Sunday, October 31, 2010

“Law, Gospel, Freedom”

Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Romans 3:19-28
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For "no human being will be justified in his sight" by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

John 8:31-36
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?"

Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

A Message from the Pastor
Today is October 31, 2010. It is the Day of Reformation. Today is the day that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral, in 1517, seven years short of the 500th anniversary of that event. We always celebrate this festival either on the day, if it falls on Sunday, or on the Sunday before October 31.

The readings for today are always read on this day, the 31st chapter of Jeremiah, the 3rd chapter of Romans, and the 8th chapter of John. They are read for a good reason. The readings for this festival day represent many of the thoughts that Martin Luther had as he challenged the church of his time. Two of those thoughts are basic pillars of the Reformation. They are the law and the gospel. It is the law that convicts us of our sin and drives us to the cross. It is at the foot of the cross where we experience the gospel. It is at the foot of the cross where we experience the love of Jesus Christ who redeemed us and made us one with God through his death and resurrection. Every time we hear or read scripture, we should sense the presence of the law and the gospel. The three readings for today are outstanding examples of this.

Jeremiah was a prophet who had the continuous task of reminding the people of God that they were turning their backs on God by their disobedience to the law. God, through Jeremiah, reminded the people in the reading today. That was the law. But this part of Jeremiah’s writings is different than most of his comments. God, through Jeremiah, provided consolation for the people as they were being led into exile to Babylon. God provided them with the gospel, besides the law. God told the people that he was making a new covenant with them, a covenant that would be written on their hearts. He would forgive them their iniquities and remember their sin no more. God was prophesying about the coming of Jesus, although the people at the time did not realize it.

The law was given to the people of God as they traveled to freedom from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were given the Ten Commandments, along with 639 laws on how to relate, work, and act. As we think about the Ten Commandments, think about how well we keep them. Thou shall have no other gods before me. Do not take my name in vain. Remember the Sabbath. Honor your parents. Do not murder, steal, or commit adultery. Do not defame another person’s character. Do not covet.

I don’t know about you, but I have broken all of them and continue to do so.

Let me share a personal experience. Some years ago, I was sharing the change in my life’s journey with a friend who had been my counselor. In my enthusiasm for this new found life, I shared much of my insights. After I had finished, he looked at me and said, “Ed, I don’t think you ever got past the first commandment.” And so it is with all of us. I would suspect that everyone of us in this room has had other gods before God.

In the Romans reading, Paul’s comments also reflect the law and the gospel. He reminds the people that no one will be one with God because of their deeds prescribed by the law. All are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. That’s law. But then there is the gospel. Paul reminds them that because of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, because of the cross and the blood shed by Jesus, we have been reconciled to God. It is not our “works” that do it. We are justified by faith through grace. It is our faith in Jesus and his redemptive act that reconciles us to God.

Jesus also brings us the law and the gospel from the reading today. Because we are sinners, we are slaves to sin. That’s the law. However, if we abide in Jesus’ word, we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free. That’s the gospel, and continuing with those comments, Jesus tells us that if the Son makes us free, we are free indeed.

There is a difference between right and wrong and the truth. In our finite minds we can define what’s right or wrong. We can understand the law. If we have the power, such as being responsible for our family, our work, or in other capacities, we can define what’s right or wrong and take to task those who disagree. The truth is bigger than that. The truth is bigger than us and, more often than not, we cannot fully grasp it.

Let me share with you another personal experience. When I was in treatment, I had an “aha.” For thirty-five years I had wrestled with the notion whether it was right or wrong for me to drink. I could rationalize both ways, along with those who were close to me. During treatment, I realized that this was not the issue. It didn’t matter whether I was right or wrong. The truth was that I couldn’t or I would die. That truth helped set me on the course of freedom from addiction.

Martin Luther understood that. In his search of the scriptures and his new understanding of what God was saying through the Word, he knew a new kind of freedom that permitted him to do what he did. He was able and willing to nail 95 theses on the cathedral door at Wittenburg, knowing that he could incur the wrath of the church at Rome. He could write documents, such as the Augsburg Confession, along with the other documents that make up the Book of Concord to declare what he, and those who understood their relationship with Christ, believed as God’s written and living word. He could realize that his life was always in jeopardy. That’s why he was placed in hiding for two years. He knew what to do with his freedom.

The law will always convict us of our sinfulness. The law will always demonstrate that we are addicted to the life of the world. The truth is that we cannot, by our own reason or strength come to our God and believe in him. The truth is that it was Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection that brought us into a right relationship with God. It was because of Jesus and the cross that reconciled us to God. In faith, we come to embrace that truth.

The question is, if we truly believe the truth, through faith, that Jesus Christ is the sole reason for our relationship with God and that we are truly free, then what are we going to do with this freedom?

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