Reformation Sunday – Vicar Schleusener
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Let’s begin with a little context for what’s happening in our Gospel reading today. Jesus had gone up secretly to the Feast of Booths, planning to teach the crowds of pilgrims in Jerusalem before the Jewish leaders figured out who He was and shut Him down. Ultimately, His plan worked. By the time we get to our reading today, the Feast was wrapping up, and Jesus was getting some final teaching in before everybody went home. And as He taught, John tells us in the verse immediately preceding our reading that “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” Not all. Many. In other words, the crowd that Jesus is speaking to here contains a mix of believers and unbelievers, and His first words are addressed to the believers.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The unbelievers in the crowd responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Or as people in this country might put it, “We are American citizens and have never been enslaved to anyone…”
Freedom is, after all, a core American value. Multiple freedoms are ensconced even in just the first Amendment to the US Constitution. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Freedom to peaceably assemble. And in the last number of decades, mistaking the absence of restraints for the presence of freedom we’ve also added the freedom to engage in nearly every form of immorality known to man. We love our freedoms, and think we understand what freedom is all about, but Jesus’ response to the unbelievers reveals the truth. Our confused notions about freedom are dangerous.
Jesus says, “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.” More literally, “everyone doing sin is a slave of sin.” A slave. Not free. Bound by sin, and held captive by it to do its will. Slaves of sin whose labor on sin’s behalf brings forth death. Death for you. Death for me. Death for our families, our neighbors, our country, and our world. A death that’s hidden from view by a diabolical distortion of reality. A distortion that hides the reality that the “newspeak” phrase “freedom is slavery” is no longer confined to the pages of George Orwell’s book 1984. Rather, it plays out in our midst every day.
Do you use your freedom of speech to talk about the people you don’t like instead of to them? If so, gossip and slander have distorted your freedom into slavery to sin. Have you been pursuing wealth, possessions, or education as your source of security or peace? If so, your lack of trust in God has distorted your freedom into slavery to sin. Do you use the freedom of your eyes to lust after others, either with or without the aid of a screen? If so, immorality has distorted your freedom into slavery to sin, for “everyone doing sin is a slave of sin.” George Orwell’s “Big Brother” would be jealous.
And so Jesus, knowing that “everyone doing sin is a slave of sin”, speaks of a freedom that isn’t slavery in disguise. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To abide. To live in the midst of. To be surrounded by. Immersed in the word of Jesus. To abide in Jesus’ word is to know the truth. Not some intellectual knowledge that’s acquired through study, but personal and experiential knowledge that’s gained by living it out. To abide in Jesus’ word is to experience the truth. That is to say, to experience Him who’s not only the Truth, but also the Way and the Life. If you abide in Jesus’ word, you will know Him who is the Truth. And He who is the Truth will set you free.
If you abide in His word. Not in His words, but in His word. Singular. Not plural. Many of His words have been recorded, but He points us to a singular word. That is to say, to Him who is in His own person the Incarnate Word of God. The Word who was from the beginning. The Word by Whom all things were made. The Word that has echoed throughout the ages in the Divine Service. The Word who speaks to you in the absolution through the mouth of a mere man, saying, “I forgive you all of your sins.” The Word who cries out to you in the readings from the pages of Holy Scripture. The Word who calls to you from the pulpit. The Word who became flesh so He could suffer and die upon the cross to make atonement for the sin of the world. The Word who now offers that same resurrected flesh and blood to you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all your sins.
If you abide in Him who is the Word, you are truly His disciples. And as His true disciples you will know Him who is the Word and the Truth. And He who is the Word and the Truth will set you free. No longer a slave. Forgiven and freed from your former bondage. And since this forgiveness and this freedom come from the Word and the Truth who is also the Son, your freedom is the real deal. Not the counterfeit freedom this country offers. Not an Orwellian freedom that binds you in slavery to sins that masquerade as manifestations of freedom, but real freedom. Freedom from sin, and therefore also freedom from death and the devil. The true freedom of sons and daughters, who, like the Son who is also the Word and the Truth, abide in the house forever. By the grace of God through faith in Jesus, this freedom is offered to you today and every day.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.