Standing Up & Standing Out: A Reformation Day Sermon

John 8:31-36
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Reformation Day / First Lutheran Church / 10-25-15 / John Stiles

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God, our First Love, in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say Come! Amen.

This week marks the 498th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther’s act of defiance in Wittenberg, Germany. It was the year 1517 when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church, thus creating a spark that soon caught on and spread through all of Europe.

It certainly wasn’t the first act of protest against the church (which is where the term Protestant comes from, by the way). John Huss had been burned at the stake for speaking out against the pope 100 years before Luther. And 100 years before that, John Wycliffe protested by advocating for the Bible to be written in the language of everyday people. Things were pretty dicey back then. Luther’s 95 theses (or complaints) against the Catholic Church had a lot to do with the sale of indulgences (certificates which assured forgiveness of sins for those who could afford it). He also was in favor of allowing priests to marry and taught that we are justified by faith, apart from the works of the law. Martin Luther called the Catholic Church “the most licentious den of thieves, the most shameless of brothels, the kingdom of sin.” And so, of course, he was excommunicated by the pope and a bounty was put on his head. He was kidnapped by some friends and taken to the castle at Wartburg, where he grew out a beared, assumed a secret identity “Knight George” and translated the entire Bible into the German language. (All in a days work, right?)

But nowadays, the Catholics pretty much agree that Luther was right on being saved by grace. There’s more that we have in common that what separates us. In fact, in 1996 a document was signed by both denominations, putting an end to those divisions entitled: The Join Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. It was a milestone in resolving a centuries-old debate. And just this year, plans were announced to rename a main square in Rome “Piazza Martin Lutero” in honor of the reformer, which has the official blessing of the Vatican, no less!

To be sure, there are still beliefs on which we differ: whether priests can marry, and our teachings about the Lord’s Supper (is it really the body and blood of Jesus?). But, for the most part, we have learned to live together as sisters and brothers.

So, if protesting against the Catholics is out, I suppose we could spend some time imagining what needs reforming today in the church. After all, Luther never set out to form a “Lutheran Church,” he wanted a better Catholic Church! And yet, here we are 500 years later with dozens of Protestant denominations, each striving to live out the truth as they understand it to be.

Maybe that’s the word we should be focusing on today: Truth.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus says: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” The disciples were scratching their heads when they heard it: “We’re children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” And, of course, he was talking about being slaves to sin. How easy it is for us to fall into bondage to sin – by things we have done or left undone – by not loving God with our whole heart – by not loving our neighbors has we have loved ourselves.

Winston Churchill once said: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” We’re just drawn to the stories of scandal – the falls from grace – the dirt on someone else. But heaven forbid that we should take a hard look at ourselves! We’d much rather go with advice of noted author Shel Silverstein, who once wrote:

quote-tell-me-i-m-clever-tell-me-i-m-kind-tell-me-i-m-talented-tell-me-i-m-cute-tell-me-i-m-shel-silverstein-171011

I’d be lucky to get “one” out of eight of those… if the truth be told.  And then there are several variations on this Bible verse from John.  From Aldous Huxley: “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you mad.” Or from Flannery O’Connor: “You will know the truth and the truth will make you odd.” Or this old Russian Proverb: “It’s better to be slapped by the truth than kissed by a lie.”

The truth can hurt. It can make us stand out when we stand up for it. The truth can be suppressed or silenced. And in some societies, to speak the truth is cause for Revolution.

Whatever the case, Jesus tied the truth to freedom – a freedom that cast out all fear.

When was the last time you heard someone say a word of truth that her very life depended on? A word of truth that he would “go to the wall” for? What word of truth will you be called on to speak this week?

On this Reformation Day, we sang an anthem written by Martin Luther: A mighty fortress is our God. And I hope you heard that word of truth running through that last verse, especially. See how he staked his very life on it?

“Were they to take our house,
goods, honor, child or spouse.
Though life be wrenched away,
they cannot win the day.
The kingdom’s ours forever!”

Yes, the truth will set you free. But it will also make you odd – make you stand up and stand out – it will cause you to give and to live generously – the truth will lead you where you don’t want to go sometimes – and you will meet people you didn’t want to know. And through it all, God is reforming us still. Re-shaping the church. Re-forming our souls from the inside out. Telling us the truth about ourselves and each other.

And the good news is that we find our freedom in this truth. As we ‘Awaken the Faith’ among us and ‘Become Children of the Light’ we are being set free. Free to protest where racial injustices still threaten to divide. Free to hear the truth about ourselves and reform the way in which we live. Free to offer help to victims of natural disasters or simply a neighbor in need. Free to fill out a pledge card and support financially the 2016 mission at First Lutheran Church. Free to extend a true welcome to the stranger among us – even if they are truly strange, odd, and different.

Stand up and speak the truth this week, even if it makes you odd or mad and embrace the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. Amen.

And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds together as one in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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