This was such a great writing on All Saints Day and Reformation Day that I just had to add it to my blog site – Jim Driskell
HOMILY FOR THE FESTIVAL OF THE REFORMATION
By 1520 the storm he’d stirred up was threatening to become a tsunami engulfing all the Western Church. He still didn’t seem to have the first clue about the threat he’d proven to be to Church officials and he thought that if the pope himself just heard of this joy that was now his, all would come out okay. So he pens a little book and dedicates it, of all things, to Pope Leo X from his dutiful servant, Martin Luther. And as he thought how to encapsulate everything he’d been rejoicing in, it came down to two statements that sounded contradictory but were in fact completely complimentary.
The Christian is perfectly free, lord of all, subject to none.
The Christian is perfectly dutiful, servant of all, subject to all.
The opening lines of Luther’s monumental The Freedom of the Christian. And that work remains to this day the classic statement of the joyful “aha” that resulted in the Lutheran Reformation and which, I would suggest to you, people loved by God, is the reason why being Lutheran still matters and why almost five centuries later, the Reformation remains vitally important for the Church today.
It was and it is all about freedom. God doesn’t want slaves. He renounces the way of coercion. He seeks children who serve Him freely and in joy and not cringing in terror and fear. You hear it in today’s third reading. Our Lord says “If you continue or abide in my Word, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Freedom is what He came to bring! Freedom was His gift. Not like folks think of freedom these days, meaning: “I can do whatever I want whenever I want to.” Live like that and you’ll soon find out that it’s not freedom at all; it’s the way to end up a slave to your own passions, appetites and desires. Your Lord came to free you from that dead end way of living.
But to promise and deliver freedom, that requires owning up to bondage, and this is exactly what the Jews in the Gospel or even the Church in Luther’s day, couldn’t stomach. “Free? What do you mean set us free? We aren’t slaves. We are children of Abraham and have never been anyone’s slaves. What do you mean we shall be set free?”
Similarly the hierarchy in those days: We are the CHURCH! What do you mean blathering on about this freedom? What’s important is that YOU knuckle under and do as you’re told. Who do you think you are?
Luther’s joyous answer, of course, was “Me? I’m a perfectly free Lord of all; oh, and a perfectly dutiful servant of all. Sent to be a servant of other’s joyful freedom. In the service of the Master who came to make free children of God and no slaves.”
The Jews had their laws that they thought MUST be upheld, obeyed, and it was in the obedience to them that they focused their zeal and placed their hope of salvation. DOING the bidding of the God who had taken them as His own people through Abraham was their duty and their calling.
But the God of Abraham is the God of freedom and the God who desires children, not slaves. That’s why He had TAKEN them out of slavery in Egypt and why He had given them the divine worship and promises. And the Law itself. A gift given. A gift given to show them their real slavery from which they could never themselves free no matter how hard they strove.
They wouldn’t see it, though. And so Jesus speaks the hard word: “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave doesn’t continue in the house forever.” Sin isn’t something you DO, Jesus says. It’s far, for more insidious than that. Sin is a force. A power. A domineering power. A power that enslaves.
You know its path. You know how it goes. You know it entices you. Try it. It can’t hurt. Everyone’s doing it. No biggy. And how the very taste of it is seduction and the seduction becomes addiction. You fight. You pull back. But you also want. You want the experience again. And again. And even after it has long since ceased to satisfy. Still you go back. Like the dog to its vomit. The vomit it calls and you find yourself unable to turn away. Disgusting, yes. But isn’t it true, people loved by God? Isn’t that the path? The way it works? Sin snares you, and once it has you, you can’t break free by any effort of your will. You can try with might and main, but you know as surely as I’m standing here before you, it HAS you. You are slave.
And there is NOTHING so uncertain as the place of the slave. Sin wants to use you, to trample on you and torture you and then to hand you over to death. Eternal death. “The wage sin pays is death.” A taskmaster, no friend. A tyrant, no freedom. Do it again and again and again, as sin mocks your helplessness.
