John 8:31-36

The Freedom God Gives Us

Pastor Donna Dohrmann

This morning we are called to ponder the freedom God gives us as we walk in faith and trust on this Reformation Sunday. With that theme in mind, let me offer to you a few images:

It was cold and dark. It had been cold and dark for a long time. Maybe it was just the winter winds and the lack of sunlight. Maybe it was the damp, solid, impenetrable walls of his room. Maybe. But the man had felt the cold for a long time and was desperate to find some relief. You see, it was winter not only in the changing of the seasons but also in the changing of his hope into hopelessness, his joy into despair, and his faith into doubt. “Maybe I only think I want to be saved. I am caught by such uncertainty. Maybe what I really want is to avoid punishment. Maybe I really don’t love God at all. Or worse yet maybe God doesn’t love me. Will I ever be good enough?”

“When can I be certain that I’ve done enough?” Luther asked himself that question time and time again during the winter of 1513 and 1514. There he was, living in a small room in a tower at Wittenberg Castle. There he was, struggling to find assurance that he was saved. Struggling because he had been told that God would only save those who were without sin and he knew that he wasn’t. So he was caught. Would he always feel tied up this way, entwined in his doubts, wondering why he even tried to follow God? Would there ever be hope?

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

In the late 1850’s a successful businessman from England visited St. Louis. As he walked around the city, he came upon a slave auction on the courthouse steps. Among those chained to be auctioned, he noticed one man, much bigger and stronger than the others. Unlike the rest, this man held his head erect, looking straight ahead—as still as a statue. And a statue he might have been, except for the great tears that traced shiny rivers down his face. When the man stood to be sold, the price quickly went to a thousand dollars. The Englishman called out “Fifteen hundred dollars,” and all the other bids stopped.

After paying the accountant, the merchant, followed a few paces behind by his new “property,” walked off. After they turned a corner and were out of sight of the crowd, the Englishman turned. “You can go now,” he said. “You are free.” The other man stood still, gazing at him through narrowed eyes. He did not seem to understand.

“I said you are free. I have bought your freedom. You are no longer a slave.” The man continued to stare at him in silence.

“Please, you are free,” the merchant said again. “You can do what you want to.” The former slave finally smiled. “Don’t you see?” he said. “I want to serve you.”

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus was standing in the middle of a crowd of people. Here were people who believed and followed him, people who used to believe him but now distrusted and people who wanted only to discredit him. All pushed forward to hear what he had to say about God and salvation and hope. And his words rang out on that day on the Mount of Olives.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Still I suspect that we, too, are often surrounded by people who believe, people who have believed or people who simply want to discredit what we believe. It’s not so easy to talk about or even understand this freedom that Christ brings. It’s much easier to talk about rules and regulations, even when it comes to church.

Ted Schroeder writes, “Much of what passes for religion in our world has to do with duty, obligation, guilt and rules. Sometimes people take offices in the church because they feel obligated or are made to feel guilty if they don’t. Sometimes people try to please God by following the rules and “doing their duty.”

“Martin Luther struggled with the idea of religious obligation. He saw God as strict and demanding and almost killed himself doing acts he thought would satisfy God. But whatever he did was never enough. Finally he heard the gracious Word in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Suddenly he knew what it meant to be free. He was free—not to live only for himself, but to live for a loving God who gave the gift of salvation.”

None of us have to be here this morning. We are all free to come and go as we please. We could walk out at any moment. After all, there are plenty of things we could be doing. But you and I come and worship on this beautiful Sunday morning because there is more to a life of faith than simply declaring that we believe and then doing whatever we want until next Sunday or next Christmas or next Easter rolls around. (Confirmation is not graduation, my brothers and sister. Instead, it ushers in a whole new way of living your faith. Lutheran Church of the Cross now looks to you for leadership and wisdom.

Oh, yes, you are still young but that does not keep you from being wise about the importance of faith, a faith that will grow and deepen the more you walk the way of the Lord. As of today, you are an adult member, an integral and important part of who we are as the body of Christ. You have been given gifts that will strengthen this body so that all might know and live in the Savior’s freedom. You are called to live in that freedom also as you trust and hope and follow the Savior daily.)

In the freedom of the Savior’s Words is our salvation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but should have eternal life.” In the freedom of the Savior’s Words is our hope that we don’t have to make ourselves better and better in order to have God love us. God loves us first. In the freedom of the Savior’s Words is our call to trust that in that love we will be changed, transformed into people, who are not slaves to our desire to be self-serving. Instead, we can be self-giving.

This is the ultimate joy of living in the freedom of the Savior. We, you and I, are given opportunities time and time again to live out our call to be faithful: to “love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds and our neighbors as ourselves.”

Step by step we are called to walk the way of faith, always remembering to remain steeped in his Word. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Amen.

Copyright 2006 Donna Dohrmann. Used by permission.