Monday, October 26, 2009

Slaves or Free?

Sermon for Reformation observed on Sunday, October 25, 2009

How many times haven't you heard it – the more things change, the more they stay the same? It is another way of saying that the truth is still the truth even when circumstances change. Long ago Jesus confronted a people who denied the truth and chose to live instead of the land of lies and deceit. Today we remember the lies and deceit that had hidden the Gospel and the good work of Martin Luther to raise up the truth of the Gospel for a whole world to see. Could it be that we heirs of Luther's legacy still live in denial of the fulness of that truth? We don’t want to believe that we are captive to sin but we also don’t want to believe that Christ has set us free to begin to change who we are. So who are we? Slaves to sin and unable to free ourselves or those who have been set free in Christ to live out His new life? Are we slaves or free?

Jesus said to the Jews who believed in Him – in other words not to people outside the Church but to believers – to you and to me: "If you live in My Word, you are truly My disciples and you will know the Truth and this Truth will set you free." These are powerful words of promise but the people refused His gift of freedom because they would not admit that they were slaves to anyone. They rejected the gift because to accept it would have meant admitting a truth to painful to admit. Jesus made it clear. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin and a prisoner of death. But they refused to admit Jesus was talking about them. Who me? A sinner? No way! Sin’s deceit works in us the denial of this truth.

Dale Meyer once put it this way: Are we sinners because we sin or do we sin because we are sinners? We are tempted to say we are only sinners when we do wrong, rejecting sin as a condition that has passed death upon us and kept us captive to its power. When I sin, then I am a sinner. When I don’t sin, I am not a sinner. But this is a false understanding of our sinful condition. We are not neutral people who can lean one way or the other. Scripture teaches that we sin because we are already sinners, we were born into this sin, and it has corrupted our nature so that whether we acknowledge it or not, we are sin's slave. We are not sinners because we do bad things – we do bad things because we are sinners.

When we deny what sin is, we only confirm the error. Is sin merely a wrong choice we make in the thoughts we think or the words we speak or the actions we take? Or, is sin also a captivity which has corrupted our nature and limited our choices only to that which is evil? If sin is something we do wrong, then the presumption is we can fix it by NOT doing the wrong. Like the Pharisees of old we are tempted to think sin can be fixed with a little tinkering with our moral compass.

Into these denials Jesus comes with truth. You are a sinner by nature and sin has held you captive to choose only evil... but I have the power to free you. Jesus points us to His righteous life, His life-giving death, and His resurrection to life without end. Here is your freedom. Now live in it. Live in the power of my Word and Truth. Live in the grace of forgiveness and love.

You might think we would welcome such a gift of freedom. But our sinful natures are not done with us yet. Christ offers us freedom but we are not so sure we want it. With this freedom comes responsibility. That is something we are not so sure we want. We are comfortable with the sin and we are not so sure about this freedom. As long as we are sinners and cannot change, we have an out – someone to blame and an excuse for our behavior. Like the old joke, “The devil made me do it.” But if Christ has set me free then with that freedom comes the responsibility to apply that grace to reshape our sinful lives.

First we deny that we are sinners or all that sin is all that bad... then when Christ sets us free, we deny that He has really set us free. Fear has trapped us in the realm of two denials. We deny that we are sinners and we deny His gift of freedom can make a difference to change us. We have excuses for why we aren't that bad and why we aren't that good.

Why do we insist upon living as slaves when Christ has set us free? There is the challenge laid at the feet of Christian people, born anew by baptism and living in grace! Why are we more comfortable with sin’s misery than Christ’s freedom? Why is it easier for us to keep on sinning than it is to try to resist the power of sin and live out Christ’s gift of new life?

Have you ever found yourself asking, “If Christ has restored me as a child of God, why do I live in the gutter? Why do I dabble at sins as if it were more fun to sin and to do what is good and right and true as a child of God? If Christ has saved me, why do I act as if I am still lost?” First we denied that sin was so bad we needed a Savior who would suffer and die. Then we deny that Christ’s freedom makes any difference in our lives. We are at home in the land of denial.

Fear keeps us captive. We may not want to live in the darkness but we are not so sure we want to live in the light either. Only the Holy Spirit can coax us from our fears. Only the Holy Spirit can coax us from darkness into Christ’s light. In that light our sin is exposed but exposed so that Christ may forgive us and set us free. Once set free in Christ, the goal of faith is to live always in the light where goodness and truth dwell.

Once we have been connected to the cross of Jesus where forgiveness, life and salvation are given to us, then we begin to live in the new realm of Christ’s freedom. Here is where we explore with Christ's power how to say no to our sinful thoughts, words and desires. Here is where we learn self-control by the teaching of the Spirit. Here is where we learn to desire that which is good and right and true. Here is where we begin the struggle to answer sin with Christ's righteousness. Here is where the me of sin begins to give way to the Thee of Christ alone. Freedom in Christ is not easy but it is the path we walk by faith.

So there we are – caught between to poles of denial and captive to the power of our fears. We fear acknowledging the sinful desires of our hearts and our captivity to sin that leads to death. But the path to freedom begins with our confession of this bondage, with our trust in the gift of freedom in Christ, and with the struggle to live as the people God says we are. We cannot afford to become too comfortable in sin’s misery. There is something wrong when we find it easier to be the old people we were than to trust in Christ and by the power of His grace become the new people He has called us to be in baptism.

Today He calls us to lay down our fears. Lay down the fears that would keep us from the honest confession of who we are because of sin. And lay down the fears that would keep us from honestly confronting and living out the new lives we were born into by baptism and in which we live by faith.

Did you hear on the news of a couple of prisoners whose sentences had been fulfilled, who had done their time and paid their debt to society... but who asked the warden to let them stay in prison. They were afraid to live as free men because of the responsibility that accompanies such freedom, because the work would be hard to find in this economy, and because the misery of their bondage was safer to them than their freedom in the world. Could we be like that? Could we be those prisoners who feel too comfortable in sin’s bondage to live in the freedom Christ has given to us through His death and resurrection? Today God calls us to acknowledge our sin and offer up its chains to Jesus and power of His suffering and death... and at the same time God calls us not to live in chains anymore. Brothers and sisters, the path of freedom and new life in Christ is a hard path and a narrow one... but any other path is the way of lies, deceit, fear, denial and death. Amen.

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