BUT into this world came the one in whom sin couldn’t get its claws. Into this world where everyone serves sin in some way or another, tortured and helpless, caught in the snares of their own desires, into this world came one who was truly FREE. And free because He was the Son. His place in His Father’s house didn’t depend for one second on what He did or didn’t do. His place was assured because of who He was. And because He was free and Son, what did He come to do?
He came to serve! No one is so free as the One who serves, whose delight and joy it is to be able to serve the captives by setting them free from their bondage, free from their chains, and inviting them into His relationship with the Father. So free that He could even take all the sins that master and torture and torment you and lift them off you and bear them in His own body. In His own FREE body where they could never bend Him to their will and so destroy them there forever.
Behold, the cross! Behold the blood of the free Son, freely poured out so that sin would lose its mastery over you and you be forgiven, adopted, brought into the freedom of the children of God.
He came forth from the Father one free Son, but He goes back to the Father bringing with Him the fruits of His labor. Not a pile of slaves. Not a pile of cringing and fearful hirelings who have no clue how long they’ll be tolerated before God finally is fed up with them and tosses them out. No. He comes back with free children of God. Freed by the Words He spoke. Free indeed. Sins no longer able to accuse them, to master them, to make them come when called. Sins blood covered and forgiven. Death no longer the fate to which their sin hands them over when it’s done with them. Death rather with a resurrection sized hole blown right through its stinking belly through which they will pass with Him. Free children. So completely free that all of the faith has come to them as GIFT. They see it all as GIFT. Nothing about what we earn or deserve. Only gifts given lavishly and freely. The Father gives the Son. The Son gives the Spirit. The Spirit gives you faith that binds you to the Son and the Son rejoices to present you to the Father. All gift.
And so Christianity to be seen in its true light must never be thought of as rules and laws and a frowning God just waiting for you to step out of line so He can wallop you one and torture you forever. Nor is it about the freedom to live in your broken shackles and sin’s crumbled prison holds. That’s not freedom! It’s the freedom to leave that prison forever and be a child. A child in the house of the Father. It is to realize that the standing you could never achieve for all your struggling against sin’s chains is the very gift God gives you in His Son that crushes those chains forever.
Easter triumph! Easter joy!
This alone can sin destroy!
From sins’ power, Lord, set us free,
Newborn souls in you to be.
HERE is the Reformation gift to the whole Church. This is why Lutheranism stands and will continue to stand. We remind the world that the Son’s gift to us is freedom. And that our faith isn’t founded in, let alone shored up by, rules and regulations. Holy days of obligation and fasting from certain foods at prescribed times. Going to communion at least once a year and only after having made confession of your sins to the priest. Do you see what all of that is? Bondage! Not freedom!
BUT the Reformation was so free that it realized that what the law couldn’t guard or preserve, this was God’s free gift. “If you abide in my Word” our Lord said. Why Sunday? Why gather? Not to keep some law, but to receive the gift of freedom! Why receive the Sacrament? Not to fulfill a duty, but receive the gift of freedom! Why observe the Church calendar? Not to be religious, but to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as it gives its gifts of freedom and lifts you by the Spirit to the freedom of the children of God.
Reformation still matters because freedom still matters. It matters to God, who would have you not be a servile and fearful, simpering cowering slave, but would have you be a royal son or daughter, a true child of the King who fears nothing at all.
Late, late in his life, Luther reflected on this great joy. It was during an Advent sermon only a couple months before his death. He preached: “It is well with a man who belongs to an eternal kingdom. He can dance through life forevermore!” You and me too. We can dance through life. For we are children of the King, and sisters and brothers of the Son of God, and to us all, and I mean all, is gift. Happy Reformation, people loved by God, happy feast of freedom! You have been set free. Amen.
– William Weedon, Chaplain
Photo credit: The Town and Parish Church of St. Mary’s on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, in Wittenberg, Germany. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford