Reformation Sunday; October 29, 2017
Jeremiah 31.31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3.19-28; John 8.31-36
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Faith is powerful. Last week Jon, Liz, and I hosted our aunt and uncle for lunch. Throughout our time together they told us stories we had never heard before. One of which was of Jon and Liz’s great-great grandmother.
In the late 1800’s as Tuberculosis was ravaging much of the United States, including the Upper Midwest, a faith leader gathered a small group of people together in a small, rural church in southern Minnesota. That faith leader asked the group if any of them had faith enough to care for a family that was dying of Tuberculosis. Jon and Liz’s great-great-grandmother stood up, and agreed to care for them. She risked her life going into their home with a contagious disease, which doctors were only beginning to learn about. And, she lived to tell about it.
Faith is powerful. I think of her and this story when hearing Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the truth. In fact, in John, 14.6, Jesus says it outright: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Knowing the truth, knowing and having a relationship with Jesus, will make you free. Jon and Liz’s great-great-grandmother knew Christ, and it made her free to not fear illness or death. It made her free to love and serve a dying family.
Often times we think we know what freedom means. We think it means “doing whatever whenever we want.” That’s not that kind of freedom Jesus is talking about.
To illustrate this point, we can look back to the beginning of chapter 8 in the Gospel of John. There is a woman who is caught in adultery. In her humiliation she is drug before and made to stand in front of all of the religious leaders, a crowd of people, and also Jesus. The man she was with, however, is nowhere to be found.
The religious leaders quote the law: “This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
All eyes are on Jesus, who thinks it’s a good time to bend down and write in the dirt with his finger. I almost like to think he was ignoring them. They keep questioning him, so he stands up and says: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Then Jesus goes back to writing in the dirt, as one by one, each of the woman’s accusers walk away until only the two of them are left. Jesus straightens up once again, looks at the woman and says to her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?
She says, “No one, sir.”
And Jesus responds, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Pastor Barbara Lundblad reflects on this story and writes: “The truth bent down to be with a woman accused … This truth set [her] free from death, free to turn her life around (Sundays and Seasons, Preaching, Year A 2017, p. 276).”
Here’s one last story about faith and freedom. 500 years ago Martin Luther read the Bible and it changed the world. God has power like that through Scripture, to change the lives of people who read it and hear it proclaimed. The living Word bears Christ and it’s exactly where Luther came to know Jesus, the one who set him free.
Luther was a person burdened by sin. Anfechtungen is the German word that Luther used to describe the overwhelming times of spiritual trial, terror, despair, and religious crisis that he experienced throughout his life (http://www.trinitylutheranms.org/MartinLuther/Anfechtungen.html).
Luther went to confession so many times a day that his confessors grew tired of him. He believed that God was vengeful, that God was just waiting to strike him down for not being good enough. He lived in constant fear of judgment and of God.
But then Luther read passages like: “… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … God justifies the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3.23-24, 26).”
Passages like this completely changed Luther’s life. There was nothing he needed to do to earn the love of God or earn his salvation. His faith in Jesus was enough. The burden and weight of fear and the sin he felt in his own life was lifted. He was set free.
Faith is powerful.
In just a little bit, three people in our congregation will be affirming their faith, going through the rite of confirmation. Noah, Maddy, and Tim were brought as infants to the waters of baptism. When they were babies their parents, sponsors, and congregation members promised to pray for them, to bring them to worship, and to teach them about Jesus, in order that they may grow to love and trust God. These promises have been fulfilled.
Now they are old enough and have said they are ready to affirm their faith in Christ that has been instilled in them their whole lives.
We have spoken often in confirmation class about faith: how faith is really trust in God, and how it’s having a relationship with Jesus. Faith is both individual and communal. We have talked about how our baptismal life culminates in our death, and all this time in between on this continuum is our life of faith in the One who has died for us.
In the beginning of most classes we drew what are called “Faith Talk” cards in order that we could practice talking about our faith. Here are just some examples of questions we would discuss:
“What does your baptism mean to you?”
“Tell about an act of injustice that troubles you.”
“When sad, do you find it helpful to go to a house of worship to pray? Why or Why not?”
“Recite the first verse of a hymn that you have memorized.”
It is important that we as people of faith can talk about it. I have said many times that confirmation is not graduation from church. It’s quite the opposite. It is an affirmation of one’s own baptismal faith and a recommitment to more deeply invest in reading Scripture, attending worship, and trying the best one can to love and serve God as a disciple of Jesus.
We all affirm our faith today with these confirmands, and re-commit to our walk with Christ and our life together as church.
As Luther discovered 500 years ago, this is all grace. It is given to you and to me in order that we may have confidence in the love of God, that we may care for people who are dying, or be so transformed by Scripture that we live out our lives in service to God and neighbor.
Jesus, the Son, has a place in the household of God forever. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”