Freedom

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John 8:31-36

If I were to ask each of you to define freedom, I would get just as many different answers. Some of them may be very similar, while others may be unique to the individual. The dictionary has many different definitions to freedom. The first entry defines freedom as “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.”

Quite often when we think of freedom in the United States, we jump to our founding documents of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We have freedom of speech and religion. We have the right to vote and select our leaders. We have certain rights that we have come to expect as American citizens. We have had many groups within this country stand up for these same freedoms and rights from the beginning of this countries founding.

Freedom in another country around the world may look completely different however. The Syrian refugee may just be looking for the freedom to not worry about losing their life. The persecuted Christian in Asia may wish they had the freedom to proclaim the Good News boldly without fear of prison or even death. The silenced women of Iran may wish they had the same freedom as their husbands.

It was in 16th Century Germany that Martin Luther raised his concerns about the freedom a Christian had in the church and the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The grace of God seemed to be overlooked and he raised his belief in the justification of faith. As our Gospel lesson points us to this morning, true freedom can only come to us in Jesus Christ.

In the midst of this, it is hard for us to acknowledge that we are slaves to sin and are held captive by that sin. Even the Judeans, whom Jesus is talking to, seem to have forgot of their own ancestors that were once slaves in Egypt. The concept of being a slave was just as foreign to them as it is to us today. While our own country has had a negative history with slavery, we tend to forget it or gloss over it at times.  We do not know what it is like to be held in physical slavery. Yet, we are slaves nonetheless. Could I go as far to say that we are even possibly slaves to our own misconstrued concept of freedom?

Don’t get me wrong. The physical freedoms that we have in our country are incredible and those freedoms have been fought for and I give thanks for them. However, do we let ourselves get so caught up in the freedoms that are given to us in our rights as citizens, that we forget about our lives as Christians?  The true freedom that we should be seeking as Christians comes to us in Jesus Christ.

We like the truth. We want to know what is right and what is wrong. We seek out the truth to make decisions. As Christians the truth is more than that. The truth comes to us as Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life.  When we come to know the truth that is Jesus Christ, we will experience the freedom that can only come through Christ. That same freedom that Jesus promised to the Judeans in today’s gospel continues to come to us in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

As we enter into a year-long 500th Anniversary observance of the Reformation, we continue to be changed daily in our life with Christ. The reformation of the church was not a one and done event. Through Christ we experience a freedom that changes not only the church on a daily basis, but our own lives as we encounter a freedom that can only be found in Christ. In Christ we have the freedom to give ourselves as a Christ to our neighbor; just as Christ offered himself to us.

That freedom found in Jesus Christ does not make us free to sin. It makes us free from sin. May you continue to be reformed through the living Christ and encounter the truth which sets you free. Free to live a life of love and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Who Are You?

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Luke 18:9-14

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

St. Francis could quite often be found walking around muttering to himself in prayer, “Who am I? and Who are You?” He knew that he was called by God to rebuild the church, yet as he prayed to find his true self, he also looked deeper to find who God was. For many of us, this is the quintessential question of life. Not only do we want meaning in our lives, we want to fulfill the calling that God places upon us.

Jesus’ parables not only disrupt our lives with uneasiness, they also allow us to discern who we may be within them. For instance, this morning we could find ourselves in a number of different characters. The Pharisee can be found standing by himself. Before his conversion, the apostle Paul was even a Pharisee. He follows the law, gives 10% of his income to the church, and thinks he knows what is right and what is wrong, clearly seeing in black and white. He even gives thanks to God, just like the Samaritan leper a couple of weeks ago. That thanks, however, comes in the form of a condescending prayer in which he gives thanks that he is not like other people. Is he standing by himself because he believes he is too good for others, or do others try to keep their distance?

The tax collector can also be found away from everyone. The tax collector is truly one person that people do not want to see coming to knock on their door. Tax collectors are outcasts of society because they appear to have buddied up with the Roman Empire for the purpose of collecting taxes and in turn making themselves rich in the process.

