Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Freedom in the Gospel

Sermon for Reformation, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, October 30, 2016.

    We Americans love our freedom.  We love to exercise our rights, to do just about whatever we want to do.  Like the believing Jews in our Gospel reading who said, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone" (Jn 8:33), we say, "We're offspring of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.  We won our independence and are slaves to no one."  We take pride in our freedom, but our freedom isn't complete.  We may be free here in the borders of the US, but we're still slaves, slaves to sin and death.
    Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34).  All of us have committed sins.  All of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Rm 3:23), and therefore we're slaves to sin.  When we hold up our thoughts, words, and deeds against God's holy and perfect Commandments, we see the reflection of our sin.  We haven't loved God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.  We have other gods before Him, holding tightly to our money, trusting in it alone for life instead of God who gave us life.  We've misused God's name, flippantly texting OMG.  We've desecrated the Sabbath by giving daily activities precedence over reading the Scriptures and prayer. 
    We haven't loved our neighbors as ourselves.  All of us have dishonored our parents and those in authority.  All of us have murdered by not helping those in physical need.  None of us have lead a sexual pure life; we've thought lustful thoughts.  We've stolen by being lazy on the job and yet taking home a hard day's work pay.  Our conversations are filled with gossip.  And all of us have wanted what others have: their possessions and relationships.  There's not one commandment that we haven't broken.
    We sin because we're sinners.  That's who we are at our core.  Our slave master has complete control over us, it resides in our hearts.  Born with Original sin, passed on by our first parents, we're forced to sin, we can't do otherwise.  We daily sin much, and in that sin we stand in opposition to God.
    We stand against Him as enemies.  We're forced to follow our sin master that separates us from God.  In the Garden God and man were at peace and we had life.  But once we submitted to the devil's temptation, to the bondage of sin, we became enemies of God, actively working against Him.  No longer do we have peace and life.  Now we only have death. 
    We're forced to die because of our sin.  The wages of sin is death.  There's no way around this.  Sin and death go hand and hand.  With one comes the other.
    So what do we do about this slavery?  We try to free ourselves, to win our independence by fighting back, by doing good works.  We try to earn God's favor, thinking we can make up for our sin.  That's what was going on in the Medieval Church during Luther's time.  It was believed and taught that you could earn merit for your good works and make up for your sin.  These good works included paying for Masses to be said, visiting the sites of the saints and gazing upon their relics, buying indulgences, pieces of paper to shave off time in purgatory.
The problem with this though is that it doesn't work; it only enslaves you in sin more because it takes your focus off of Christ.  People were trusting in their works for salvation, for freedom from sin, instead of Christ's cross.  This is what the Reformation was all about.  Freedom doesn't come from works of the law, but from Christ's work, from the gift of faith given in the good news of the Gospel. 
    Freedom only comes in Christ who redeemed you from the slavery of sin.  He did this not by gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.  With His death on the cross He won for you forgiveness and freed you from death.  In the waters of Baptism your old sinful self was drowned and a new man was raised, free from sin and death.  And having been set free, you can live out your new life in Christ.  He is your master who promises you everlasting life. 
In this new life you live without the fear of condemnation.  Yes you'll still sin, but when you do, you turn to Christ trusting in His forgiveness.  You look to the cross and say, "There is my salvation.  There is my freedom.  Christ died for me."  You're free to live with joy and confident hope knowing you have a place in heaven with God your Father. 
     In this new life you're free to fight against sin.  You pray for the Lord to lead you from temptation and to deliver you from you.  You pray for strength through His Word and Spirit, so that you can resist the allurements of sin.  You stand up in faith, desiring to fulfill God's Commandments, not to earn merit or salvation, but to show your love of God and to serve your neighbors.
And in this new life you're free to confess your faith, to bear witness to Christ your Savior, to share the good news of the freedom given only in the Gospel.  Today, three of our youth will be confirmed in that faith. 
  Evan, Lydia, and Nairen, today you'll publicly acknowledge the gift of freedom that God gave you in your baptisms.  You'll renounce the devil and all his works and ways, and you'll confess your faith in God who has set you free from sin and death.  Stand fast in this confession and don't flee from it.  Cling to Christ your Savior who freed you with His death on the cross. 
     Baptized in Christ, we're joined to our Savior in His death and resurrection, and in Him, we're truly free.  The Son has set us free, and we're free indeed (Jn 8:36).  No longer are the devil, sin, and death our masters.  Now Christ is our Lord and Master, and in Him we have the true and complete freedom to live the life He has graciously given to us.  We're free from the condemnation of sin and death.  We're free to fight against sin and temptation.  We're free to serve Him and our neighbors.  We're free to live as sons and daughter in His house forever.  Amen.

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