It is the time of year again when we at Bethlehem have a convergence of important dates. One of my new favorite holidays, only known of course for 4 years now, is Nevada Day. Of course, Nevada Day also falls on Halloween. A perplexing day for many Christians. Though it shouldn’t be so. “All Hallows Eve” has long been forgotten by all to many. As in “hallowed be thy name,” as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer which means “holy be your name.” All Hallows Eve is simply All Holies Eve, or better known All Saints Eve. A day that will be celebrated next Sunday, All Saints Day. And for Lutherans, add into the mix what we celebrate today, Reformation Day.
The day is well-known probably by most of us. October 31, 1517. Truth be told, Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses was not as defiant as many like to make it. Sure it was somewhat, but nailing things to the church door at Wittenberg was fairly common as the doors served basically as the city bulletin board. The theses were an invitation for discussion. (A brief history and copy is available in the narthex if you desire.)
The day was a well-chosen day by Luther, for most would be attending Mass the following day for All Saints Day. Only a few things were problematic in the church. The people trusted in their work because that’s what they were lead and taught to trust. They trusted that enough offerings in purchasing indulgences earned merits of salvation. They were born and raised in the church and that was deemed good enough. They gathered more frequently for the Mass but most did not partake for they did not hear the Gospel that Christ makes them worthy, for they never got to hear the Words of the liturgy and Words of Christ other than the sermon. It was taught that the Lord’s Supper was for those that had achieved a certain level of holiness, or more accurately donated enough to have the Sacrament.
These things unfortunately have always and still plague the church. As the Jews who believed Jesus even declare, “we are children of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” They had been taught that their mere genealogy had made them worthy. Many Jews were taught as the errors at the time of the Reformation, say the right things and give the right offerings and have the right family pedigree and you are then a child of God. They weren’t taught to purchase indulgences but they were taught to purchase certain animals and make certain offerings as a means of salvation.
And of course their statement of never being enslaved shows some historical revision on their part. Isn’t that what many do, neglect the negative parts of their history? There is the whole enslavement in Egypt that happened for over 400 years, which is of course the whole basis for the Exodus event and their most highly held feast of Passover. On top of this is the slight oversights that they had periods where they were conquered by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. All this is much of the reason talk of slavery and being set free is a major theme throughout the Old Testament. And while they weren’t slaves at the time, even at the time they were speaking with Jesus they were not completely free, as the Roman Empire and Caesar had conquered them and were the rule of the land.
Even today many of these errors are made within the church. We judge faithfulness not by receiving the gifts of Christ but by outward works. There is a temptation to make our offerings not “sacrifices of thanksgiving” (Ps. 116) but our works. There is temptation to trust for salvation things like our being born in a Christian family and that we went through the motions of confirmation. Not that these are bad things. Confirmation is certainly good in so far as it proclaims publicly that the Christian faith has been taught, leading to greater trust in Christ, no oneself. Being born in a Christian family is great as long as the definition of Christian is that which trusts Christ.
There is a tendency still today to see the church as did many at the time of the Reformation. A country club, a nice place to hang out with like-minded people and socialize. A place where people who are comfortable in their life come to reaffirm their greatness. There have been more than a few who have come to this congregation and think they cannot afford to be apart of this communion. More than a few who do not feel qualified or good enough to receive Christ’s gifts.
Christian freedom is often deemed under attack. And in the midst of numerous martyrdoms, ISIS attacks, the city of Houston subpoenaing pastor’s sermons, the state of California passing laws requiring church’s insurance to cover abortions, the state of Idaho threatening jail time to ordained clergy not performing gay marriage, and many other issues of our society, it certainly seems like Christian freedom is under attack.
But truth be told, true Christian freedom cannot be attacked unless silent. Christian freedom cannot be silenced by anyone outside but only within the church. It is when the church is seen as a hotel and resort for the comfortable rather than a hospital and hospice care for sinners that we lose freedom. That is rather what we are here for, as a hospital and hospice care for sinners. Christ’s church is where he comes for those who are broken in their sin. We are gathered not as those who have earned some sort of holiness or earned God’s favor, but as penitent sinners who are dying and deserve death and hell, enslaved to sin.
If the Son sets you free, you shall be free.
Dear Christians, freedom is found and given only in the Son who sets you free. Enslaved in our sin to elevate ourselves, enslaved in our sin to trust our own works, the Son sets us free. Free from sin. Freedom cannot be taken from you. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Freedom is not political, Israel’s past and present shows this, as does the history of the church.
Freedom as Jesus proclaims is in the truth. He who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, gives freedom. Truth is not defined by cultural opinion, popular thought, or whatever appeals to the most people, but Truth defined in the person of Jesus. The one who comes for under the law no human will be justified before God and comes to justify by grace in giving His blood (Rom. 3).
And before we throw out the Law, let us hear the Lord’s word as proclaimed in Romans, through the law comes knowledge of sin. Definitions of morality, of right and wrong, are not in our opinions nor perceived thoughts, but still in the truth that is the Word of God. The law is not given for us to earn salvation but to lead us to repentance and faith.
Children of Abraham are indeed free. Let us remember what it is that is freedom. Freedom from sin. Freedom from sin means freedom from death and the devil, free from the wrath of God. The Truth who is the flesh takes it upon Himself in death and resurrection and sets you free.
Where Christ is in Word and Sacrament there is freedom. For Christ has come to set us free from the darkness of sin, death, and hell and has done so. You are free because the Son has set you free. Freedom that is given in the medicine of immortality for you, the sick and broken, that is His body and blood. Freedom that is given as you are dead in sin and buried with Him in baptism (Rom 6), and justified by grace. Freedom from sin, death, and hell not because of works done by man and certainly not earned, but given by grace and received by faith. It is in admitting that we have nothing that we can know and trust that Christ is everything.
Daily repenting, daily receiving Christ’s gifts, you are no longer enslaved to sin. The heart of the Reformation is the heart of the Gospel. That you are free. Free to hear His Word of absolution, free to trust the one who poured His grace over you in baptism, free to receive week after week that which Christ gives in His body and blood. You are free for the Son has set you free. This is the eternal Gospel proclaimed to every nation and tribe and people (Rev. 14).
If there is ever any question or doubt of your standing before God, trust the truth of Lord who speaks in the flesh to you this morning, “ If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.” He has done so, you are free, and it is a freedom that can never be taken from you. Rejoice all you saints, the eternal gospel is yours and you are free indeed.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.