There is a third group within this lesson as well. It is the group that Jesus is telling the parable. A group whom trusted in themselves, thought of themselves as righteous, and even regarded others with contempt. As we find ourselves in the midst of an election cycle, this does not sound much different than many of the politicians.

Do you see yourself in one of these characters more than another? If we are honest with ourselves, we probably see a little bit of ourselves in all of these characters. All of them are sinners, yet they do not all acknowledge that. Those that Jesus is telling the parable to and the Pharisee can be viewed in the same light. They look upon themselves as righteous and look down on those that are not quite the same. At one point in our lives we all have the habit of doing this. It is part of our brokenness and speaks to the sin in our lives, even if we won’t acknowledge it. Thank goodness I am not like those people over there! Thank goodness I have everything I need and I give where needed.

In the original Greek text, the authors of the books of the Bible use the same root word, dikaiow, in describing the righteous and justified. While they are closely related, the Pharisee and the tax collector cannot be farther apart. The Pharisee standing apart from everyone because he believes he is much better than them. He has no problem giving thanks to God, but does so in a condescending manner in regards to everyone he deems not as worthy. Along with the audience listening to the parable, he most likely considers himself righteous.

The tax collector, on the other hand, separates himself in the temple because he finds himself not worthy of God’s love. He knows that he is a sinner and acknowledges it in the presence of God in the temple. In this confession he is justified. The realization that we too are sinners is a part of our Lutheran teaching. We begin our Liturgy with the Confession and Forgiveness.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In this confession we can relate to the tax collector that stands on the edge beating his breast believing himself not worthy. This confession is not just words to be taken lightly. In this confession we acknowledge that we cannot do it on our own. For it is through grace alone that our sins are redeemed and is not of our own righteous doing.

Jesus’ parable encourages us to lift up our humility over our arrogance and acknowledge that we cannot be redeemed on our own. When we recognize our own guilt and shame then that is when we can stand alongside the tax collector and be justified. Justified by grace alone through the love of Jesus Christ. We may not always discover who we are, but in this grace we will always know whose we are. That truly is Good News!

Are You Made Well?

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Luke 17:11-19

How often do you take a minute to reflect upon your week? As you do so, you offer yourself a chance to reset for the coming week. Church on Sunday is a wonderful opportunity for us to give thanks to God and to be nourished at the table as we encounter Christ in the bread and wine. It is our faith that makes us well and renews us.

Reflecting involves both the good and the bad. We tend to steer away from those bad experiences and sweep them under the rug so that they are hidden. Unfortunately, sometimes they rear their ugly heads in a more dramatic way then when the negative experience first happened. In the bad we often times find ourselves in a no man’s land. A place in between. Or, if you have watched Stranger Things on Netflix, it may be a place as bad as the Upside Down. It is a place that none of us truly want to go, however we are all affected by it. In no man’s land we are outcasts, bullied, and rejected and much more.

The lepers in this morning’s gospel lesson find themselves in no man’s land. The region between Galilee and Samaria where only those that have been rejected from society find themselves. The lepers have no where else to turn to and those that are clean are afraid to come near them for fear that they may catch the same awful disease. Even in the midst of their seclusion they find Jesus. They have heard what Jesus can do and they know that they cannot be healed on their own. In this, they call out to Jesus and ask for him to have mercy on them. A mercy that cleanses and a mercy that allows them to enter back into society.

Jesus too, is in our midst, even when we find ourselves in no man’s land. And the thing is, we cannot get out of there on our own. For we live in a broken world in which humanity struggles to get it right. We need help and we need healing. It is in Jesus that we find mercy and Jesus cleanses us too. Not only does Jesus cleanse us, when we profess our faith in him, we find we are made well. Through our faith in him, we find salvation. Salvation from a no man’s land that only wishes to reject us and cast us aside. All of the lepers were cleansed, more importantly, it was the Samaritan that saw God in the process and made a conscious decision to turn around and give thanks.  In this he found true salvation in being made well.

