10/26/2014 Reformation Sunday The text for today’s sermon is John 8:31-35; Romans 3:19-28.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is the day that the Lord has made – and what a wonderful day it is! It is a great day for those who win baskets full of goodies. But, it is even a better day for all of us who will have the privilege of witnessing two of our youth professing their faith, the same faith handed down to us through the generations and confirmed by the lessons you have just heard.
Our ability to believe these words which roll off our lips is not our own doing. It is the work of God in us. For, it is God who enables us to believe and live in the freedom, the promise and the hope that comes from trusting that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This faith of the church really isn’t as complicated as it may sound. We use big words, like justification, to try to explain it, but those big words often get in the way of our understanding as they have come to have different meanings. To most of us, to say that we are “justified” means that we are right in what we do, or to justify our actions means that we can come up with a good reason or excuse for doing what we do. But, to be justified, in a biblical sense, means that we are put in a right relationship with God and that is something we cannot do on our own.
Since we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, in order to be in a right relationship with God, we need Jesus Christ. Since none of us can stand before God as perfect and blameless in his sight – NO ONE – not me, not you, not Bishop Hazelwood, not the Pope, not the heads of any church body, we can only be made right with God through God’s grace and the cross of Christ. We sin, God forgives. We fall short, God justifies by adding what is needed to make up the deficit. It is God who justifies – that is, puts us in a right relationship with him – even though we do nothing to deserve it. Because Jesus, in his love for us, took our sin upon himself and died in our stead, we are made right before God, through faith in him. And that, my friends, makes us free to be all that God intends and created us to be.
This is the faith of the church. It is the faith which will be affirmed by 2 young people of this community who will stand before the altar and make a commitment to live as people who have been infused with God’s grace. They will make promises to live among us and to try to live each day as if it were the day they will see God face to face. They will be telling us and God almighty that they plan to continue in God’s word and to reflect that word in all that they do in their daily life. They will serve and care about their neighbor and all creation. They will come to church and worship, not just on Easter and Christmas, but as often as they can in order that they may hear God’s word and partake in the sacrament. They will keep in touch with God through prayer. They will be active members of the church, which is the body of Christ.
Of course, following through on these promises is another thing. I know there was a time in my life when attending worship was the farthest thing from my mind. I had a thousand and one other things that I wanted to do on Sunday mornings, not the least of which was to sleep late. Yes, I knew about God’s grace and was aware of the freedom that God had given me to live a faithful life, but I had forgotten Jesus words, “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 reality, I chose not to live in that truth which comes only through knowing Christ and staying connected to him as I did not understand that freedom is the flip side of serious responsibility and neither did D. Wayne Burkette who recalled one of the milestones of his teen years as he wrote, “Like most teenagers, I looked forward to my sixteenth birthday as a day of liberation. Being sixteen meant that I could get a driver’s license, and the open road of freedom and self-determination would be mine for the taking. At last, I thought, I could be my own person, no longer dependent on parents or older friends to take me where I wanted to go. My sixteenth birthday would be ‘Independence Day,’ ‘Bastille Day,’ the day of liberation.
A couple of days before that long-awaited anniversary, I was with my family as we returned home from an evening out. I don’t remember where we had been, but it was nearing midnight when the four of us turned onto the highway leading to our house. Rounding a sharp curve, we were startled by flashing red lights in the road ahead. Police vehicles, ambulances, and the sounds of voices magnified by walkie-talkies were everywhere. We had arrived only minutes after a terrible wreck. I remember feeling ill at that moment and wondering whether the accident involved my neighbor and classmate who had received a driver’s license just weeks before.
We continued on our way home, but the next morning news gave the tragic details of what had taken place. Two drivers, who were both sixteen, were racing, filling both lanes of the narrow road. They met another car head-on around the curve. The result was two teenagers seriously injured and a family of three dead.”
Burkette admitted, “My enthusiasm for getting a driver’s license suffered a severe blow that night. The realization came to me in the worst sort of way that the freedom I longed for, with all its independence and personal privileges, was just the flip side of a serious responsibility. The open road of freedom was also the narrow path of obligation.”
And so it is with the freedom that comes through faith. Our freedom comes not through independence, but through dependence upon Christ and his word which will never fail us. The Bible never speaks of freedom as “doing things our way,” or “doing our own thing.” Freedom is found in following Christ. For, through Christ we have freedom from the burden of perfection and freedom to live as God intends us to live as his children, connected together for mutual support, ministry and growth.
So, my friends, let us pray for Jason and Meaghan, that they continue in the truth and in their continuation, that they find freedom. And let us also pray for ourselves and each other and the whole Christian church, that the truth of the Gospel may make us free to commit ourselves to the source of our freedom, Jesus Christ. For, apart from him there is no salvation, no eternal life, no everlasting joy, and no freedom to be all that God intends and created us to be.
Live free, my friends, live free in the truth of Jesus Christ. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.