Sermon from Rev. Zickler for October 29, 2017

20171029 Sermon Reformation 2017
October 29, 2017
John 8:31-36

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read, especially these words, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The truth will set you free. In that statement it’s a clear dichotomy that comes: truth vs. lie. Now that’s not to say that we don’t get some half-truths and some near truths, but when push comes to shove it’s truth vs. lie. This means even the half-truth is not truth. Considering this, as we look around the world, then we see a lot of lies in the world, don’t we? In fact this goes all the way back to the first lie, “did God really say?” Of course, not outright lie, but brings doubt. Then the real lie, “You will surely not die, but will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Half truth. Did they die? Yes, but not immediately. Did they become like God? In knowing good and evil, yes, because if you look before that, what had they known? Only good. And what was the bald faced lie underneath? Well it was implied, but it was this: God is holding something back from you that’s good, or better than what you have.

As we observe Reformation Sunday today, hopefully you haven’t missed that we are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. Of course, this marks an extremely important event in history. There are results from the Reformation—intended and unintended—that we still experience today. But as we think about this truth setting free, this liberating truth, we have to acknowledge that there was a lie making its way through the land in the day of Luther. If you aren’t familiar with it, it went something like this: Jesus will come as an angry judge so you better be good enough that He will let you into heaven. Now as I say that what is the problem with the statement? To start, is God angry with sin? Yes! But, how do we deal with that? Well you see the Church at that time said, purgatory. To make yourself good enough to stand before this judge, you might have to spend some time in a place purging you of the effects of sin. You want out of that? Sure, you can buy an indulgence, a piece of paper with the seal of the Pope which freed you or a loved one from any time in this suffering of purgatory. Just drop the coin in the bucket and buy relief. In fact the marketing slogan coined—pun intended—by the seller of these indulgences named John Tetzel went like this: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

So what’s the lie here? Be good enough to get heaven, and earn your salvation, or at the least earn it by buying it from the Pope. To ask the question again, is God angry with sin? Yes, but this call to repent is it all fire and brimstone? It’s a call to faith and a call to the banquet. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately with having had the parable of the King and the Wedding Feast a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about how we and the world get this wrong. We hear this call to repent, the call to faith and we think of it only in terms of this fear of God—and don’t get me wrong as sinners it’s right for us to fear God—but we don’t think about how beautiful the invitation to the feast is. The invitation that the God of the whole universe wants us to hope for and to cling to the promise of an unimaginable feast with Him eternally. What a beautiful call! Of course, what’s the problem? It’s not now. We can’t see it now, and so we don’t believe it’s actually better than we what we have.

And as I say that, that brings us to lies we hear today. Of course, these aren’t unique to our time, but we hear them a lot. First of all, in conjunction with what I just talked about, the now vs. the not yet, one lie is that we should have the best now. Now as I say that, it manifests itself in myriad fashions, doesn’t it? That we should have and are entitled to comfort and wealth now. That we can just name what we want before God and claim that He’ll give to us in that declaration and it will be ours. Or there is the assumption that we can have perfection in piety. Many churches believe we can be free from sin in this life in our good works—something obviously very akin to what Luther dealt with in his day. Or there is the assumption of utopia now. And this is always a big problem. There is the assumption that if we as the church or as a country or society do just the right things then we can have utopia here in this life. Toward that end, we then place our trust in the things of this world: in the church, the right program to make it grow; in our country, the right government or rulers; and in the society, the right expression of our faith, or the right action for lobbying and interacting in the public square. So that’s one lie. The lie of now

Another is sex. Now I want to start this off by saying that as Lutherans we very properly confess that sex is a good gift from God, a gift given for the union of man and woman, for procreation and even for the enjoyment of that husband and wife. It is good. But in our day there is the lie that this gift can be used however one pleases. And that is a great lie, the lie that it is no big deal. I was reading a blog from gentleman who is a LC—MS laymen by the name of Gene Vieth, who noted that it’s clear to all that sex is a big deal and we see in something like the Harvey Weinstein case. The uproar shows us that. But in another entry he made the point that in the Church we see this is a big deal because so often singles won’t darken the doorstep of a Church. Many fall away at the young adult age, and the ones who come back often come back when they are married. Why? His rationale: because of sex. He makes a valid point that kids go off to college, they find someone with whom they begin an illicit relationship and their conscience is panged and burdened by this. Then in class they are more likely to cling to the teaching of a professor who gives them a way, a worldview, that allows their conscience breathing room.

