McFarland

Reformation Sunday October 25, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
Gospel: John 8:31-36

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God ELW 504
Word of God, Come Down on Earth ELW 510
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation ELW 645
Built on a Rock ELW 652
All Praise and Honor (Paul Baloche)

Reflection on John 8:31-36

by Pastor Tim Dean

Freedom From and For

Happy Reformation Sunday!

If you are on Facebook, I posted a Martin Luther parody set to a song from the musical “Hamilton.” It’s well-done—putting Luther’s life to a memorable rap! Check it out on Facebook or the internet, and jam with Martin Luther!

Today is more than a celebration of one person, Martin Luther, or our Lutheran history. We celebrate the “re-forming” movements of the Holy Spirit, who continually makes us new and re-energizes us to live out the grace and love of Christ.

But still, I will start with a quote from Luther himself in one of writings, “The Freedom of a Christian.”

This year is the 500th anniversary of this classic treatise. It’s considered to be one of Luther’s most important early works. He describes Christian faith with this paradox:

         “A Christian is perfectly free, subject to none.

          A Christian is a…dutiful servant, subject to all.”

                  (“Martin Luther Three Treatises,” p. 277)

It is a great both/and paradox. In Christ, we are set free from all that keeps us in bondage, and at the same time, set free for serving our neighbors. In other words, for followers of Jesus, “freedom” means a vocation, calling, purpose for seeking life for God’s good creation and other human beings. Freedom for….

Now to the gospel text for today. Freedom is a significant promise in this passage. Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (8:32) Then he describes the relationship that God gives us. God does not want to see humankind in chains, but gives us a secure place in God’s house—as sons and daughters, people who are deeply loved, honored and cherished.

“If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (8:36)

It is ironic—and somewhat humorous—that Jesus’ listeners in the story seem to forget their own history of being enslaved in Egypt, and how they needed God to liberate them. The audience also neglects their current enslavement by the Roman Empire in the 1st century. “We’ve never been slaves of anyone!” Really???

This is called forgetting or ignoring your history.

Yet because of our inclination for historical amnesia, John proclaims that we are all continually in need of God’s freeing grace, we are all “enslaved” by something or someone. And God in Christ keeps setting us free.

In our 21st century U.S. context, we often think freedom means the right to do whatever we please.

But this is an incomplete and distorted understanding of what John means. It’s only half of Luther’s paradox—Christian liberty from without Christian liberty for.

In baptism, God frees us to look beyond ourselves. God claims as beloved new creations in the waters of the font, so that, we are free to love as Christ loves us, serve our neighbors, and strive for justice and peace in our neighborhoods.

The freedom that Jesus brings us is for dwelling in him, through the relationships of Christian community.

David Lose notes that we are not “to live as individual automatons, divorced from the needs of our neighbor in the pursuit of self-satisfaction, but rather to find our true nature, call, and purpose…only in and through relationship with others.” (David Lose, “In the Meantime” blog, October 19, 2020)

Jesus liberates us from a slavery to self-centeredness and mindless individualism, and calls us to seek the common good. Because of God’s Word in Christ, we don’t need to worry about own status before God, but can focus our energy and gifts on the needs of others.

This is a life-giving word for us in the midst of this fearful, anxiety-producing global pandemic. God sets us free for caring for each other, for our neighbor’s health, for getting through this health crisis together.

I cannot help but think of the public health efforts, such as wearing facial masks and staying physically distant. How did a public health crisis affecting everyone become so politicized?

I know I am probably “preaching to the choir”—“preaching to the cars”—with you. But wearing a mask is a sign of true Christian freedom, not the opposite. It is a sign of Jesus freeing us for our neighbors by protecting them. I wear a face mask to prevent my neighbor from contracting this deadly Covid virus.

I know most of us are feeling tired and weary with the pandemic. The health crisis is taking a heavy emotional toll. I miss gathering “normally” with you as a faith community, and with friends and extended family for social engagements.

But the gift of our freedom in Christ calls us to seek the health and well-being of our neighbors here in Wisconsin, especially with this current high spike.

A friend of mine is a Lutheran chaplain at a hospital in Nebraska. Her quote is: “That mask makes your heart look big.”

We see how big God’s heart is through the Son. And through this love of Christ, we are free to love and care for others, which includes wearing a mask in public and taking other steps to prevent others from getting sick.

We share this freeing grace in other ways, too.

By supporting the McFarland Food Pantry. By walking for clean water wells in Uganda. By volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. By raising money for Alzheimer’s research.

It all comes down to relationships. The Word has set us free for community, for dwelling in Christ, for each other, for those around us.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton puts it this way: “Freedom for others means relationship, not a new set of activities or the demand of a new law.” (Living Lutheran, October 2020, p. 50)

Dear friends, hear this word of freedom that releases you from all forms of bondage, all that prevents you from having abundant life. God gives you a permanent place in God’s heart through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Then hear what your freedom in Christ is for. God sets you free for relationships in community, for serving your neighbors, for a love that will not rest until all are free.

On this Reformation Sunday, we give thanks for God’s Word in Christ who gives us true freedom—from and for.

Amen!

Let Us Pray

Gracious and liberating God, we thank you for freeing us from whatever holds us in bondage, and freeing us for our neighbors and your creation. Deepen our ties in Christian community. Help us to tend, care for and uplift one another during this global pandemic. Surround with your presence all who are ill with Covid, all who experience grief, and those struggling with anxiety. Empower us to vocations of service and healing, so that the world may know your abundant life. We pray this through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Amen.