MADE FREE

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In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God says to us, “You don’t have to worry about where you are going to go when you die; rather, be concerned about your neighbor and their well-being in this life. Start loving and know that I accept you as you are and made you unique and good.”


Reformation Sunday: Year A, October 30, 2011
Jeremiah 31.31-34; Romans 3.19-28; John 8.31-36
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

Grace and peace to you from the One who sets us free, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Freedom and slavery are interesting concepts, especially in our context. The truth is that ½ of us in the pews seem anything but free. But those of us not returning to a locked building this morning are well aware of the areas in our lives in which we feel trapped or confined. In many ways, all of us are far from free. We must work to pay our bills, we must sleep in order to function, we must eat to live…if we have broken the law and got caught we must serve out our sentence.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus speaks of slavery and freedom. He says, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” If we are truthful with ourselves, we can admit that we all sin. In our reading from Romans, Paul blatantly says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3.23).” So are we all slaves to sin?

Perhaps it would be helpful to define sin. Since it is Reformation Sunday, a day we recognize our constant renewal and transformation as a body of Christ, it is appropriate to mention how Martin Luther, reformer of the Church, thought about sin. Luther understood sin to be self-centeredness. He really called it, navel gazing…where we simply turn inward and only see ourselves. All my thoughts and actions revolve around me, which eventually leads me to being a slave to my own wants and desires. “Often this is how people may understand freedom — doing whatever I want to do. But that definition of freedom is actually slavery to one's self (Brian Stoffregen Notes – http://www.crossmarks.com/brian ).”

This form of self-centeredness can even come when we spend all of our time worrying whether or not we are going to heaven or hell when we die. What it means to be justified by faith, like it says in our reading from Romans, is to know that heaven and hell is not ours to worry about. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God says to us, “You don’t have to worry about where you are going to go when you die; rather, be concerned about your neighbor and their well-being in this life. Start loving and know that I accept you as you are and made you unique and good.”

So what of freedom? Life is not about waiting until you stop sinning when God will begin to love and accept you. Romans 5:8 says that “God proved God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” The truth is that we have already been made free in Jesus Christ. Jesus did not die for some of you over here and not you over here. Jesus died for the sake of all people and the whole world. (John 3:16-18).

What can be very confusing, yet liberating in Lutheran theology is that we are both 100% sinful and 100% redeemd by God.  We live in the tension of these two realities.

We cease being slaves of sin and exercising our freedom in Christ when our desires and centeredness gets turned away from ourselves. Freedom means Jesus reaching down and gently lifting up our chins from our staring at our own belly buttons, in order that we can see the world and people around us. The Son does and already has made us free and we become slaves to sin when we stop believing this truth.

In my reading, conversations, and study of the Scripture texts this week, there has been a song that has come to the forefront of my thoughts consistently. It is a song my husband Ben wrote called Made Free, where he creatively communicates through song his own struggles with slavery and freedom. I have never done this in a sermon before, but I am going to play a recording of the song for you. The lyrics are included in your bulletin, so please pull them out in order that you might understand and meditate on the words. This is a song of one Christian’s story and struggle between slavery to self and being made free in Jesus Christ.

Listen to Made Free: MADE FREE

 

Made Free – Benjamin Splichal Larson

I’m long past the day when I was made free
So long past the day when I was set free

You gave life to me from the moment I was born
Still I’ve said it’s about me when it’s in your image I was formed

And I’m long past the day when I was made free
So long past the day, but I’ve chosen captivity

You’ve said I’ve got you
I said I’ll do my own
You’ve said I’ll never leave you
But I said I gotta go

And I’m long past the day when I was made free
So long past the day when I was set free

You’ve said you forgive me
You’ve said I’ve got your load
I said I was afraid of that
I said I want a different road
I’m long past the day when I was made free
So long past the day but I’ve chosen captivity

You’ve said just trust me
I said I’ll trust myself
You’ve said come on home
I said I walk alone

And I’m long past the day when I was made free
So long past the day but I’ve chosen captivity
Yet I was made free

I’m long past the day when I was made free
So long past the day, but I’ve chosen captivity
Yet I was made free.

Many of you know that Ben died in the Haiti earthquake in January 2010. Now Ben is fully free and made whole in Christ Jesus. As All Saints Day approaches on Tuesday, and as we celebrate All Saints Sunday next week, we lift up people and our stories that weave together, which ultimately tell God’s story and enriches all of our lives.

I was moved by the story of a man I met when I went to the South Dakota State Penitentiary last month. He admitted to me that he was a lifer. He did not tell me his crime, but rather told me of his transformation story while in prison. He said the only way he would leave the walls of the building is through the roof when he dies. I asked him what that reality was like for him. He said, “It’s actually freeing for me. Once I realized that the men in here and this place was now my permanent community, I finally have the freedom to live and witness to what Jesus has done in my life.”

What Christ is about is the transformation of hearts wherever one is. Freedom, hope, and life are not something out there that needs to be attained once you have things figured out or when you stop sinning because you won’t. In Christ, they come to you wherever you are.

Last week my aunt and cousin came to worship with you. At lunch I asked them what their experience was like worshipping here. They said the first thing they recognized when they walked in was the Spirit’s presence among all of you gathered here and also a spirit of freedom. I asked what they meant by a spirit of freedom. They said it was about being accepted for wherever one is in life and also being accepted for who one is, both by God and the community. I thought that was kind of neat.

The truth is that none of us have earned or deserve the forgiveness and love God offers us time and time again. All have sinned…not some…all. We are all beggars in need of God and each other. The mystery we celebrate on Reformation Sunday and every day is that we indeed are already made free because Christ has set us free.

Now may the love of God keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.