Reformation Sunday; October 30, 2016
Jeremiah 31.31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3.19-28; John 8.31-36
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the one who makes us free, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.
A question: What makes us free in a world where sin affects our lives and death will come to each of us?
To think about this question I have two stories for you. One has to do with freedom in the face of death. The other, freedom from a life that has wrought destruction and pain.
Eight or nine years ago I learned that a girl not much younger than me was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Learning of her diagnosis deeply affected me because she was about my age, the oldest of three children, same as me in my own family, and I had known her dad since I was a child. Her dad was and still is my eye doctor.
When I would go and get my eyes checked out on a yearly basis I would always ask him about his daughter, Katie, and how she was doing. It was clear that her battle with cancer was a rollercoaster, trying experimental and new treatments, not knowing if they would work or not. The possibility of death was always a reality for her. Then, a joyous day came in January 2009, when she was declared cancer free and in remission.
For the next seven years Katie would go to college, make the most of life, and get a physical therapy degree. She got her first job and two months ago she got married.
Last month I had my annual eye check up with her dad and I asked him how Katie was doing. He told me that her cancer had returned and she was in treatment again in Texas. Things didn’t look good and he and his wife had been traveling back and forth to be with her.
Last week I learned that Katie has stopped all treatment and has been brought home here to Bismarck to be on hospice care. So many people grieve this and are praying.
Again, what might freedom mean in the face of death? I think we can find an answer to this question in my eye doctor’s caring bridge post from this past week. He writes:
It’s only been a couple days and Katie’s condition hasn’t changed much BUT an extraordinary event occurred which should be an encouragement to everyone! Sunday evening a large group of believers and friends of Katie and our family gathered at our home. It originated from our church (Grace Point) here in Bismarck. It was a mild quiet night and most folks signed a large card to leave with our family. Over 200 people brought a light source(flashlight,cell phone, etc.) and circled our home Then beautiful minutes of prayer for Katie and our family-it was awesome and overwhelming!! To conclude the assembly sang “It is well with my soul” in unison. Words cannot truly describe this heaven-like group raising praise to God. Karen Kelly and I tried to convey our appreciation to everyone and if you were there and we didn’t get to thank and hug you then please know how much your presence meant to us! To be blanketed in love and prayer is unspeakable!…Thank you for your prayers as we go day to day here. Sincerely. Pappa Bear (Keith)
Whenever I speak to my eye doctor about Katie, cancer, and death, he witnesses to me about the freedom he and his family find in Jesus and in faith, regardless of what the outcome might be. He knows that God may not choose to restore Katie to health in this life, but he knows without a doubt that Katie is granted a permanent relationship with God that will lead her into eternal life.
There is life that not even death can take away. Belief in Jesus and trust in this promise of God is what gives freedom in the face of death no matter what may come.
Now for the second story. I have visited the camps just south of here where people are staying to protest the pipeline and protect the water. I go to learn, to listen, and to try and understand the situation. Six weeks ago in one of the camps I witnessed one of the most powerful confessions I have ever seen in my life.
There is a prayer fire in the center of on of the camps where anyone can come and pray. The day I was there it was pouring rain. Suddenly there was a man who came forth to the fire and began to speak in the microphone. This man had come from a tribe not from North Dakota. He was a larger man, arms covered in tattoos.
The people surrounding the area and the fire were essentially strangers to this man, including myself, yet he called us all his relatives. As he spoke, people began to gather around and behind him for support.
He said: “I am so ashamed of my life and what I have made of it. I have wasted years using drugs. I am so ashamed because I have sold drugs to my own people. I have kids and I want a better life for them and to be a dad they can be proud of. I didn’t fully understand why I was coming here but now I do. I have found healing in this place among all of you. I have found a purpose here in this camp to protect the water, and I am changing my life around. I don’t want the life I’ve been living and I am turning from my ways.”
He then knelt down before the fire in the pouring rain and said, “Last night I had a dream and I want to sing for you the song that was in my dream.” He proceeded to close his eyes, face up to the sky and he sang a song in his native tongue.
In his voice I heard a song of pain, of transformation, and of freedom. The cleansing waters continued to fall from the sky. When he finished his song, one by one people came to him to embrace him.
I know the man who made the confession is not a Christian, and yet in Christ, he is my brother.
Now, no matter what our personal stance is on what is happening with the pipeline or what we think about the people who are gathering in the camps, it should not change the power of this particular story. A deep wound started to be healed.
Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So, what might freedom mean in a world where sin affects all of our lives?
A friend of mine once said, “All spiritual breakthroughs start with confession.”
When we are able to come to terms with what we have done or left undone, or the ways we have fallen short of who we are created to be, we begin to let God heal us and love us into freedom. Our past no longer gets to dictate our future. Jesus says to us, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
I have already told you today in the absolution that because of Christ, you are forgiven all of your sins. You are free.
We often equate freedom with the ability to have personal choice. And some of you here may think you are anything but free … understandable.
The kind of freedom Jesus talks about and offers each one of us is beyond the ability to have choices or vote, beyond the reality of being locked up, beyond the rite to protest, and beyond the law of death.
The kind of freedom Jesus talks about and offers is the freedom that is found when you know you are unconditionally loved no matter what. It is freedom in the face of death, knowing that there is life only God can give on the other side of death. It is freedom that is found in a permanent relationship with God, a relationship that nothing or no one can break.
This is the kind of freedom Jesus gives to you and to me as a gift. It is powerful and it is life changing. This is the truth, and the truth will make you free.