This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Oct. 31, 2021 in Holladay, UT. Worship can be viewed on our YouTube channel at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please subscribe! The texts for this Reformation Sunday were:
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
John 8: 31-36
Image Credit: Pixaline from Pixabay
Who’s dressing up today? Halloween is probably my favorite holiday in the year. Yep, Halloween. Not Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or Valentine’s Day. Do you know why? Because it’s all about fun and the kids. There are no presents to buy, fancy outings to plan, elaborate meals to make, expectations of decorating. In many ways Halloween embodies everything that a holiday should be, and even though many people of all ages dress up to pretend to be someone or something else, we welcome whoever or whatever shows up at our door and give them treats that they didn’t earn or deserve. I’ve always thought that it’s a more authentic and Christ like holiday than the others. AND it’s fun to dress up as someone else, to pretend to be a mad scientist, or doctor, or a unicorn. When you put on those costumes, we sometimes even act a bit like those characters. You might change your voice, or how you walk. But are you REALLY those characters? No, and everyone knows it. No one really believes that you’re a ghost, Frankenstein, Dracula or Einstein. And no one is going to expect you to act that way all the time, and that would get annoying pretty fast. Pretending to be someone else for a day is one thing, but I know I can’t keep it up. I’ll forget to be a princess…or maybe I won’t!
I think that’s why I dislike the other holidays; people have an expectation of how we are to act for an extended period of time. So many families pretend to get along, try and recreate family gatherings of the past, pretend that they are happy when they’re not. How often do we retell the stories of the big blow up over mash potatoes or the awkward silences? Nope, we tell the stories of laughter, delicious recipes and sing a-longs. We choose to sweep under the rug the pain and pretend that nothing happened but good times. We love nostalgia-remembering things differently than they really were. But the word nostalgia in Greek, means pain. Nostalgia is the painful act of not telling the truth of our lives, past or present. Truth is a slippery concept in our post-modern, post-“T”ruth society. Some folks think that they can create the truth from falsehoods and if they say it enough times, it becomes absolute truth, except it’s not. “Remember when life was slower paced without all these modern conveniences?” You mean like laundry taking a whole day, people died from infections and there were no microwaves? Yeah, no thanks. While it seems that truth has taken a huge beating in past few years, this isn’t new. Humanity has always had an aversion to the truth, as if you know the truth, then you must act on it. Acting on the truth is a bold and frightening possibility. When Martin Luther told the truth about how the medieval Roman Catholic Church was cheating the common people out of money and playing on their fears for salvation, it cost him his community, his vocation, his freedom and almost his life. We look back on this date and uphold Luther as a hero, a catalyst for reform, spiritually, religiously, economically and socially, from which we all today benefit. While that is true, the whole truth is that he was also hated, feared, considered a rebel and most of us would have kept our distance. Luther was anti-Semitic, he was classist and told the common folks during Peasant Uprising to stay in their social stratum. He was not perfect; he was a fallible human. But we don’t tell those truths too often as then it requires us to face uncomfortable facts of our own history that still bears consequences for us today that we don’t discuss in polite conversation. I guess maybe sermons aren’t polite conversation, as we need to talk about the truth of the remnants of classism, racism and elitism still plague the ELCA today.
Luther was bold and daring to post 95 injunctions on the Roman Church who were abusing power and authority. He called the Roman Church to accountability, told the truth of who they were supposed to be as Christ’s hands and feet in the world. The Church was supposed to free people from fear over sin and death and release them to love God and each other, you know what Jesus says over and over in all the gospels. We are loved and saved by God because God loves us, nothing more. We’re free from working out our own salvation or worrying about our neighbor’s salvation. It’s done. Luther embraced this freedom so much so that he changed his name. His birth name was Ludder, but he took on “Luther” as it came from the Greek word that Jesus uses here in John 8 “eleuthero” meaning freedom. As Lutherans our denominational name, means freedom. Not the type of freedom that let’s you do whatever you want, when you want without thought to how it might affect other people, nope. Luther wanted people to know that Jesus frees them from worrying about their own freedom; yes, that’s convoluted. In Jesus’ freedom, we no longer worry about what is best for us, as we understand that what is best for our neighbor is best for us. The truth is God sees our captivity to our own comforts, ego and self-interest and sent Jesus to shine the truth of that captivity. Jesus’ light dispels the shadows of the lies we tell ourselves: the lie we’re not in captivity to our capitalistic, consumer culture, to the myth of self-improvement, that we’re not in captivity to the lures of popularity or fame, or to the pain of comparisons with others, that we’re not in captivity to our own wants and preferences. Just as the Israelites had forgotten that God freed them from Egypt and credited themselves with power as Jeremiah reminded them, and the people around Jesus in our John passage denied that they had ever been in captivity even though they had and still were to the Roman Empire, we too will deny that anyone has any claim to us.
The truth is that we allow the wrong things to claim us. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Roman Church that it is God who claims us, and we and the whole world are accountable to God. That is the truth. The truth is that Jesus frees us from our pretending to be who we’re not, so that we are fully reformed to be be who’s we are: God’s. This freedom is indeed bold and risky and demands something of us. Yes, it’s freely given and yes, we are accountable to the truth. Both of those things are true. We are free to name and live into the hard truths of the world so that accountability to God’s kingdom occurs. The hard truth that yes, we are captive to sin and can’t free ourselves. We’re captive to judgment, division, sexism, white supremacy, greed. We’re captive to the sin of certainty, fear, to resisting change, even healthy change as we long to live in nostalgia. But the truth is too that we aren’t alone, and God knows our truths, the good, the bad, the ugly and loves and forgives us. The truth is that Jesus gathers us, all people and frees us to answer God’s call to proclaim these truths boldly like Luther, imperfections and all. The Holy Spirit sends us out rooted in the truth of who we are and who’s we are. We know the truth, that God is our God and we shall be God’s people. Amen.