The Truth Will Occupy You and Set You Free

Sermon for Reformation Sunday + October 30, 2011

Today is a day when the realities of who we are, what our nature really is (when we are truthful with ourselves), and where we go when faced with that truthful reality. The Good News this day is all about freedom, liberation from what binds and enslaves us. The bad news is that you and I are like the Israelites in our Hebrew Scripture reading, we believe that we are not bound, and have never been enslaved. Our perception of reality is of a world where slavery to anyone or anything is ancient history…

  • We’re American’s,
  • We’re number one,
  • We’re in control of our destiny.

The truth is that we like the Israelites, live in denial, forgetting the experience of life along the Nile, enslaved to choices and circumstances of our lives. The truth of our world, our country, our church and our selves, is that…

  • We need freedom from our sinful thoughts and ways,
  • We need to be unchained from the bondage of brokenness,
  • We need to be reconciled to the fact that we are people in need of reform.

We, who are both sinners and saints, need the Holy Spirit to work in and through our lives, reclaiming the truth, refining our focus, and reforming our ways. This day is about
reclaiming what it means as Christ followers to live in the freedom that Jesus has given us through the cross.

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Reclaiming the Truth

My first semester of seminary was full of new language and concepts. Classes challenged my understanding, what I knew, what I believed and how I thought about God. In my introductory systematic theology class, aptly named ‘Thinking About God,’ our professor routinely shook the foundations of our faith and understanding. He also challenged us linguistically with new words and because English was not his first language, new ways of hearing old ones.

One of my favorite memories was the word “swirlfish.” Over several weeks early in the semester our professor used this term often. We tried to look it up, decipher its meaning from his lectures, find the term in our text books, asked other students, googled it every way we could think to spell it, except ask the professor… he had used it so much, we were ashamed to admit that we didn’t know what he was talking about. We knew it was an important term from the sharpness of tone this mild-mannered prof. used when he uttered the phrase.

Because of his science background, we joked that “swirlfish” must be some exotic fish in the Sea of Galilee, extinct from the Dead Sea, or some Mediterranean culinary delicacy with ritual significance! Students drew pictures of fish in their notes and the person who sat next to me said it wasn’t all that to her, she was allergic to seafood anyway! Well the elusive and humorous “swirlfish” turned out to be as vile as rotting fish and as you may have guessed, sin in its simplest state: selfishness.

In many of Martin Luther’s writings, he frames his understanding of sin as selfishness. We sin when we are self-centered, and in lives of doing selfish things, we become what we do, we become slaves to ourselves, our wants and our desires. Freedom then becomes doing whatever I want to do when I want to do it. But that definition of freedom only
focuses our “swirlfish” slavery to ourselves. Being freed from this slavery means having our “swirlfish” and centeredness turned away from ourselves.

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Refining Our Focus

Our focus, our refuge is not placed in our church, in our being, in our heritage, but only in our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. We live focused lives only when we live in the Word.

  • The Word that John’s Gospel reminds is Christ.
  • The Word that washes over us and sustains us.
  • The Word that is our saving grace.

In the Joint Declaration by Lutherans and Roman Catholics on Justification by Faith, this saving grace we share is framed in this way:

We believe that God’s creative graciousness is offered to us and to everyone for healing and reconciliation so that through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, “who was put to death for our transgressions and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:15),  we are still called to pass from alienation and oppression of sin to freedom and fellowship with God in the Holy Spirit.

We refine our focus when we reform our turned in on ourselves and our turned in on our church ways, instead turning to the Word which reconciles and refocuses us beyond ourselves to our neighbor in need. Luther reminds that Christ Himself is the truth, saying: “God’s Word will stand above the powers, shall end all their thanksgiving. The Spirit and the gifts are ours, for God with us is living.”

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Reforming Our Ways

Life as an individual, church, community and society is dynamic, always changing, always in need of reform. In the midst of our complex lives, we cry out for reformation and freedom because we need God to act,  to work change in us.   But we who by our nature bristle, stamp our feet, or stand in the way of change usually don’t want or welcome reformation of our ways, or our anything.

We want to occupy ourselves, our old ways, our selfish “we’ve always done it this way” way of life. But God sends the Holy Spirit to reform and reconcile us and all systems of
creation to God’s self. Thankfully, God occupies all of creation…

  • God is occupying Wall Street, Main Street and your street.
  • God is occupying you, from the breath of life,
    • to the invisible tattoo traced on your foreheads when you were baptized,
    • to the bread and wine, body and blood that we will soon share, taking the body of Christ, becoming the body of Christ, occupied and reformed by God to love and be God in and for the world.
  • God is occupying our messy lives to give us a clean slate and new life each day.

God enters and occupies our lives. God endures to suffering and alienation all human beings experience. God knows what it feels like to be bound, enslaved, and God knows the pain of humiliation, grief, and death itself.

The faith and freedom we are graciously given finds it fulfillment not in individualistic, self-centered “my way or the highway” life styles, but rather in lives reformed and redeemed, freeing us for relationships of love and service. Christ sets us free on the cross. A cross that…

  • takes our suffering,
  • frees us from anxiety, alienation, and guilt
  • forgives us all our selfish wants and ways, and
  • empowers us with new life to serve others in love.

We are freed from sin, called to place ourselves in the center of the suffering around us to live God’s future into the present, sharing the truth and proclaiming freedom from bondage for all in the Name of Jesus.

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