31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave  to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36 (ESV)
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Today we have Reformation Sunday. It is a commemoration of Luther and the 95 thesis that started the Reformation on the 31st of Oct. 1517, an event that has come to signify the entire Reformation. It is a day in which we are invited to examine what it is we believe and why. Why is the Reformation so important? Some today might ask why we should celebrate breaking off from the Roman Catholic Church. We could examine what it is we are here for today. What sets Lutheranism apart from the rest of Christianity? And why should we care. John 8, this gospel lesson sums up what the reformation is about, what Lutheranism is about. It is about abiding in the word of Jesus so that we would know the truth and be set free. It is about freedom, and it is about freedom because Christ came to set us free, and we would have our freedom.
It was actually a major theme of Luther’s reformation. He even wrote a great little book called “On the Freedom of the Christian.” It was a best seller for years in Germany and throughout Europe. People in Venice were deep fried for translating and publishing it in Italian. People risked the death penalty to smuggle it into England. Yes, when we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation we remember that there were martyrs who went to their death singing “A Mighty Fortress is our God”, there were men who went to battle defending the people of their cities and their right to abide in Christ’s word with VDMA emblazoned on their shoulders and stamped on their swords. VDMA, a Latin acronym that read the word of God remains forever. What we shuffle into church to hear? What we take for granted? The monetary worth of which we contemplate this afternoon at the budget meeting? There were men who spent fortunes in gold to fund its preservation. There were men who manned city walls amidst cannon fire.They lost limbs, and heads so that you could know the freedom that comes with Christ’s word. Freedom.
The Jews in our text are absolutely baffled that Christ is offering them freedom. What do you mean by this? They ask. We are children of Abraham, we are not slaves. We might ask ourselves the same questions. What is it that Jesus offers us here if we abide in his word? Jesus says that whoever sins is a slave to sin. He offers then, freedom from sin.
Whoever sins is a slave to sin. I think now we start getting the compassion that Jesus has for sinners. He wants to set them free from sin because they are slaves to it. He wants, that is, to set you free from sin. This is what he sends his apostles out into the world to do. This is what he offers to his disciples, and this then what he bestows upon sinners through his church, freedom. It’s an odd thing. There are people who don’t see church this way. I dare say today if you mention church it is the last thing people have come to their mind. Freedom? The church today is perceived as a guardian of law, of rules. It is perceived more as a prison warden than it is anything else. When someone says gospel, freedom and forgiveness are the last things the person thinks about. The reality is we do no more a good job of abiding in the word of Christ than the world does!
The world thinks it finds freedom in sin. And most church members today think they find freedom in law. But they are just two different cell blocks in the same prison. Two different chain gangs on the same plantation. Neither route offers freedom. The reality is, there is not one of us here who is not a sinner, who doesn’t stand condemned by the law. We all know we have a death sentence. Boot hill waits patiently for each and every one of us. And we know it is only a matter of time. Sometimes we are able to put it out of our minds for a while. Then we get a scare, a bad car accident, an x-ray showing an anomaly, a pink ribbon reminds us to make an examination while showering, or a good friend dies unexpectedly. Sin, law they are cruel masters lording it over us, and they both work as servants of death.
The world thinks it finds freedom in sin, in rebellion against God, in sex, and drugs and so on. But it ends in death. And then there are those who think they have freedom in the law. So called free to obey. They turn the gospel into law. And yet, sin reigns in our hearts here too. We are all sinners and rebels against God. Our rebellion can be one of hedonism or one of piousness. I mean, look at who Jesus is talking to here. The Pharisees and Scribes, pious Jews who know and keep the law to the best of their ability. And Jesus says they are slaves to sin. They are slaves to sin for this reason alone, they reject him and they reject his gospel the forgiveness of sins. Yes, sin can hide behind piety, rebellion behind so-called obedience. So-called obedience because it is not obedience. We don’t really love God with all our heart, with all our soul or with all our mind. We don’t really love our neighbors as ourselves. We don’t even know how to love! Sometimes I think that might actually be the problem we have in loving our neighbors. We don’t know how to love ourselves! We have a shadow of self-love, we call it self-esteem, our neighbors see it and call it arrogance. We call it self-worth, our neighbors see it and call it selfish. We call it pride, they call it a big ego. And there is often question as to who is actually right, because we fail to truly love ourselves. Christ shows us love. That’s it. Christ loves you. It seems so trite. We here it all the time, and rarely comprehend what it means. I think our selfish sinful nature gets in the way.
