10/25/2015 Reformation Sunday The text is John 8:31-36.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A number of years ago, a design came out which was put on T-shirts, sweatshirts, posters and even notebook covers. It bore the picture of a sea gull, flying free in the shadow of the sun. Along with this vision of free soaring came a saying that went something like this: “If you love something then set it free.” I remember that there were a lot of other words, which I have toyed with in order to get a chuckle at weddings, but the original words tell us that if what you love and set free returns, then it was really yours. If it doesn’t come back, well, then it was never yours in the first place.
As you can tell, I’m not doing poetic justice to this well-worn saying. But all those other words really don’t stand out in my mind as much as those first few which fly in the face of what we ordinarily do. If we love someone, we hold onto that person with all our might and sometimes choke off the person’s potential by clipping wings. But, according to that saying, this is not what should be done. “If you love something, or someone, then set it free.” Set it free and see what happens…in the joy of soaring to new heights, it may just return to share that joy with you.
“If you love something, then set it free.” Out of love, that is exactly what our Lord has done for us. He has set us free. Our gospel for today puts it this way – “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” This truth is much more than not telling a lie. This truth, which sets us free, is the truth of the gospel itself – the truth of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, the truth of a God who lived among us to identify totally with our struggles, the truth of a savior who dies for us on the cross and who rises to open the gates of eternal life for all believers – this is the truth that frees us. In Christ Jesus we are freed from the powers of sin and death. And, we are made free to soar to our highest potential.
In confirmation classes you have studied and learned some of the truth found in the scriptures and the confessions of the church. You even had to memorize some of it. Yet, learning and studying about the good news, which is important and vital for life and growth, is not freeing. The truth that frees us is so much more than mere intellectual understanding. It is the ultimate truth, the truth made flesh in Jesus Christ.
We, who live in the United States, are accustomed to living with freedom, a freedom spelled out for us in a constitution and a bill of rights. As Christians, we have no such guidelines telling us the specifics of our freedom and outlining its limitations. Yes, we have the commandments. Yes, we have Jesus’ own example of grace-filled living. Yes, we have books to teach us and mentors to guide us. But, we live in a world filled with so many options and opportunities that living as a people who trust in God’s truth above all else is difficult to do. If we only had the colors of black and white to choose between it would be easy to make appropriate choices and return and find joy in the freedom we have in Christ. Yet, life comes in a rainbow of colors and there are many roads to travel as we face a thousand and one choices.
Confirmation is only an extension of a life-long process of decision making. Today, in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, you will affirm your faith. Today, in promises made before God and this congregation, you will affirm your decision to return to the Lord who has set you free. Today, as you affirm your baptism, you will be saying for yourself the words spoken by your parents and godparents when you were washed in the water and made a member of the church of Christ. You will be saying yes to God and yes to being an active part of his body. You will be making a commitment to maintain your connection to church even while you are claiming your freedom. Today, you will be grabbing hold of the truth which makes you free. But know that apart from Christ, freedom is no freedom at all. For as it is written in the Formula of Concord, “There is no salvation outside the church. All who would be saved must hear the preaching of the Gospel, for the preaching and hearing of God’s Holy Word are the Holy Spirit’s instrument in, with and through which he wills to act to convert men and women to God.” (Article II)
Yes, we are free. Yet, this freedom is not reckless abandonment. Freedom in the truth is the freedom to be part of God’s family. It is not a freedom from God or from anything else. It is a freedom to be – a freedom to be an active member of Christ’s body, a freedom to be a worshiping and communing part of God’s family, a freedom to be a disciple. It is not a freedom to live outside the community of faith for when you were baptized you became a member of God’s family. Confirmation gives no freedom from that which was done for you when you were an infant or child. Instead, it is a freedom to live as a more responsible member of Christ’s body. For in affirming your baptism, you have been given the freedom to soar in God’s grace.
Sadly, we tend to get tied up by freedom’s choices and by words like, “I don’t have to, I don’t want to, I don’t need to.” Whenever we see the freedom we have in the truth as a license not to do instead of a license to do, confirmation becomes a graduation from Christian education and from the very community that supports its members by proclaiming the Word, administering the sacraments, offering opportunities for ministry and comforting us and others in need.
I know that there is little that I have to do in Christ Jesus. I know there is nothing I can do to earn what I have through Jesus Christ. Yet, I know that I need to exercise the freedom that I have by hearing the Word of God’s love for me over and over again, and by receiving God’s grace through his body and blood. I know I need this in order to be able to make responsible choices and to be freed to be all that God has made me to be through his son. And you need the same things. We can’t soar if we clip our wings by cutting off our relationship with God and his church for we will always be weighed down by a looping black hole of inevitable death.
So, fly high, my friends. Soar in the freedom of God’s grace. But know that this freedom that is yours is not a means to anything. Freedom is the end result of continuing in Christ’s Word and knowing the truth. And the truth that has made you free will sustain you now and forever. For, you have been claimed by God and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And if Christ has you free, you are free indeed. So fly, my friends, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.