Keep Your Eyes On The Road – A Reformation Day Sermon

Children’s Time: What are you going to be for Halloween? It’s fun to get dressed up and pretend to be someone else! But what if we pretend that we don’t need God anymore? What if we pretend that it’s more important to have money or a good name than to trust in God? That’s what some of Jesus’ followers had been doing (trusting in Abraham or themselves). But Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” God loves us very much… so let’s stop pretending we don’t need God. The truth is, we are God’s children. That’s what I want to be for Halloween!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I love that story told by Leo Buscaglia, about the guy who’s driving up the mountain – and it’s a very narrow road going up a very steep hill – only two lanes – and he gets to the point where there’s a precarious turn in the road… and a woman comes zipping around the corner and she sticks her head out the window and cries, “Pig!” And he looks back at this woman stunned, and yells back, “Why you…. fat cow!” And he turns the corner and runs right over a pig!

Does this sound familiar? Does it sound anything like the current feeling in our society? With the election coming up this week and the economy still struggling to rebound there just seems to be a high-strung atmosphere in the country. And it’s exacerbated by the polarization between the right and the left leaning values that make up this great country.

And yet, underneath it all, I’m afraid that we don’t believe people want to do good anymore. Before we make that turn, we need to take a deep breath and focus on what’s really going on.

The same could be said of this festive celebration we commemorate on this Reformation Sunday. There’s a danger in celebrating our heritage… we run the risk of running right over it – of dwelling so much in the past that we forget how important that heritage is for guiding us through today and into the future.

The Reformation was born out of a society where the truth was often suppressed. In Martin Luther’s day the pope served as the head of the church. He had supreme authority over all Christians – at least those who followed his rule. We didn’t have all the denominations you see today (no Lutherans, Baptists, or Pentecostals). The people simply did what the pope required of them in return for the assurance their salvation. This papal tradition comes from Jesus first naming Peter as the head of the church: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. I give you the keys of the kingdom.”

Over time, of course, many Christians lost a personal connection to their faith. They couldn’t read the Bible, because it was written in Latin, and relied on their religious to leaders to interpret it for them. They entrusted their faith to their priests and pastors. Theses leaders promised to grant them the forgiveness of sins based upon the purchase of indulgences – sort of like selling tickets for forgiveness. People were able to (literally) “buy off” their sins. Even the sins of loved ones who had long-since died, but were perhaps trapped in purgatory, could be “paid-for.”

One well-known priest, Johann Tetzel, was said to have walked the streets in grand procession, selling indulgences with the familiar refrain: “When into the coffer a coin clings, a soul from purgatory springs!” That may sound ridiculous to us today, but to a 16th century believer, who lived by the requirements, it was the difference between eternal life and eternal fire. At least they would know they were forgiven, so long as they could afford it.

And so, when Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg Church, they were in direct protest to these practices, which taught that people were dependent on human requirements to gain God’s favor. Luther had a different message: “The truth will set you free.” Change was in the air. Everything they had been taught about God was coming into question.

Sort of like those Jews who believed in Jesus in our lesson today… they were looking for reassurance in their ‘father Abraham’ but Jesus says they are to believe in ‘the Son.’ If the Son makes you free you will be free indeed. And they just about ran over a pig on this point: “We aren’t slaves to anything!” Jesus said, “You are a slave to sin.”

Tetzel is still alive today – he lives in people who maintain power and control over us through fear. He lives in people who spread the fear of change and who rely on themselves, or their good name, or money & possessions for every good thing in life.

That’s why the battle cry of the Reformation was simply put: Grace Alone. Faith Alone. Word Alone. That’s it. You can’t miss it!

Bishop Allan Bjornberg, from the Rocky Mountain Synod ELCA, reminds us that God’s grace needs the correct punctuation. “Is it grace. (period) Or grace, (comma)?”
Before the Reformation it was a comma… “God loves you, (comma)… if… or, (comma) when… or, (comma) so long as… you do this first.” But after the Reformation it is a period. They all end with a period.
Grace Alone.
Scripture Alone.
Faith Alone.

And yet, commas die hard. Even us shy and humble Lutherans have our pockets full of them.

Jeremiah 31:31 – I will put my law within them… it will be a new covenant, not like the one I made with your ancestors… We are in a new time and age… when God’s law is written within us! It’s nothing to be feared… but to be welcomed and embraced.

Two words Jesus used that drove people up the wall: “NEW” and “NOW”

Change is upon us every day – and especially on this coming Tuesday, Election Day. Regardless of who you vote for, one thing is sure: it’s happening now and it will bring new changes to the way we live our lives. I look at it as a time of anticipation and of great opportunity!

But there are difficult situations we all face that present great changes:
The death of a loved one…
The loss of a job or a home in this Economic recession…
The death of a friend through suicide…
The Internet revolution…

What are you going to be for Halloween? Let’s be people who look to the Son – who yearn for the truth that will set us free. Let us pray…

O God, we thank you for the truth that sets us free from our sin – the truth that saves us by your grace through faith – help us to see with clear eyes what lies ahead in the road before us and to live without fear by the power of the Holy Spirit… in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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