Forgiveness Spells Freedom, Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2013 St. Paul’s Vallejo, CA
Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2013 St. Paul’s Vallejo, CA
Jeremiah 31:31-34 Psalm 46 Romans 3: 19-28 John 8: 31-36
Forgiveness Spells Freedom
I was struggling to write another play about Luther for you this morning. Then I thought, I could write all about the new study that shows how Luther thought you could proclaim the gospel with music, even when you did not sing with words. He placed music right up there with theology. But then, our gospel lesson says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” We need to always make room for the Word of God and continue learning, hearing, and living in that word in order to know the truth and because the truth can set us free.
So I just went back to the lessons chosen for today, and will try to understand them and help you understand them and take them to heart. I might have studied Luther and even earned a PhD and I could go into my new understanding of the Reformation, but the point is to continue with God’s Word, Jesus Christ. “Come into our hearts, Lord Jesus. There’s room in our hearts for you.” So speak to us, dear Lord Jesus, and we will hear you and we will learn, hear, and continue to live in your word. Amen.
Jesus spoke to the Jews who had believed in him. Jesus was completely among Jews and he himself was a Jew of course, so we have to read “people.” Jesus spoke to the people that had believed in him. Oops. It seems that their faith was flagging and they stopped believing. So Jesus tells them, start opening your Bibles again and learning the Word of God. Hey, start going to church again and listening to what the scripture readings say. A woman in another church always reads the lessons and then hits me with questions about them the week before. She stumped me by asking, “Did Abraham divorce or separate from Sarah after she made Hagar leave them?” She thought Abraham was elsewhere when Sarah died! (I have to study that issue further.) But she hears what Jesus is saying. Make room in your heart for the Word of God, learn it, hear it, and continue to live in it, should you want to uncover the reality of your lives, know the truth, and become free. Lies cover up reality, while the truth reveals it.
We say, “We are free. This is a free country. How can you say we are not? We live in the land of the brave and the free!” I wonder how true that is. Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Thomas Jefferson said that eternal vigilance was the price of freedom and right now the NSA can not only read our emails, like Big Brother, but even Angela Merkel’s and – is she mad! We are free in an external kind of way, but not at heart. The wonderful comedian Victor Borge was a great piano player and accompanist. He was told by a singer, a soloist, to accompany him, to follow him closely. As the singer moved over the stage, Victor Borge and his page-turner pushed and moved the grand piano following behind the singer wherever the singer went on the stage. That is following someone in an external way instead of listening to his singing and playing the piano in the same heart-beat as the singer’s voice.
So like that joke, we can have an external kind of freedom but not be free when, for example, we are addicted to a drug or alcohol or to pain-killers, which are making so many of us die because of overdoses. Are we really free if the government shuts down, and we go to Point Reyes and we are stopped by the police, who said, “Sorry this National Park is closed.”
“What about Limantour Beach?”
“Sorry. It’s closed.” So we went to Stinson Beach. Sorry, it was closed, too. Thank God, Mt. Tamalpais was a state park and we went hiking up there. (We were merely denied recreation on Columbus Day, but Native Americans have had many of their funds cut.) Are we really free when over two million of us are incarcerated and many prisoners are in the isolation cells, in solitary confinement, in the prisons inside our prisons? Are we really free when 25 million of us cannot find jobs and our employers say, “We don’t owe you a living!”?
So Jesus says, really when you commit sin, then you are slaves to sin. When you realize that you are sinning and you can’t stop, you are enslaved, and that, whether you realize it or not. Here’s the Gospel: The forgiveness received in the Word makes us free, emancipates us from evil and the destructive power that death has over us. If you cannot master yourself, you will be the slave of another. If you get completely out of control, they put you in a cage like an animal, called a jail. You need to have external constraints until you can make them internal and realize your limits, the places beyond which you should not go. My father used to say, “The battle that you fight with yourself, is the most difficult one you will ever fight, but the sweetest victory you will ever win.” I myself discovered that making Jesus my Master, made winning that battle a possibility. In Christ we become more than victorious.
And remaining in Christ and continuing in God’s Word is more than just an individual thing. The House of God is greater than our White House; the latter stands for our United States, while we remain in the House of the Lord forever. The name Pharaoh meant the House of the King, the king of Egypt. So entering God’s House, meaning the kingdom of heaven, is being freed from the slavery of sin, from the House of Bondage, and entering into the freedom of the children of God. With Jesus in our hearts we are the sons and daughters who have a permanent place in the household of God, and it is slavery when we stay in the bondage of sin.
The ticket of entry into freedom is God’s forgiveness, our forgiveness of others and their forgiveness of us. Say we could have forgiven those evil terrorists for 9/11, the way those Amish people forgave the killer of seven of their children in that schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. They went to the serial killer’s funeral! But we had to declare war on a country not even involved and lose 4,000 soldiers there on top of the 3,000 lost in 9/11 and I think we have already lost over 2,000 in Afghanistan and we will not even mention a hundred thousand Iraqis, I don’t know how many Afghans, and then right now Iraq is again sliding into the abyss of further bloodshed, 5 to 600 killed by suicide bombers a month. Revenge enslaves us. We have to live by forgiveness, even though our worldly power seems to make it impossible. With drones we are killing those who threaten us, and whole new groups have joined El Qaeda and those who hate us are multiplying and not going away.
