Reformation Day (October 31, 2010)

The Truth Will Make You Free

Lessons: Jeremiah 31:31-34 Psalm 46 (7) Romans 3:19-28 St. John 8:31-36

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text

8:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 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’?”  34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

St. John 8:31-36. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

In the Sixteenth Century, All Saints’ Day was an important festival in the life of the church. It was a day to remember the people whose exemplary faithfulness had strengthened the life and witness of the Christian Church. Every November 1st, the church remembered these saints: the ones who had lived years earlier, and the ones who had lived in more recent times. It was a time for worship services, private meditation, and pilgrimages. The faithful would make pilgrimages to places where relics of the saints were collected. In these places, documents called indulgences were sold. According to the church of that day, indulgences conferred forgiveness of sin, and participation in the merits of the saints, for those who purchased them (or, if preferred, indulgences could be purchased on behalf of relatives who were already deceased).

In Martin Luther’s town, Wittenberg, Elector Frederick the Wise (the elector of Saxony — the civil ruler of the area) had amassed a phenomenal collection of relics — reportedly some 5,000 items (including pieces of wood from Jesus’ cross, the thumb of Saint Anne, and straw from the manger in which Christ was born). His collection had been certified to be of such a size that it could provide indulgences that would relieve the individual (by some accounts) from 1,902,202 years and 270 days in Purgatory (not the ski resort, but the place of waiting, where the dead are punished before being allowed into heaven – a medieval belief that our church no longer supports). And so every year on All Saints’ Day, the crowds arrived in Wittenberg to pay homage, and receive indulgences, supposedly shortening their sentences in purgatory, or shortening the sentences of relatives who had already begun to serve there.

It is no coincidence that Luther chose this weekend to post his 95 Theses: a collection of complaints he had with the way the church was operating in his day. On All Hallowed’s Eve, October 31, 1517, with the town filled to capacity for the festival, Luther nailed his protest to the door of the Castle Church, the official bulletin board of the university, and the reformation began.

Luther sought to call believers away from the false teachings that had arisen in the church, and central to his effort was opposing the sale of these indulgences. Scripture is clear, Luther would teach: One cannot purchase favor with God — not by use of money or by good works. One is saved by faith alone, through the grace of God. One is saved by trusting in the promise that Christ has already done enough, and that we have been put right with God. This is the message that God has called the church to proclaim (not a reality that the church sells). Anything the church does which might take away from that proclamation must be vigorously opposed and reformed. That was (and is) the central agenda of the Reformation and of the Lutheran movement.

And so this weekend we celebrate the heritage that this feisty German monk and his associates left us: the heritage of a Christ-centered and a faith-centered life, and a church that is dedicated to stay focused on the good news of what our Lord has done. As Jesus puts it in today’s Gospel lesson, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” As we believe in Christ, and remain in God’s word, we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. May that be true among us today.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. To what are people enslaved these days? What constricts us from being who God would have us be?
  2. How is the word of Jesus able to set people free from this bondage?
  3. How has the ministry of our congregation become a source for this kind of freedom?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What place does the Word of God play in my life? Do I read it and study it daily?
  2. What has Christ’s freedom meant to me? How have I experienced it?
  3. What elements of my life need reforming? Am I open to allowing God to guide me in those directions?