Reformation Sermon from 1992, Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, California
Christ Lutheran Church
El Cerrito, California
Reformation Sunday – October 25, 1992
Far be it from me to preach an anti-Catholic sermon today, or any Lutheran triumphalism. The Reformation represents a challenge to us in the whole church proclaiming Christ to a world in crisis. The 16th Century Religious Renewal is trying to provoke a 20th century religious renewal or we can almost say a 21st century religious renewal. And what does religion mean? It means relationship, relationship with God, relationship with each other.
For us today, Christianity does not lay down beside other world religions very easily to be just one of many world religions. And our faith will refuse to adjust to secularism, whether the Marxist variety or our own practical agnosticism, not to say atheism. For all of that, just look at how Godless you and I are. We don’t have to speak of atheists anywhere else.
And our faith in Jesus Christ is not like some old man lay down to die. When hearing professors talk in the university, they talk as if our faith were a quaint antique of the past. In East Germany they called Christianity an unscientific superstition…but Marxism itself has turned out to be a great delusion.
I believe the rumors about Christianity’s demise have been greatly exaggerated (to use Mark Twain’s words). That old man who dies, rises up in glorious resurrection…and the story starts all over again.
The gospel of Christ is surging with renewal, like a powerful mountain growing up out of the sea, only the tip of which we now see, but rising higher and higher and showing the inadequacy of all other religions and the futility of all secularism without God and God’s Christ.
Let’s turn to the gospel lesson for Reformation Sunday. Let’s place ourselves under these words, let them break on our ears, and let them light up our minds, so with Christ burning in them, they can light the path before us today.
What will we consider? We ride in God’s Word like a time-machine when we continue in it. The truth will set us free. The truth who is Christ. The truth as opposed to lies. These words from the Gospel of John are beautiful because they can refer to things of the world and to things of the church and God. But I want to show how our lives receive a new basis in Christ and a new birth of freedom is in store for this world. Let us get on with the mission of Christ. Let Christ start with you and me.
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. Those are two conditions that come before: You will know the truth and the truth will make you free. So we have to read our Bibles to ourselves, to our families, to our children, here before the congregation. But we don’t stop there with the reading. The word is a vehicle. “Search the scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life, and they bear witness to me. And yet you refuse to come to me for life” (John 5:39).
You see, the word is like a time machine in which we can travel back through time or ahead in time. But more importantly, the Word of God is a time machine in which Christ can travel into our time and be with us in our lives.
John uses philosophical terms: you will know the truth and the truth will set you free, but you and I know that John proclaims Christ as a person is the truth. Jesus says: I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me. So Christ is the truth. Christ is the liberator who sets us free.
All the humanists in Luther’s day renamed themselves with classical names, like Agricola, Melanchthon, Oecolampadius. Melanchthon, for example, means “black earth.” Melancholy comes from the word “black.” Interestingly enough, Luther was no real humanist, but used Humanism for the gospel. He was called Eleutherius, which mean the “liberator” or the “free one.” He was not comfortable with it though, and perhaps because he knew that Christ is the real eleutherius, the liberator and savior of us all, and not Luther. Whom the Son sets free, is free indeed. Yes, the truth shall set you free.
Thank God that these words also apply to the world and are not church-bound. I thought the town meeting format for the second presidential debate was superbly designed to confront the candidates with truth. The truth needs to be spoken to power, and those who have the courage to speak the truth need their right protected to speak it. That Perot can get in there and blurt out some pretty truthful observations is something that makes democracy strong. And once the truth is heard, you can bet that it will work toward more freedom.
But it is easy to harp on politicians. Real renewal starts with you and me. How much truth are you willing to bear about yourself? How much truth am I willing to hear about myself? If you are like me – little shutters go down over my ears, and I just stop hearing what someone says to me. Why? because I cannot bear it.
In my own case, I have a high threshold of physical pain, but a very low threshold for inward pain. I’m not sure if it’s emotional pain, psychological pain, or spiritual pain. All I know is that learning some things about myself is very painful. And if you are like me you avoid these painful learning experiences, and end up all comfy and cozy with a lot of lies. So often we refuse to go through our growing pains.
But Christ comes to us in a way we don’t expect. We know how God should come to us. We would like God powerful and almighty, ready to save us on our terms. But Christ comes weak and vulnerable. Luther says, as a baby, like a worm in a crib, and then gets nailed to a cross. That’s not how I want God to come to me. God is outrageous! And then Christ was rejected by his own.
But you and I know that a baby can wrap all the grown-ups of a whole household around its finger. And a baby is a bundle of love. So in Christ, God speaks the truth to us in love. We can dare to draw close to Christ. Christ helps us bear the cross of truth better. Christ speaks the truth to us in love. That love makes the heaviest cross light, and makes us willing and able to bear it.
That goes for even dying with Christ. The love of God makes that possible for us. God was in Christ. And “no one can see God and live.” Once Dietrich Bonhöffer said: “When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die.” That is freedom. In the words of the great spiritual: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I’m free at last.”
So there is pain, suffering, and a death we die in Christ, which frees us from sin. Our old self dies and we become alive to God. Sin therefore loses its power over us. Sin has power over our old selves, which are selfish, based on lies, and can’t give up all the illusions we hold so dear.
What I’m describing is your liberation in Christ. That’s how the Son sets us free from sin. We hear the truth. We encounter the living truth in a love encounter. It’s a rendez vous with the one who loves us, and holding us, lets us die, so that we rise up new beings filled with grace and truth, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, raised up to become alive to God and what pleases God. And the powers of sin cannot reach us there.
If the Son of God sets you free then you are free indeed. It is important to celebrate democracy, town meetings, the freedom of speech and other freedoms. But all these are empty if we do not have the freedom from sin, the relationship with our eternal home. The slave does not stay in the house forever, but the new born sons and daughters of the Father in Heaven, made free by the Son of God, are those who say in the words of the Psalm: “Surely Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”
With what thoughts do I leave you for reformation 1992?
The truth will certainly make you and me free, and it can even be spoken by a politician. And I believe Christ would smile upon a town meeting. The truth might work people over, but they become the better people for it. Let’s get into the truth like that.
We can draw closer to Christ, who will speak the truth to us in love. Slowly lies will stop being the basis of our lives. We will escape lies and the violence lies foster by the painful death we die in Christ. But then with illusions behind us, we will look into realities which are filled with promise and new hope. They will be the gracious realities of Christ.
That is a religious renewal for today. And it will also grasp the whole little world, this little earth, and make it quake, so that it goes into labor, and a new heaven and earth are born out of it, and a new birth of freedom takes place among the people dwelling in the household of God, beholding all his glory, filled with grace and truth, knowing, loving glorifying and enjoying God forever. Amen.
 Agricola in German his name was Bauer (farmer) and Oecolampadius, means a “light in the house.” I do not know what his name may have been in German.