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Observance of the Reformation

John 8:31-36

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 22, Proper 25, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Oct 25, 2015 

In 1517, a monk and university professor named Martin Luther wished to have a scholarly debate concerning the topic of indulgences.  He did what any university professor would do.  He composed an invitation to debate and came up with 95 talking points concerning indulgences.  The original title of the invitation was “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” but most people call it “The Ninety-Five Theses.”

On October 31, 1517, Luther sent copies of “The Ninety-Five Theses” to his own supervisor and to the archbishop who supervised the sale of indulgences.  Much to Luther’s surprise, the Ninety-Five Theses became very popular.  Within two weeks, copies of this document had spread throughout Germany; and within two months throughout Europe.  Printers began translating “The Ninety-Five Theses” from the original Latin into the local languages, printed, and widely copied them, making this one of the first demonstrations of the power of the press.

After Martin Luther died, some of his friends said that he had also posted “The Ninety-Five Theses” on the university bulletin board … the front door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 … the day before the Feast of All Saints on November 1.  This makes a certain amount of sense because everyone involved with the university would attend services on the Feast of All Saints and see the invitation.  Since the publication of “The Ninety-Five Theses” was the spark that resulted in the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, we remember this Reformation on October 31.  Because October 31 is not on a Sunday this year, we are observing this festival today.

As we observe the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, we should, first of all, make sure that we know what a reformation is.  Many people seem to believe that reformation is simply change for changes sake.  Change for changes sake means that everything is fresh, new, innovative, and so forth.  For some people, this is very exciting and very attractive, but that is not what reformation is about.

Reformation is about returning to the truth.  In the case of government reform, it is about getting rid of corruption and getting back to the law of the land.  In the case of religious reform, it is about getting back to God’s word.  In today’s reading from the Gospel account Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32) Jesus makes it clear that abiding in His Word leads to truth and truth leads to freedom.

The reason we need constant reform is that we are sinful people who live in a sinful world.  The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh constantly work to drag us away from the truth that sets us free.  As a result, we constantly stray away from God and His Word.  As the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to write, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6) Because we constantly stray, we need constant reformation.

The history that we have in the Bible is an account of one reformation after another.  In Eden, [the serpent] said to the woman, “Did God actually say … (Genesis 3:1) and so he drew Adam and Eve away from God’s Word.  Then God brought reformation as He condemned the serpent and said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

There was another reformation in the days of the flood.  God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.  But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. (Genesis 6:13, 18) Humanity strayed, but God brought Noah and his family back to the truth.

The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of Jacob’s sons strayed away from God’s Word.  And in each case God brought about a reformation that brought them back to the truth.  Moses strayed and God brought him back to the truth.  God used Moses in turn when the Israelites strayed.  God worked through Joshua as well to bring reformation to His people.  The entire history recorded in Judges is one of people straying from the truth and God taking them through some fairly strenuous reformation in order to bring them back to the truth.  The history of the kings of Israel and Judah is full of people straying from the truth and God bringing reformation to them.

Eventually, the people strayed from the truth so severely that they found themselves in exile in Babylon, but even there, God brought reformation through servants such as Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.

Many of the letters that Paul wrote to the various churches of the First Century were also about reformation.  The Corinthians and the Galatians had wandered especially far from the truth of God’s Word.  Paul’s letters brought them back to the truth.

The interesting thing is that with all the changes in this world, human nature does not change all that much.  In today’s reading from the Gospel, we heard the people respond to Jesus.  They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33) they forgot their ancestors’ slavery in Egypt.  They forgot their ancestors’ exile in Babylon.  They didn’t even think to lift their eyes up to the north of the temple area to see Roman soldiers keeping an eye on the temple grounds from the Antonia Fortress.  They weren’t free politically and even worse, they were not free spiritually.

Things haven’t changed all that much down through the centuries.  We still insist that we do not have a problem.  We still deny our slavery to sin.  We still believe that we can get along fine without help from anyone.  Even with all the evidence of evil in this world, we still insist that we are spiritually free.  One of the easiest ways to stray away from the truth is to believe that we can produce our own spiritual freedom.

The answer that Jesus gave back then is just as valid for us today.  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not remain in the house forever.” (John 8:34) In spite of all our protests, we cannot free ourselves from our slavery to sin.  The fact that this world has war, crime, natural disaster, and so forth shows that sin still influences this world.  The fact that each of us still has pain, weakness, illness, and ultimately death shows the influence of sin in our lives.  It also shows us that we would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.

Fortunately, Jesus did not stop His teaching with condemnation.  After He spoke of the slavery of sin, He spoke of freedom.  He continued by saying, “The son remains forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34–36)

Jesus is the greatest reformer of them all.  His words not only bring people back to the truth, but His actions give power to His words.  At another time, when He was describing the death He would die, he said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) Since He is the truth, His death would be drawing all people to the truth.

The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to proclaim this truth in today’s reading from the epistle.  “There is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:22–25) Reformation brings us to this truth.  We are all sinners from the time of our conception until the day we die.  Our only hope is in the perfect life, the sacrificial death, and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We continuously stray away from this truth and we need continuous reformation to bring us back to this truth.  Jesus gives us the key to this reformation.  He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32) Amen

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