Confirmation is a conscious decision. Our teenagers make the decision to affirm their faith and the vows that were made for them in their baptism. In baptism and confirmation alike, God is present. The three young ladies that are affirming their faith this morning are aware of that and have recognized God in the process. Jesus has lifted them up when they have found themselves in a no man’s land. In Jesus, they have found a place to turn to. They have reflected it in the Bible verses they have selected and their faith statements they have shared.

They have learned over the past couple of years that Jesus is present in their lives and provides hope in times of struggle. It is my prayer, as it should be all of ours, that they do not forget this day and the faith that they have shared.

It is pretty much guaranteed that they will find themselves in no man’s land again at some point. We all do. The challenge is, how long do we allow ourselves to stay present in it? Or, do we turn to the truth that cleanses and loves us? For it is only in Jesus Christ that we can find salvation. In this we give thanks and are made well.

Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

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Luke 17:5-10

One of the things that I truly enjoy in this calling as your pastor is the ability to sit down and get to know you. I learn of those activities and passions that keep you moving throughout the week. As I have the opportunity to sit down and talk with many of our families, I am amazed at the number of activities that keep them moving throughout the week.

In the midst of this comes struggles that are at times unexpected and at other times brought on by our own doing. We are always looking for the next best thing to give us a leg up. We want to be more efficient. We want to be able to do everything quicker so that we can move on to the next task on our list. We want to be able to say that we are successful and have accomplished something for the day. In the midst of it all we strive for more and more so that we can get by. The truth is that we have already been given everything we need. We have enough!

Don’t think you are the first one to be bombarded with activities. Jesus’ disciples felt the crunch around them as well. They don’t think that they have enough to help them accomplish everything in front of them. In our lesson this morning, they are asking Jesus to increase their faith. They are overwhelmed by this whirlwind tour Jesus has invited them on. Not only are the expectations Jesus sets out shocking to them at times, they are also left trying to figure out what he is saying in his many parables. Jesus has asked them to give away all of their possessions. He has told them countless times that they are going to have to take up their own cross. Jesus has instructed them to forgive the people who have wronged them.

Jesus is all about forgiving. It is his instructions to the disciples to forgive those who have sinned against them that finally provoked the request in this mornings lesson (17:1-4). Surely having more faith will help see them through everything that Jesus has called them to. In their own anxiety, they are feeling inadequate for the job at hand and if Jesus would simply increase their faith, their anxiety could be put at ease. The thing is, they already have faith enough to do those things they ought to do.

Their hope of increased faith is not going to get them anywhere faster. The faith that they have within them is already enough. Their faith is enough for the present moment and will see them through their calling. The faith of the people in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus encounters and heals is an example for us. Their faith is just enough and they trust in this. This faith may be found in the most unexpected places and people. The centurion who has enough faith that his servant will be healed, and Jesus does so from a distance (7:9). The woman, a sinner living in the city, who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and ointment is saved by her faith in the Son of God (7:50). The woman who had to reach out and just touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe was healed from her twelve years of bleeding (8:48). And Jesus will continue in his healing as he encounters people with faith that is perhaps just the size of a mustard seed.

It is not a question of if the disciples have faith. For what they have already is enough. It was their faith that got them to drop everything they were doing and follow Jesus. It was their faith that pushed them to stay with him throughout all of the struggles and challenges that came to them as they were mocked and ridiculed. It was their faith in Jesus that brought them hope.

Faith within the church is alive and well. It is our faith that calls us into action. It is our faith that calls us to reach out to those in need and to provide and to lift up the least of these. Our faith can be witnessed in many forms. It is here this morning in our worship, as your faith brought you here. It is in those that are serving and preparing sticky buns to raise funds for our mission team. It is in our teenagers that are preparing to be confirmed next Sunday.

The awesome thing is that we have just enough faith to do those things that ought to be done. We do not need anymore when all of our faith can be found in Jesus Christ. As we learn to trust him as he guides us, our faith is nurtured and we experience the grace God has given freely to each and every one of us.

“Faith is hopeful, trusting, strong even in weakness, surprising and cheerfully active – not because of our belief, but because of the One we believe in, and that, indeed is Good News.” (1)

 

(1) Margit Ernst-Habib, from Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 4