Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in End Times--Reformation (November 3, 2013)

JOHN 8:31-36

In the name + of Jesus.

     When Jesus preached to the people who were in the temple, he was preaching to church-goers.  He was not calling heathen nations who had never heard of the Lord.  He was calling Abraham’s children who knew and participated in the rites and ceremonies of temple worship.  These people would not have considered themselves lost or cursed or slaves.  They would have considered themselves the blessed, the chosen, and the pure.  The Pharisees said as much when they adamantly defended themselves.  They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33) 
     Many Jews were living under the assumption that God’s favor was theirs by right of birth.  They were born into Israel.  They were God’s chosen nation.  Heaven was supposed to be a guarantee.  The Pharisees recognized that being an Israelite was no guarantee.  Israelites in the past were rejected and banished because they had not kept the Law.  So the Pharisees made the laws more strict.  They thought that their pious demands and better behavior won them a better future.  They were convinced they were children of God, if not by right of birth then by right of their holier behavior.
      So you can imagine their shock when Jesus pointed them in a different direction.  Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  Jesus told them to remain in his word.  In HIS word.  This claim meant that Jesus speaks a better word than God’s Law.  This claim meant that Jesus bestows God’s favor and imparts God’s salvation.  This claim meant that only Jesus could truly make someone a child of God.  And that is exactly what Jesus was saying.  Remain in Jesus’ word to remain children of God.
     There is nothing new under the sun.  People always think that a higher and holier life is what guarantees God’s favor and everlasting life.  In Luther’s day, the farmers and merchants were nothing compared to the monks and priests.  The monks and priests had a holier and higher life which, no doubt, put them closer to God.  So what were merchants and maids, farmers and frauleins to do?  Their holier and higher work was supposed to be found by making pilgrimages to various church and giving offerings to view sacred relics.  They were to contribute to the church coffers and purchase indulgences which were to grant them reprieve from the punishment of sins.  They were to pray to the saints who had done more good works than God had demanded, and by invoking the saints they could gain the benefit of their works.  It all sounded so pious and so sacred, and you can bet that the people sincerely devoted themselves to these things.  But they were all lies.  Jesus and his word were brushed aside for what were considered holier and higher things.  God’s favor is never found in relics, in indulgences, in pilgrimages, or in saints.  Martin Luther discovered and preached what Jesus plainly teaches: Remain in Jesus’ word to remain children of God.
     There is nothing new under the sun.  Still today, people don’t want to hear about Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection.  These are brushed aside as old news.  “We know all this, pastor.  We don’t need to hear about Jesus.  We want to hear about our lives so that we know how to live.  We want to be taught how to live a life that is more joyous, more victorious, and more meaningful.”  As it was in the past, so it is again.  We want to know what we must do to remain in God’s favor.  We want more encouragement to do better and more instruction on how to live higher and holier than before.  The lie is the same—we want to be convinced that we are children of God by right of our higher and holier behavior.
     Jesus answers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever….” (John 8:34-35)  Perhaps these words scare you into thinking that you had better improve yourself if you want to remain a child of God.  And you should do better.  But the more you try to do better, the more you recognize that you can’t do what is right and holy.  Even if your actions seem noble, your motives are corrupt.  You give to charity, but with a reluctant sigh.  You assist the man asking you for help, but as fast as possible because you want to get back to what you really care about.  Even stopping to answer your child’s question is met with a groan.  These are the high and holy works God gives you to do, and you find them annoying. 
     The reason your deeds and your motives are not pure is because your hearts are not pure.  You are trapped as slaves to sin.  You may be disgusted with yourself because you do what is impure, and yet you continue to do what is impure.  You may be frustrated because you have so little patience or ambition to do what is good, and yet you still must be coaxed into doing what is good.  The solution is never to tell you that you should do better.  You know what you ought to do.  The problem is that you don’t, and can’t.  The slave wants to be free.  But he doesn’t free himself because he can’t free himself.  You are trapped as slaves to sin.  Sin continues to dominate you.  Hearing God’s Law will only make the chains of slavery tighter.  The burden of your guilt becomes heavier and your frustration worse.  You cannot work yourself free.  You must be set free.
     That is why Jesus did not tell the Pharisees that they needed to be more strict.  It was not works that would save them, but faith.  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
      Remain in Jesus’ word to remain children of God.  It is the Son of God who brings you into the family of God.  He releases you from the slavery of sin by shackling himself to your sin.  Jesus releases you from all shame by shamefully hanging from the cross and enduring the shameful derision of his enemies.  Jesus frees you from all guilt by being condemned on your behalf.  Jesus frees you from all torment by suffering the rejection and the curse of God.  Jesus frees you from the fear of God’s judgment by granting you a new status.  You are forgiven.  You are beloved.  You are children of God.
     Remain in Jesus’ words to remain children of God.  And you will continue to enjoy the freedom which the Son of God brings to you.  You don’t have to figure out what higher and holier deeds to do so that the Lord will be happy with you.  The deeds you do each day are holy in God’s sight because you are holy in his sight.  You are children of God, and God is pleased with his children.  So whether you are married or single, whether you are driving to work or work is driving you nuts or you are looking for work, whether you are breaking a sweat or taking a break, the Lord is pleased with you.  For the Son has set you free.  You get to live without the fear of worrying about what works are holy enough or done well enough or often enough.
     Remain in Jesus’ words to remain children of God.  Do not go off seeking higher and holier things.  You already have that in Jesus.  You have that in the baptismal water which has brought you into God’s family.  You have that in the body and blood of Jesus which you eat for your forgiveness.  You have that in the word which imparts blessing and salvation..  You have the joy of coming to your heavenly Father with prayers and petitions.  You have the confidence that your Father in heaven hears and acts for you in your best interests.  And you have the comfort of knowing that you are children of the resurrection and heirs of the eternal kingdom.
     Remain in his word and you will remain children of God.  There is nothing for you that his higher and holier than that.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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