Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Slave Or Servant?



FOR REFORMATION SUNDAY we find that our reading comes from the Gospel According to Saint John. In the lesson for the day, we hear that the scripture reveals those who are enslaved by sin and their religiosities. From John we read…

Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 
 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, 'You will be made free'?" 
 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.  (John 8:31-36)


Challenging Authority!
Our gospel writer tells of a tense time unfolding in the temple of Jerusalem. During the moments of the confrontation, people had already gathered during the feast of Tabernacles. Jesus was present. He taught before the crowds with authority. However, it was his teaching with authority that brought him in conflict with those who claimed religious leadership. These persons had great vested interest within the political realms of temple. However, they harbored hopes of not attracting too much attention from the Roman government, so they just listened closely.
 Trouble was on the horizon. The leaders had previously dealt with any unrest caused by Jesus’ teachings by claiming that he was not in his right mind. Somewhat unified, they claimed that Jesus was insanely beside himself.
 They asked him by what authority he taught. Jesus answered and we hear from the gospel writer…

“I have much to say about you and much to judge; but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him." 
 They did not understand that he spoke to them of the Father.
 So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him."  (John 8:26-29)

Therefore hearing this answer, those with vested interests in the temple hierarchy feared that they were losing control. Tensions heated the temple leadership, so they bubbled a pot of political intrigue. The leaders who thought themselves in control reacted adversely. Normally considered as adversaries with one another on many theological issues, many Jewish leaders then joined together… united in cause to deal with our Lord.
 Some leaders began by claiming that Jesus words challenged the traditional Jewish heritage. These threatened his simplifying of the temple sacrificial recipe. This matter of sacrifice was of great concern to them. You see, having much meat harvested from the temple’s sacrificial and financial stew, the opponents knew that great revenues from various sin offerings were being threatened.
 Jesus’ bold words shook the recipe that had been cooked and written for centuries. He challenged their dubious motives.
 However, before we judge the ancient systems without self examination, we see that this sacrificial concept also plagued the church during its history. For example, knowing that each of us fail to live up to the standards of God’s command, Martin Luther echoed rightly that we fall for the same ploy. As sinners we cannot purchase our favorable way into God’s presence though we find ourselves trying to justify ourselves to God through offerings made. We make offerings like those which were made at the temple in Jerusalem. We thus participate in harmful cultic practices within the church.

Slaves to Sin!
First, as sinners we need to have redemption in order to be reconciled with our Creator. Therefore, because of God’s infinity and our finitude, Luther wrote that we are not free from punishment, but are instead enslaved in a sinful, downward cycle. With nothing then to offer adequately for justification, we try to bribe Almighty God!
 We ask ourselves, “What can we give to God that God needs?”
 I say to you… “Nothing!”
"What can we give that does not already belong to God?" Again, "Nothing!"
Finally, since we all have sinned we fall prey to false religions... or likely worse... even reject that God even exists. As humans we try to find a tolerable realm. We wrongly place our faith in our own ability to “work” our way through life. Even Christians too often give offerings and seek priestly indulgence to justify ourselves and relieve our consciences..
 By doing this, however, the very act of trying to claim justification by our deeds quickly deepens the mire. Even monumental human efforts simply worsen our sinful condition.
 Jesus thus summarily warned the Jews who followed him. He taught that we cannot earn our way to heaven. Yet, even as he spoke, many of his followers were falling away... because of the challenges of temple authorities. Subsequently he called these to task in the temple courtyard.… speaking bluntly even to those who claimed to be disciples.
 How then can sin be paid for they rightly asked. How is our soul to be scoured brightly unto heavenly glory? His crucifixion gave us the answer. The payment could only be made by God himself.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”  (John 14:5-6)

 According to the witness of this gospel, Jesus clearly said that we are saved by the Father's grace alone. If anyone cannot accept this, they pay for a ride on what Luther explained was a burdened mule. That is a mule in a train trekking either to God or to devastation!

Faith in Jesus is Freedom…
You see, Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. He paid the sin offering for us. He was and yet is the sacrificial Lamb of God who went to the cross. He made the “perfect” sacrifice. His payment sets his believer’s free! Through faith in the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the alternative Jesus offered frees us.

Luther wrote through the Spirit’s witness that Jesus provided us with the opportunity to be a mule gently ridden by our proper Master. If we will accept the words and deeds of Jesus and claim no justification of our own… we may be forgiven our sin.
 Then, even as we ask, we are provided with forgiveness and growth in faith. Ultimately, we can stand before our Creator in the high court of God! The gift of salvation provides us with the freedom to properly serve our Lord God. We can move forward in ministry. Clinging to the Truth spoken, we are reformed and can contend with evil in this world. From this solid and holy place established by God we may challenge false authorities of both church and state. We are able to point beyond ourselves to that One who is clearly written of in scripture. We can show through the witness of our lives and love, that persons are only justified by grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone.
 Therefore I say to you, “Together let us gather on Reformation and pray to be reformed once again… as a people who have been established forever.”


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