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"Free Indeed"

John 8:31-28

Rev. Alan Taylor

St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

On October 31, 1517, 494 years ago tomorrow, Martin Luther went to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany to post his ninety five theses on the door.  Though his 95 theses were unique, the practice of posting notices on the door of the church was not.  In the absence of modern communication methods, it was a way to make announcements to the surrounding community, sort of like a bulletin board, if you will.  Luther's intent was to draw together theologians from around the region to discuss what he saw as corruptions in the teaching and practice of the church of his day, the Roman Catholic Church. 

After he posted his theses, we know that things moved much quicker than he intended.  Though he wrote them in Latin, the language of scholars, his theses were quickly translated into German, the language of the people.  What ensued, under the radical guidance of men like Andreas Karlstadt and others, was a revolt of the peasant class throughout Germany, which quickly exposed Luther to the ire and the wrath of the Roman Catholic Church. 

While some then, as well as today, accused Luther of dividing the church and even of causing the peasants revolt, it is evident that he was a man interested only in the truth.  In fact, he was so intent on upholding the truth of God's Word that he was ready and willing to give his life for the cause.  Thus, he made that bold defense of his teachings in the city of Worms, Germany years later.  "Unless I am convinced by the Word of God I cannot and I will not recant.  Here I stand!  God help me!"

Luther's struggle for faith, the very struggle that brought him to that church door in Wittenberg, was a very personal struggle.  In other words, Luther wasn't interested in debate for the sake of debate.  Nor was he interested in discussing his theses simply as an academic exercise.  By the time he posted his theses on the church door he had already been a monk of the Augustinian Order for about 12 years.  And the Church, namely Rome, throughout those years told him that he could be certain of his salvation and of his being accepted by God because he was a monk!  The Church, you see, taught that one of the few ways that a sinner could be certain of his salvation was to join a monastery.  Apart from taking the vow, a Christian could pray, he could hope, he could do penance and give alms.  In the end though, he was left with a haunting question, namely, "will God except my works?" Or, perhaps more to the point, "have I done enough!!?" "Have I done enough!!?"

So, the church said, Luther, you are a monk, therefore, you are saved from the wrath and condemnation of God!  You are holy and pleasing in God's sight!  Luther though knew better.  No matter what the church said, his conscience still accused him.  And so, he worked harder at being a good monk, and yet, he still he suffered from the anguish of a condemned soul.  He was doing what the church prescribed.  He was said to be a man free from the guilt and condemnation of God's law, and yet, he was miserable, bound by a conscience that burdened him relentlessly.  In his hymn "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice," Luther described his condition as a monk…

"Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay,

death brooded darkly over me. 

Sin was my torment night and day;

In sin my mother bore me. 

But daily deeper still I fell;

my life became a living hell,

So firmly sin possessed me."

Johannes von Staupitz, Luther's father confessor, the man to whom Luther frequently confessed his sins, once said, "Brother Martin, in the all the years that you have been coming here to confess your sins to me, you have never confessed anything even remotely interesting."  Luther apparently was a navel gazer, always looking deeper and deeper within for some spark of goodness.  He would dig and dig, but, instead of goodness he found more and more sins to confess to Staupitz.  To find hope and joy and peace, Luther would have to stop looking within and turn his eyes to that which existed outside of himself, namely, the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.

The Lutheran Reformation brought, of course, many blessings to the church in the rejection of various false teachings that tended to unnecessarily burden souls.  The chief blessing of the Reformation though was the restoration of the pure and simple Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord!  God gives us a message that is true regardless of our feelings, or, of our own assessment of ourselves.  Today that message is this…"If the Son sets your free, you are free indeed!" Yes, we say, but I'm a sinner!  I know it!  I feel it!  To which God says, but I, Almighty God, have declared that you are free!  Your sins will not keep you from enjoying eternity with Me, for I have washed them away in the blood of My Son and in the water of your Baptism!

When Luther's conscience was quieted by that gracious promise of God, he came to look at the Scriptures in a completely different way.  Whereas he once saw God's Righteousness as a quality of God to be feared, he began to see it as a gift that God bestows on us through faith.  In 1545, just a year before his death, Luther wrote…"The Gospel reveals the righteousness of God in a passive sense, that righteousness through which the merciful God justifies us by faith….Instantly (he says) all of Scripture looked different to me.  I passed through the Holy Scriptures, so far as I was able to recall them from memory, and gathered a similar sense from other expressions.  Thus "the work of God is that which God works in us; the "strength of God" is that through which He makes us strong; the "wisdom of God" is that through which He makes us wise; and the "power of God," the "blessing of God," the "honor of God," are expressions used in the same way.  As intensely as I had formerly hated the expression "the righteousness of God" I now loved and praised it as the sweetest of concepts." 

By God's grace, and by the power of God's Word, Luther, was able to pen the final verse to that great hymn of the Reformation…

"But God had seen my wretched state

Before the world's foundation,

and mindful of His mercies great,

He planned for my salvation. 

He turned to me a Father's heart;

He did not choose the easy part,

but gave His dearest treasure."

Friends, God, who has turned to you a "father's heart," and "who gave His dearest treasure," for you, calls each of you today to learn from Luther's struggle and to lean not on your own goodness, on your own works, or, your own striving to be accepted by Him.  Rather, lean on Christ, God's Son, who sets you free from the awful load that sin heaps on your shoulders.  Jesus spoke words that Pope's would never utter, though burdened consciences longed to hear them.  "Truly, Truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."  And you will remain in the father's house forever.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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