Sermon for July 05, 2015

Sermon for Independence Day Sunday

July 5, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Texts:  John 8:31-36 and Psalm 119:29-34

Sermon Theme:  “As Faithful Christians, What Do We Do?”

 (Sources:  Free to Be Faithful, LCMS newsletter, Summer 2015; Constitution of the United State, World Book Encyclopedia; Emphasis Online Illustrations;  original ideas; Online Funny Fourth of July Stories; Nelson’s Concordance; SCOTUS Marriage Ruling.)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           I want to start with a story.

The Fourth of July weekend was approaching, and Miss Pelham, the nursery school teacher, took the opportunity to tell her class about patriotism.

“We live in a great country,” she announced.  “One of the things we should be happy about is that, in this country, we are all free.”

Trevor, who was a little boy in her class, come walking up to her from the back of the room.  He stood with his hands on his hips and said loudly, “I’m not free, I’m four!

Even though these are serious times with serious questions to ask, I thought it would be appropriate to begin with a little humor.

“Freedom” is such a beautiful, American sort of word, certainly much more so than some of the other “F” words we hear spoken in these post-Christian times!  It’s such a compelling concept; it’s why we celebrate the Fourth of July in the first place.  However, the word “freedom” itself raises serious questions.

What really is “freedom” anyway?  What kind of freedom does God’s Word talk about?  What kind of freedom does Jesus afford us?  Martin Luther, during the Reformation, spoke first of freedom in terms of freedom from the bondage of good works:  “From this anyone can clearly see how a Christian is free from all things and over all things so that he needs no works to make him righteous, free; saved.”

Another Protestant reformer, John Calvin, said that freedom is nothing more than joyfully doing what God has planned to have us do all along.

Like many other nations, America places an enormous emphasis on freedom.  We talk about its fundamentality, its enjoyment, the importance of its preservation.  Special days like yesterday are devoted to celebrating “the land of the free” and our “inalienable rights.”

Yet the freedom the Bible talks about, that the Apostle Paul talks about, that Jesus talks about, is not complete independence from all outside forces or wills, with no one telling us what to do.  Rather, we can make ourselves a slave to our own desires.  Being a slave to sin is having to follow a nature in us that is destructive to ourselves and our relationships.  Christ offers true freedom by breaking these patterns with the truth found in following Him.

Jesus said in one of our sermon texts for today, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Truth has taken a beating in recent times.  We live in an era when a lot of people think that there isn’t any real truth that’s true for you just as much as it’s true for me, that truth is “whatever works for you.”  There is no absolute truth, it just depends upon who decides at the time.

There’s another scary response to truth, too.  Let me illustrate by sharing a story.  Rev. James Benedict tells of a student whom a high school teacher described this way:  “I put a problem on the black board and asked if anyone could solve it.  This student raised his hand.  ‘I can,’ he said.  He came forward, took the eraser, and erased the problem away.”  You can escape the truth by deleting it.

According to Pastor Spencer, denial is a powerful force in our lives.  When we are facing critical illness or death, stress at work or home, denial allows us to keep going, to get some important things done, to keep working on projects that are dependent upon us.  Denial can take the edge off of the difficulty, — for a while.  In other words, denial can buy us time and keep our strength from being drained.  But denial can also be a very serious roadblock in our life.

I say all of this on Independence Day Sunday, because on June 26, 2015, the day of my 81st birthday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by the narrow margin of one vote that same-sex couples have a right to marry in any state in America, even in states where same-sex marriage currently is not recognized.  I say it on Independence Day Sunday because it has heavy ramifications regarding the Freedom of Religion.

According to our Synod newsletter, “Free to Be Faithful,” a florist, Barronelle Stutzman, was just recently sued by Washington State Attorney General and ACLU.  Because of her religious beliefs, she respectfully declined to create custom floral arrangements and provide full-wedding support for a long-time customer and friend’s same-sex ceremony.  The lawsuit threatens to take her home, business, and personal savings.

Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was suspended without pay, ordered to attend sensitivity training and then fired.  Why?  Because, on his own time, he wrote a Christian book for men, discussing how to be strong leaders, husbands and fathers, in which he briefly stated the Bible’s teaching that sex is reserved for the marriage of one man to one woman.  That may just be the beginning.

As you probably know, the Constitution of the United States consists of a preamble, 7 articles, and 27 amendments.  According to a booklet published by World Book, our Constitution sets up a “federal system” by dividing powers between the national and state governments.  It also establishes a balanced national government by dividing authority among three independent branches – the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.

The executive branch (represented by the President) enforces the law, the legislative branch (represented by Congress) makes the law, and the judicial branch (represented by the Supreme Court) explains the law.

There are some powers that the Constitution does not give to the national government or forbid to the states.  These “reserved powers” belong to the people or to the states.  State powers include the right to legislate on divorce, marriage, and public schools.

The First Amendment of our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The Tenth Amendment of our Constitution states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  End of quote.  For example, the states have authority over such matters as marriage and divorce.

Looking at the Constitution on Independence Day Sunday is important when religious freedom is at stake.  Because of the fear that religious freedom is at stake, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod has just established the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty (LCRL), which aims to educate, encourage, and equip LCMS members and organizations to take informed action in support of religious freedom, defense of marriage and protecting the sanctity of life.  Those will be the three concerns of the LCRL, — marriage, life, and religious liberty.

Our new Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty office will be located in Washington, D.C., and it will need funding, so individuals and congregations are being asked to help financially.

As faithful Christians, we believe in Christ’s love and forgiveness.  We do not believe in violence or unlawful actions.  Just as Christ loves and cares about all people, we love and care about all people, including gays and lesbians.  We must never abandon our commitment to love, compassion and forgiveness.  We also know that as sinners, we have sinned as deeply as anyone else by thought, word, and deed, and we would stand condemned if it were not for the grace of God.  We leave judgment to the Lord.

As faithful Christians, we also believe what God’s Word commands in Psalm 119:  “Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! . . . Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end.  Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”

As faithful Christians, we love America, and we continue to feel blessed to be citizens of this wonderful nation.  As faithful Christians, we will work through our democratic system and peaceful means to bring our nation closer to God and His Commandments.

We will strive to be good examples of obedience to God for others to follow.

As LCMS President, Dr. Matthew Harrison, said to those attending the LWML Convention on the day of the Supreme Court decision:  “We face many such challenges at this point.  We must not become bitter.  We are people of joy.  There is nothing surprising about this [Supreme Court] decision. Jesus told us that as the end came near, things would get more difficult.  And what we will do is we will honor and care for all people, no matter what their sexual p reference may be.  We are sinners just like everybody else.  My sins condemn me to death just like everybody else, but Jesus Christ has died on the cross for my sins, ours and everybody in this world.”

God has blessed America!  God does bless American!  And God will continue to bless America!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds thru Christ Jesus.