10/29/2017 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.
Today, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation with churches around the world, we do so with our own style, our own witness to the Good News so vividly proclaimed by Martin Luther years ago. We celebrate today as three of our youth will be affirming the faith of the church, the faith in which we baptize. Today, these young members will take on adult responsibilities within the congregation. They will make a commitment to proclaim their faith in words and deeds, and we ask God to help and guide them in this commitment. So, in many ways, the reformation torch lit by Martin Luther 500 years ago will be passed on to a new generation. And it is exciting to see this happen, especially in today’s world in which being a Christian and committing yourself to faith-filled living is anything but cool.
Yet, it has always been risky to stand firm in the faith. Early Christians were slaughtered in arenas and were burned as human torches. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther put his life on the line for his faith as he would not recant the truth of the Gospel revealed to him through scripture. Because of the threat this posed to the church of his time, he was proclaimed a heretic and being proclaimed a heretic back then was a death sentence. In some parts of the world today, standing firm in the faith can result in beheading. In our piece of the world, this may not happen, but you can find yourself cut off from those you would call friends. So, it’s risky to stand in front of the altar and proclaim your faith publically. It is even risker to live out this faith each day. And yet, the peace, hope and satisfaction you receive by doing so is immeasurable.
Martin Luther understood this as he lived a life burdened by sin and self-deprivation before understanding the truth of the Gospel which made him free to risk his life for Christ. Through scripture and the gift of the Spirit, Luther came to understand and fully appreciate that he was free from the ultimate consequence of sin through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This gift of salvation, freedom and new life was, is and always shall be a free gift of God’s mercy and grace. Salvation cannot be earned. God’s love cannot be earned. God’s mercy and grace cannot be earned. They are bestowed upon us by the God who loves us so much that he gave his life for us.
This is the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, and the truth that makes us free. 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. It is no easier today than it was for Martin Luther, even though I doubt that any of us will ever be called to put our life on the line for our faith in Christ.
You, my friends, will face choice…some of the same choices that your parents and grandparents faced years ago. Will you keep the promises you make on this day? Will you come to church and feast on the Lord’s meal on a regular basis? Or will you choose on Sunday mornings to sleep in, stay home, go to work, meet up with friends, shop, clean the house, or do a million other things that can fill a day? It is your choice. God doesn’t force us to do anything. We are free to choose our path. If we only had the colors of black and white to choose between it would 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.
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, one of the confessions of the Lutheran church, “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 free to be all that God has made me to be through his son. And you need the same things. For, we can’t soar if we clip our wings by cutting off our relationship with God and his church.
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.