In fact, in another place I read of a story about a pastor who would catch up with college students of his when they were home, and over coffee he would talk to them about their spiritual lives. As they hemmed and hawed about how they were having trouble believing because they had taken this philosophy course or a couple of science courses, he would ask them one question: “Who are you sleeping with?” At which point, the student would ask, “how did you know?” Now, we certainly can’t oversimplify this. Sin always connects to complexities, but you can see how this would happen. And what’s the lie? The pleasure now is worth more than what God promises eternally. And as I say that, we can see that this actually applies whether it’s sex or other sins related to our sinful hedonistic tendencies, the pang of our conscience can lead us to cling to something other than our Lord.

Now for the last lie we’ll discuss for this morning: the lie of the heart. In the first place, there is the lie that our hearts can stand in one place and our lives in another. And this also has a myriad of applications. For example: God knows my heart!; I can be a Christian and live unrepentant of my greed. In other words, I can trust God but not be generous with what He has given me. Or I can forgive as Christ has forgiven me, but that forgiveness shows no grace to the person I have forgiven. No opportunity for me to love them and perhaps at times even have them trample upon me and my mercy as I trample upon God and His mercy in my continual sin. Or I can trust in God but not go to church and actually have to trust in where He promises to give me forgiveness, grace, and mercy in Word and Sacrament. I can have faith and be free from the Church – I mean that both in terms of being member of organized congregation and attending Sunday morning. How is the lie there? Heart and action are separated, instead of heeding what Jesus says, that out of the heart come all of our sinful thoughts, actions, murder, etc., etc. and these make us unclean.

In conjunction with that lie we have the lie that God speaks to our hearts something different than what He says in His Word. I can’t believe in my heart that Jesus would condemn someone, or not approve of love, or not do this or do that. As Lutherans we call this enthusiasm: literally “God-within-ism.” Looking for God and His voice or revelation within me rather than in His Word.

I recently watched a documentary on the men Ram Dass, also known as Richard Alpert, and Timothy Leary, who were responsible for the experimentation with LSD in the early sixties that brought psychedelic drugs to the forefront. To be fair, they were opposed to the mass public use of these drugs, but even still as they spoke of their experiments and the philosophies which they credited as outpourings of these experiments, I found it interesting how much had become widespread assumption in spirituality. In particular, it was interesting how much centered on looking within our own selves or our “hearts” to find truth. The lie there is that the heart is pure and reliable.

Now as I speak of these lies, there are, of course, many other lies, as well. Pick the one—or the many—that you’re inclined to believe. In the end it doesn’t matter because lies are enslaving. But Christians, Jesus tells us, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” If we remain, if we live in His word, we will know the truth, and we will be set free. And as He says that what does He mean? He means not only that we will know truth from falsehood conceptually. No, He means something far greater. You see remaining in the Word doesn’t just reveal ideas to us. It reveals a person. It reveals the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It reveals Jesus. It reveals the Jesus who sees your unbelief, the falsehood to which you cling, and it reveals that this is sin. But it reveals that Jesus placed Himself under the consequence of that sin for you. It reveals the Truth who bore the suffering of every lie on the cross. The God who bore the death deserved for man wanting to be God. The perfect man who was the only good dying for those not good enough to earn their way to His Kingdom. It reveals the One who sacrificed the glories of Heaven for a most uncomfortable and lowly life on earth that we could have eternal comforts in His Kingdom. It reveals the Jesus who had all the pleasures of God’s Kingdom and instead suffered Hell that we could enjoy His marriage feast eternally. It reveals the Jesus whose heart was always pure and truthful when ours are deceitful above all things, as Jeremiah says, and how He died out of love for us. And it reveals not only His death, but His resurrection for our life. It reveals Him giving that life to us in His very Word, in the waters of Baptism, in His body and blood.

So Christians, as we celebrate the Reformation this morning, realize this is what we are celebrating. We are celebrating the eternal Word. We are celebrating Jesus. We are celebrating the One who frees us from every lie. We are celebrating the Truth, the Son, because the son remains forever, and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Amen.