, I think it applies to the Pharisees gathered around Jesus in the text this morning.  They stand out in the Scriptures as a strict warning to us to watch what we make of ourselves.  It is too bad that we so rarely see such attitudes in ourselves.

Today, of course, is Reformation Day.  It’s far too simplistic to say that on All Hallows Eve, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg and thanks to him we’re finally free, free from the tyranny of the pope.  First, when you read the 95 Theses you are instantly aware that dear Father Martin, not yet Doctor Luther, is not yet Lutheran.  Thesis 44: “Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.”   Second, the 95 Theses are not part of our Lutheran Confessions, The Book of Concord.  They are a rather narrow reaction against the selling of indulgences, pieces of paper from the pope that remitted temporal punishment for sins in purgatory that could be bought with money.  Father Luther doesn’t want people to buy remission of temporal punishment; he wants the sheep of his flock to continue to do acts of penance to earn their freedom.  That’s not Lutheran and it’s not yet the basis for the revolution that would become the Reformation of the Church.  At most we can say that Luther’s reaction against indulgences were the beginning of what would become the Reformation of the Christian Church.  Overly simplistic notions of the Reformation do us no good and pit us as the good guys verses the Roman Catholics.  Jesus says something different.  Jesus says, the real enemy is ourselves and the most terrible part about it is that we are blind to our own slavery.

This happens on a large scale with institutions and organizations and it happens to us as individuals too.  It happens because we fail to abide in the Word of Jesus.  Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”  Those who have no time for the Word of God are not abiding in the Word.  The longer a person stays away from the Word, the weaker faith becomes.  Eventually, if faith is not nourished by the Word, it will die.  The Word of God is the food of faith, the air faith breathes, the fuel faith burns.  Without the Word faith dies.  It will forever remain a mystery to me why some, otherwise wonderful Christian people, stay away from the serious study of God’s Word.  I confess that I am not perfect in this area—no one is—but the attitude of staying away is not only wrong-headed, it’s sinful.  Every time I have grown as a Christian, it has been because of the serious study of and mediation on God’s Word.  Every time I have failed in faith toward God and in love toward others, it has been because I failed to take to heart God’s Word.

Our study Bibles do us no good if they are covered with dust.  Our catechism does us no good if we do not meditate on it daily.  And I can assure you that all your doubts concerning God and His ability to answer your prayers come from so little fuel for faith, the engine of prayer.  I can assure you that all the anger and arrogance you find leaking out of your heart in your relationships with other people is there because you have first failed to abide in the Word of God.  When we live like this, we live like Pharisees, completely blind to the slavery of our sin and therefore we are slaves to sin.  When we abide in the Word of God we know the truth about ourselves and how God sees us and we know the truth about Jesus and what He has done on the cross to free us from sin and slavery to sin.  That is the truth that sets us free.

On a personal level, we need to hear the Word of God and live as we have been called to live but contrary to prevailing opinion today, we are not just living for ourselves, we are in this entity called the Christian Church just as we as individuals are in constant need of repentance, so the Church until the Last Day, is ever and always in need of reforming, semper reformanda if you prefer your slogans in Latin.  The Reformation was not meant to have been a singular event in history but an ongoing movement to reshape the Church always toward the will and heart of Christ our Lord.  It simply means that each generation must hear the Word of God afresh and respond to the call to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.  What our Reformer fathers set down in the Lutheran Confessions as the Reformation of the Church’s doctrine is pure and true and yet the Church and every congregation struggles in every age to learn it and adapt themselves to it.  Don’t you find it odd that every time a pastor is ordained or installed in our churches we make him swear to uphold the content in every article of every document in The Book of Concord?  Why would we do that if history has not already taught us how hard it is to maintain a clear confession of the truth of the Word of God?  That’s why today in Bible class, we’re doing a brief overview of the Reformation, and set the stage for understanding the first of the Lutheran confessional documents, the Augsburg Confession of 1530.  Did you hear that?  1530.  Luther’s small catechism was printed in 1529 and came first chronologically, but only by a year.  That means the first doctrinal statement of the Lutherans as a whole came 23 years after All Hallows Eve, 1517.  If we are to be a confessional Lutheran church we need to be not only in the Word of God but we need to know why we believe what we believe or we are doomed to repeat the history we do not know.

That’s why Jesus’ Word first shows us our slavery to sin, so that His Word can bring us freedom from sin.  God’s purpose is to break our pride and bring us ever before Him as no better than anyone else.  But Jesus says, “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.”  The Word was written down not just to give a list of dos and don’ts and certainly wasn’t given so that we would have a list to hold over the heads of others.  We have the Word of God that we might remain and dwell in it always, not graduate out of it.  The Word preaches to us the truth and that truth is Jesus Christ.  The truth is that truth which Jesus Himself speaks from the cross.  “Father, forgive them.”  “It is finished.”  He alone speaks this truth for He alone is bore our sin, even our sins of spiritual blindness and our prodigal attitude toward the Word of God.  He has born even these sins to the cross.  From the cross flows the forgiveness won for us by Jesus perfect obedience and steadfastness to the will of God the Father.  To know that truth is to live in it, to abide in it and to be free from slavery to sin and to be freed from our callous attitude toward the Word of God, to be freed to listen, to love, to treasure and even obey God’s Word.  That Word sets us free.  That Word abides forever.

Luther and the Reformers risked their lives and all they had for the sake of the freedom given to us by Christ alone so that we might be a people who abide in the Word of God and so that we and our congregation and all the congregations of the Christian Church would be continually reformed by God’s Word.  Take seriously Jesus’ invitation to abide in Him, to abide in His Word.  He means to use to use it to reform you for the better and for the benefit of those around you according to His own purpose.  He means to free you, both now and forever.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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