Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Festival of the Reformation, 10/27/2019. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Festival of the Reformation, click here.
In the beginning of John 8, everyone still loves Jesus. And, of course, there is good reason for this: there is free food, and church people love free food. Jesus had just fed the 5000, and so everyone was on his team. It’s not just that; there was also free healthcare: no taxes, no copay, one visit, with perfect results every time. Thus Jesus has healed the lepers, the blind men, those who have died, and no one can cast a demon out like Jesus.
Then there was the big tent politics. Jews: they’re in. Gentiles: in. Samaritan dogs: in. Tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, anybody you can think of: in, in, in, and… in. So, at the beginning of John chapter 8, everybody still loves Jesus.
And then the text says this wondrous thing: there were even Jews who believed in Him. Now, if you have folks believing in you, you would think it best to keep them happy. You all know that it is easier to keep a friend than it is to find a friend. But no, in the text for today, Jesus cannot leave well-enough alone. In fact, in the Gospel appointed for this day, Jesus even gets a bit pushy.
If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples.
Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free. John 8:31b-32
Jesus says, “keep going.” If you hold to my teaching: not just the food, the free healthcare, and the politics. Then keep going. If you hold to my teaching, if you stay where I put you, if you stick to my word, if you welcome the church, then and only then, says Jesus, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
Well and good. But when Jesus says that to you and me – when Jesus says that you and I still need a push, a push from him, to finally know the truth and to finally be free, Jesus is trying to tell us a couple of very important things about ourselves.
It means we are not there yet. And it means we cannot get there on our own. It means that we need help. Help not just from someone who is bigger and faster and stronger than we, but help from Someone who is holy. In the simplest of terms, Jesus is saying that you and I still need a Savior.
We aren’t very good with that. Not every day. We don’t always like to hear this. And sometimes it’s just hard to take the help. I haven’t yet told you the story about a friend who spent his summer volunteering at a hospital. His job, if you can call it that, was to give away money.
There were people who owed this place 50 and 100, and 150 and 200 thousand dollars. And somewhere in the bowels of that hospital in a dark room was an accountant pulling his hair out, saying, “This just does not make sense.” This guy owes us $225,000 dollars. He makes $25,000 a year. He costs us money just keeping him on the books.
And so my friend had a summer job. His job was to call these people and say: “You have a really really really big bill. And you have a really teeny tiny paycheck. And there is no way you will ever pay your debt… so… we will forgive it. We will wipe it clean. You are free.”
To which a shocking percentage of people would say, “Hey. Not so fast. That’s my bill. And if I wanna pay $18 for the next 300 years, that’s my business. It is my mess, and I will fix it myself. It is only fair.”
Okay. But what if you can’t? What if you can’t fix it? What if you could never really pay back what you owe? Not just in this life, but in the next? What if you just can’t fix it? And that, of course, is the question that the Reformation answers.
Reformation day celebrates the shocking notion that what Jesus Christ says is true. Just one sin, makes you a slave. And after just one sin, we cannot fix ourselves. Unless, of course, Jesus gets pushy.
As you saw last week in the font with little Nyla, and as you’ll see again in just couple of weeks. Unless Jesus starts you right there at the font, and pushes you through His death and resurrection, and keeps pushing you here to where you kneel and receive the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ, unless Jesus pushes you there, you’re a goner.
I know it is not easy to be needy, especially for people who are as driven and accomplished as you. And it is not fair when someone else pays your bills, and it isn’t fair when someone else fixes your problems. But you should know right up front that the Church, like Jesus, is not very much concerned with fairness. Fairness is not our specialty.
We specialize in being free. We specialize in grace, in giving you what you do not deserve, in granting you what you cannot earn. In delivering what nobody can do, except for Jesus. Not just the food, not just the healthcare, not just the politics, it is the full forgiveness of all your sins that you get here, and then the happy life in community that follows.
Be honest. If you could fix it, you would’ve already fixed it. All the broken spots in your life, all the sins that rode along with you here this morning, the stuff right now that you’re trying to cover up or forget, all the things you fear, the things that keep you up at night – if you could fix it, you would have fixed it by now. But you can’t.
So here’s the good news: Jesus already knows. He already knows what you struggle with, and He has already fixed it – on the cross, which passes through your midst every week.
And what happens in this place is that Jesus fixes you again and again and again. His baptism, His Body, His Blood, His forgiveness. And then as pastor Luther writes in the catechism, “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.”
It is completely unfair. You do not deserve it. But the result is magnificent. Not just now, but tomorrow and the next day and the rest of your very eternal life.
Jesus loves you and Jesus is very pleased with you. He is very happy to see you here once again this morning receiving his gifts. He loves it when you listen to His voice, which says, “Abide with me. Stay with me. Enjoy the things I’ve given you.”
And so the Reformation was fought on a single point: grace. And it turned on a single notion: it’s free. And it made a single promise: it’s for you.
Like the feeding of the 5000, like the healing of the lepers, like the politics that say the kingdom is for everyone, Jesus does it all again this morning.
It is grace;
It is gift;
It is blessing;
It is for you;
It is for free;
It is the truest thing that ever happened:
That the Son has set you free, and so you are free indeed.
Blessed Reformation Day.