Reformation Freedom

Kenora                        Proper 30 Pentecost + 21

Year A

25 October 2020

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Romans 3:19-28

John 8:31-36

Your love, O God, is boundless. We who were strangers have been made your children; we who were defenceless have been brought into your household. Keep us mindful of your mercy, so that we may love you with our whole heart and love our neighbour as ourselves. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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I always find today to be an interesting point in the life of the Church, mostly because from my Lutheran background, today, we are celebrating the anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

We are celebrating the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg church in order to elicit discussion about the abuses that he saw taking place in the Roman Catholic faith and how that was being played out in the lives of the poorest people of the Holy Roman Empire, that he saw all around him.

But even Luther wasn’t the first to attempt to reform what he saw as abuses in the church. Twenty years before, just one generation earlier, the reformer Jan Hus, attempted his engagement with the Roman Catholic faith and was deemed a heretic and burned at the stake. His reformation attempt didn’t go anywhere because the church was able to keep the information contained, and was able to keep the people in the dark about his message.

In Luther’s time, there was a great convergence of circumstances that happened about the same time that made Luther and his ideas more than the Roman Catholic Church could handle. For example, there was the advent of the Gutenberg Printing Press, the invention of ‘movable type’ that allowed books and pamphlets to be produced faster and spread further than they ever could be before. 

In addition, the prince under whom Luther lived and taught and learned was sympathetic to Luther’s aims, probably because Luther’s notoriety brought in those who wished to see and learn from Luther, which meant more income for the community and the principality than if Luther and is radical ideas weren’t there.

Not only that, but the people were tired of the oppression of the church and the church leaders in their lives about the time that the Turks decided to invade the Holy Roman empire, and soldiers were needed from all corners of the Empire to defend the boarders of this the largest empire in Europe.

What we have to realize is that in the time period we’re looking at, a whole lot of little ideas, little circumstances that on the surface have nothing to do with anything all came together in order to provide Luther’s ideas a chance to take root, and to change the world as he knew it.

And these changes didn’t stay confined to Germany, rather they spread to Holland, to France, to Switzerland, and they fostered the foundation of other protestant faiths that still exist today in one form or another, including the English Reformation which resulted in the Anglican church, or the Church of England, under which we live and worship, today.

But we can not only see the far reaching effect of the Reformation, today, but we can also see how the gospel is still able to reach out from the days in the Palestinian sun and to reach us here in our pews, in our lives, and be able to be as great an instrument of change for us as the advent of the printing press was over 500 years ago.

The reformation, over 500 years ago, renewed the idea that we are, each one of us, active participants in God’s creation, and I say renewed because it was an idea that had been forgotten in the bumps and bruises of history where to band together under the leadership of one and everyone listen tot hat one had been predominant in the face of the ‘bumps and bruises’ of history.

It reminds us that although the world continues to spin, although the seasons come and go, we are not just part of the landscape. Rather in all facets of our lives we are active participants, and often what convinces us otherwise is when the human made structures of the world actively strive to make us believe that we are powerless, voiceless, choiceless, or without value in the world, and this continues to happen today.

Jesus points this out to his followers, in todays gospel: “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.”” And the followers of Jesus respond as we all do, “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’?”” (Jn 8:31-33)

But this just isn’t true.

We might echo the response Jesus gets, today, “we … have never been slaves to anyone” (Jn 8:33b) but structurally, in society, and within our lives of faith, this just isn’t the truth.

Jesus points out how sins, errors, omissions and commissions all make us slaves to sin. They make each one of us complicit in harming each other, ourselves, and the environment.

There are a couple of great lines in the 2006 movie “The Devil Wears Prada” but one that comes to mind is after Andy, the unexpected protégé, has been required to tell her co-worker that she’s taking her place on the much anticipated trip to Paris’ Fashion Week, Amanda Priestly, the CEO for whom she is working states that everyone wants her life, and that Andy has been complicit in this ‘fairy tale’ as well, when she told her co-worker that she’d been replaced on the Paris trip.

Now, the lies compound, as does the complicit nature of the situation. Amanda Priestly thinks, everyone wants to be in the limelight, to command the attention and admiration of fashion designers. But how she maintains this is by stepping on absolutely everyone all around her from family relationships, to those with whom she works, and with whom she associates. She’s a bully and she thinks everyone wants to be like her, especially and including Andy.

But it’s the illusion of freedom that we see in this movie, and that we’re looking at in our gospel, as well as in the workings of the world, today.

Over five hundred years ago, people were convinced that they were in the world and yet the world acted upon them, attributing the good in life to God, and the angels, but the bad was the domain of devils.

The Reformation showed humanity that we are all full active participants in the world, something we either forget, or take too far in the other direction, telling us there’s nothing that can affect us, and our desire to gain what ever we want, like the Amanda Priestly character.

And this brings us back to today. It brings us to the far side of the social revolutions of the 1960’s and 70’s. It brings us past the introduction of computers and the internet where cyber anonymity brings bravery to today’s brand of bullies and encourages us to think we’re not accountable for our actions.

Not only that, but lack of accountability for our own actions leads bullies to believe no one can stop them. It leads to unjust governments and societal perceptions and structures having the full reign to oppress anyone seen as ‘other,’ and yet we believe ourselves to be free.

Jesus points out that all of this makes us slaves to the sins, errors, omissions, or even commissions we commit, or are party to, whether meaning to, or not.

Jesus tells us that true freedom is found in the conscious decision to follow where and how Jesus leads, even before the throne of God.

Freedom is found when we, like Andy, the protégé, in The Devil Wear Prada, discovers that we’ve been twisted and turned by the will of others, but we have the choice to step off that hamster wheel. And we are able to be aware of the choices that led us down such a path.

At the same time, we are able to reclaim our relationship with Jesus, with God, with the Holy Spirit, and with each other, putting the teachings of Jesus first in all things.

Jesus tells us: “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.” (Jn 8:34-36)

And the Son dos declare each and every one of us, who follows where Christ leads, to be free.

We’re free to continue to break the bonds of sin and death in the world.

We’re free to lift up and to encourage those on all sides.

We’re free to treat absolutely everyone as our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

And we’re free to remember that the snares of the enemy are subtle, but we’re always able to step outside of such snares, and return to the love of God, and once again be declared free.

In many ways the world has moved forward since the days of the Reformation, but in many ways the snares of the enemy have moved with us, always striving to tell us we’re alone, and powerless to get away; and that, then becomes the true trap that imprisons us, yet makes us feel invincible at the same time.

When we sin, not if, but when, then we are trapped by sin, we are separated from the love of God, and we forget that in that trap we are not free.

We are able to be free when we return to God, confess our sins, receive absolution.

We are free to uphold and help all who likewise find themselves enmeshed, and enslaved to sin, and carry out that sin against others, whether wittingly or no.

As Jesus reminds us: ““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.” [and] “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn 8:31-32, 36)

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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