We examine ourselves and wonder what there is that Christ could love about us. We have abused ourselves in the face of death. We sin against ourselves as much as we sin against our neighbor. In fact you sin against yourself every time you sin against your neighbor. When you steal, it is an assault on the very image of God that you were created in. When you commit adultery, you sexually abuse yourself even as much as you betray your spouse. When you beat your classmate you assault someone for whom Christ died, just as he died for you. This is your lord Sin reigning in your heart. And the only way out of it is forgiveness, the love of Christ poured out for you in God’s very own blood from the cross. But it is precisely that which our sinful hearts will refuse. This is where it gets tricky. We do not want to believe that our sin would require the death of God for our salvation. We will not believe that it is that bad. We believe we can make up for it by obeying the law from here on out. We don’t realize that in rejecting forgiveness we sin, by not accepting the gift we insult God. We add sin to sin by returning like dogs to vomit when we return to the law for our salvation. Now our rebellion against God hides behind obedience to that which we broke, and in reality continue to break day in and day out. But we make a good show of it to our neighbors as we go about living the respectable life. This is how bound our will is to sin, even in trying to obey the law of God, we sin. So it is we are slaves.
We are slaves in this house, and as slaves we cannot expect to stay. As a child of God we could remain in his house forever. As a child of God we can enjoy this creation for all eternity. Here and now in this house God makes the sun to shine on both the good and the bad, he gives his daily bread to everyone, yes even to all evil people. Here in this world, in God’s creation, even evil people enjoy the love of God to that extent, evil people like you and me, who sin against neighbor and self and God, but who wake up in the morning and get to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, a quiet morning, the love of a spouse, a daughter’s smile, a son’s excitement embraced with a hug. But slaves do not remain in the house forever Jesus says. Slaves die. They get cast out into hell, into the outer darkness that each of us deep down know that we deserve. But then if we abide in Christ’s word, if we abide in his word we will know the truth and the truth will set us free he says, we will become children of the Father! Then we get to remain in the house forever when all the slaves to sin have been kicked out, because his word, the word of God remains forever! So we who live, who abide in his word will live forever. And his word? What is this word he speaks of here?
Jesus is the word itself, the word become flesh, God become messiah and savior, the word is the cross where God died for our sins in Christ crucified and reconciled the world to himself. The word that we remain in, is his life, and his death for the forgiveness of our sins. His word is his love that led him to the cross for your salvation, to atone for your sins, to die in your place. This is the word of God emblazoned on the shoulders of men defending Magdeburg, this is the word that men died for being lowered into vats of boiling oil. This is the word of God men risked their lives and fortunes for that you too might abide in it as they did.
Abide in it as they did. How does one do that? Well, this is what the church is for. This isn’t something we abide in by ourselves. No. I’m sorry. We abide in it together because we live together in Christ. We abide in forgiveness together because alone we are incomplete. A hand can do nothing without an arm. Together we are the body of Christ, and as the body of Christ we live in the love Christ has for himself, because he loves his neighbor as himself. And so we have to live by forgiveness, his forgiveness that we receive together in the holy absolution, the forgiveness we receive together in his body and his blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. We abide in his word by living together in his church. That being forgiven ourselves we can share that forgiveness with others. That is what we are here for. That is what the church is for. Without it, we cannot live in his word, a hand that is severed from the body dies, it cannot live when the blood loses oxygen and runs out. So we too abide in Christ and live by his blood and the oxygen of forgiveness apart from whom we can do nothing.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.