We have to keep proclaiming Christ, the Lamb of God, and remaining sons and daughters of the kingdom of heaven, in the freedom of the children of God, who have eternal life promised to us, because continuing in the Word of God gives us a permanent place in the household of God. The doorway is the forgiveness attained by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who shed his blood for us, so that we are forgiven and set free from our sin.
And you know the hard part. We have to forgive others. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” It would be nice if Jesus said everybody had to forgive us, but we didn’t have to forgive others the rot and dirt and hurt, all the evil they did to us.
You say, “Now you’re meddling, Pastor.”
Being forgiven by others is really wonderful and freeing. “Okay, you stole that money, but Jesus paid it for you, so you are free. Take three steps and go out into that lovely world God created for you.” But someone steals money from you. Now that’s a different story. William Blake wrote a poem about someone stealing an apple which illustrates this problem well, while it really also makes the point about bringing things up to resolve our anger as well:
“A Poison Tree”
I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I water’d it with fears, night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles, and with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine and he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole when the night had veil’d the pole:
In the morning glad I see my foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.
This hatred of an enemy, this lack of forgiveness and this exacting of revenge not only make you become as bad as your enemy, but even worse. He merely stole an apple from you and you became his murderer, to address the speaker in the poem.
Blake writes about the extreme case. But not being able to forgive makes anger fester inside you; you wake up at night, enraged. You say, “After all you did for him!” You get a head ache, and you take the person to court and pay huge legal fees to the lawyer – and you just could have forgiven the person the way Christ forgave you.
It’s not easy. Forgiveness is a process. It requires some real suffering we have to go through. But it is the doorway to heaven. “For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand fast therefore and do not submit to the yoke of slavery again.” That’s St. Paul.
Having a permanent place in the household of God means that we have eternal life hereafter as well as having abundant life even here and now. When Luther realized that God was not a wrathful judge waiting for him to sin one more time and swatting him dead like we would do a fly and realized that God was in love with him, and wanted to pour integrity and righteousness into him, and free him up in thankfulness by forgiving his sin, then Martin Luther of old felt like the gates of paradise had opened for him again and he was entering heaven. He called himself “Eleutherus” for a while thereafter, because in Greek in this text it means “to be made free” and Christ, in truth, had made him free. He was a professor, but like a child he wanted to sing about it. He had a fine voice and played the lute, much like guitar players today singing while playing chords for self-accompaniment. That is impossible with a trumpet. You have to play or sing; you can’t do both at the same time. Luther proclaimed the wonderful freedom he experienced by writing songs about it and singing many songs to share the sweet message of the Gospel with all people. “Keep us steadfast in your word! From Heaven Above to Earth I come. Out of the Depths I cry to Thee, O Lord. A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Those are just some of his many songs.
We too will find that continuing in God’s word, Christ will free us from our sin, and the kingdom of heaven, will set our country on the straight and narrow path that leads to abundant life and true freedom, the internal one as well as the external one. (I realize how important the external freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly are.) But how can we feel free when at any moment someone takes a gun and starts shooting us? We have to forgive that evil festering in our midst so it comes to light and we overcome it. Evil can only be overcome by goodness. When we return evil for evil it multiplies. That Norwegian who shot 46 young people: they gave him 21 years. I can’t be that free I’ll tell you. He complained that he could not have a computer in his jail cell! But has executing so many people in our country stopped all the killing? Honestly, it seems to have gone into high gear.
Let the forgiveness of Christ set us free. Let it lift us up into the place where Luther experienced the river of grace that makes glad the city of God; the river of strength that streams to us from God. Let it place us under the heaven of grace, where God’s steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever; the heaven of grace, much greater and more beautiful than our heaven, that heaven full of grace, God’s forgiveness and faithfulness which endures forever. Let’s really become “the land of the brave and the free” through the only way, the straight and narrow way, the way of God’s Word, who is the truth, who is Jesus Christ, the real emancipator, the heavenly “Eleutherus!” who sets us free. Amen.
 Miikka Anttila, Luther’s Theology of Music: Spiritual Beauty and Pleasure, (Berlin/ Boston: Walter de Gruyter, GmbH, 2013).
 Martin Luther versus Hildebrand, who became Pope Gregory VII and launched the Catholic revolution in the eleventh century that Luther overturned in the sixteenth. Gregory made 3,000 priests in Germany divorce, while Luther opened the way to their marriage again. Gregory launched the system of ecclesiastical, episcopal courts and placed the canon law over the civil law, while Luther made the civil law the law of the land and threw the canon law into the flames on December 10th 1520. Luther replaced the legislation of the church with the proclamation of the Gospel.
 Peter and Philip Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (Classics in Western Spirituality) (Mahwah, NJ: The Paulist Press, 2007), pages 138-140.