Sermon for Reformation Sunday, October 28, 2012
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: John 8:31-36
Sermon Theme: “It’s All about the Truth!”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 22, Part 4, Series B; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B; original ideas)
“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked sarcastically at Jesus’ trial.
Non-Christian religions proclaim what they think is the truth. Philosophers consider their philosophical theories the truth. Oh, and here lately, politicians are proclaiming loudly and frequently what they want us to consider to be the truth.
In fact, I’m about to boycott Facebook until after the Presidential election; my friends inundate me with their political “truths.”
So what is truth? Our sermon text says it’s not a set of ideas with which we need to agree, nor is it a set of rules we need to follow. Truth, so our text reminds us, is a Person, Christ Jesus, our Lord. In our sermon text for today, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
We’re celebrating the Festival of the Reformation today, the Festival that proclaims that truth. The Reformation was officially launched on October 31, 1517, in the town of Wittenberg, in the German Principality of Saxony, when the Monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church door. The story itself is a little tedious, and most people can’t remember the details even though they’ve heard them every year.
You know, — Luther did this; his friends did that; Luther said something; his friends agreed. The shackles of papal rules were thrown off – and many a king, prince, duke, or earl was delighted, because he could now make himself the ruler of the Church. Doesn’t sound like something to remember or celebrate, does it?
But, you see, it’s not about Martin Luther, it’s not about Melancthan and the other Reformers, it’s not about the Ninety-five Theses, it’s not about good timing, — No!
No, the Reformation is all about the One Truth in Christ instead of the many “truths” around us.
When Martin Luther issued his Ninety-five Theses, he wasn’t trying to start a war with the Pope, he wasn’t trying to start a new religion or make himself famous, he was just trying to get all Christians to come back to the source of faith and hope and truth: the Word of God, the Holy Bible.
The Collegiate Church of All Saints in Wittenberg was known as the “Castle Church,” and a college of seven priests, subject to the Pope only, conducted no less than nine thousand masses each year, — yep, that’s right, 9,000. With their contributions, people received assurances for a quicker release from purgatory, both for themselves and for their family members. The more services of the Mass, the more contributions of money, the more releases from Purgatory. These 9,000 services brought lots of visitors to Wittenberg, that made the business men happy, and the people were happy to be released from Purgatory. Everything was just wonderful. Until this obnoxious young Monk came along and insisted on truth.
The response of the church leaders was, ‘Martin, you keep out of this, we know best.’
Well, of course, the Reformation turned the world upside down, and those truths which Luther so passionately proclaimed spawned many new movements and denominations, some of which drifted away from those solid truths of the Bible. And when Luther died, a power struggle splintered Lutheranism into a number of directions.
So today, there are many Lutheran churches in many places celebrating Reformation Sunday, as we are doing. Ironically, there are churches today who claim the name “Lutheran,” who started with the same events of the Reformation , but who no longer resemble the truth of Reformation Lutheranism any longer. In fact, in some instances, it’s difficult to know what “Lutheranism” is anymore.
These days, not just in Lutheran churches but in all of the Protestant churches, there seem to be so many different views, opinions, philosophies, and convictions that non-Christians must be asking themselves and us, “What does the Christian Church stand for?”
In our text, Jesus has an answer to that question, “What does the Christian Church stand for?” Jesus says, “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 you ABIDE in my word.” “Abide” means listen to, stick to, remain with, hang on to, don’t let go . . . “ “Hang on to, don’t let go of my word, then you are truly my disciples. This is Jesus’ prescription for being His church. Now if a doctor prescribes a medicine, and you don’t take it, it’s not the doctor’s fault, is it? It’s your fault. If you don’t follow Jesus’ prescription to “Abide in my word,” then what follows is your fault. To abide in God’s word is how we can be the true church of the Reformation. “Abide in my word,” He says.
And that’s how those with the name “Lutheran” today and those with the name “Christian” today are neither Lutheran nor Christian. Not abiding in the word allows you to drift away from the true church of the Reformation.
No doubt Jesus had more disciples at the height of His career than He did at the end. Some of them stopped believing – Jesus refers in our text to those Jews who had believed. Our Lord pleads with these “drifting away from the truth” disciples, “If you stick with my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth….”
Jesus pleads with them because their spiritual existence was in jeopardy, just as the spiritual existence of those today who call themselves “Lutheran” but who have long ago drifted away from the truth that they as heirs of the Reformation had is in jeopardy.
The Jews in our text are claiming that they had never been in bondage as the Lord had said. Jesus is talking about being in bondage to sin. Because they were offspring of Abraham, they felt they had never been enslaved to anyone. But they were enslaved to sin.
Just as being offspring of Abraham did not make the Jews free from sin, so, too, being spiritual descendents of Martin Luther does not free us from the enslavement of sin. We have seen so many times how history can repeat itself.
So Jesus in our text on Reformation Sunday reminds us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.