Luther On…

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Traditional Sermon Reformation Sunday

It has been 500 years since the beginning of the Reformation. Five hundred years have passed since Martin Luther posted 95 debatable topics–thesis statements–about God’s mercy, our faith, and the work of the church.

This past year there have been books published, interviews given, and PBS movies made about the life of Luther and the work of the reformation. Even toy companies have gotten into the anniversary with the Luther Playmobil. Some of you have been able to travel to Germany to visit important places in the life of Martin Luther. But 500 years is a long time.

But 500 years is a long time. I find myself looking around and wondering if Martin Luther’s work in the church has anything to do with my life today. He probably couldn’t imagine someone like me–a female–in the pulpit. Nevermind trying to imagine what the church looks like outside of Europe–what would he think of our mission partners the Busoka Lutheran Church? Could he fathom our deaf church meeting every week? And nevermind the whole technical/digital divide. We have so much information at our fingertips and can be informed in so many ways!
500 years is a long time ago.

And yet…some things I would hope are universal. No matter the time or the place that God’s truth and God’s work is alive and relevant and incarnational here and now.
Take for example our Gospel text for today where it’s an encounter between Jesus and religious leaders who are believing in what he’s saying, but struggling…really struggling with some universal themes about God in our life.

Themes like freedom and truth.

Some would say that issues of freedom versus oppression or true versus fake are hot topics for Americans right now. We’re wrestling with them…and in our wrestling we can become pretty anxious. What is true? What is reliable? What does it mean to be free? Surely this isn’t simply an American question, right? We have our own unique way of dealing with it in a high anxiety, in your face, reality-tv sort of way… but surely questions of truth and freedom have been asked before. Right?

Every once in awhile I think about God’s desire for us and Jesus’ words and the world and our faith and I wonder, “What would Martin Luther think about this?” If I could ask him, what would he say?

* * *
I’m here!

Who’s here?

Me. Martin Luther. You rang.

I’m hoping that others are hearing that voice and that it’s not just your pastor having too many cups of coffee and hearing things. So for argument’s sake…let’s just all agree that the 2-dimensional Martin Luther is talking to us today. That it’s a Reformation celebration miracle.

Sure! Let’s pretend it’s one of my table talks. So…what do you want to ask me?

Awesome. We can have one of the many table talks you had with your fellow Reformation reformers and students where you talked about God and the Holy Scriptures?

Yes! “The Holy Scripture is the highest and best of books, abounding in comfort under all afflictions and trials. It teaches us to see, to feel, to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity.”

Yes! And this is what I want to talk to you about. Because we’re celebrating our faith and God’s work in our lives from the time of Jesus, to your time, Dr. Luther in the 1500s in Germany, to our time here in America in the 21st century. And it’s so easy for me to put you on a shelf of history..sir…Rev. Dr. Martin Luther. It’s so easy for me to disconnect what our life and faith is like. And to forget that there are words of truth that God speaks across the span of time and space. Like in our Gospel text today from John 8 where Jesus is speaking to people who were believing in him, but not following him.

Oh! Discipleship. Yes, that’s a tricky one. “People would gladly believe in Christ if this could make them lords or confer kingdoms on them. But if it involves suffering, they will have no part of it, and faith is finished. to Christ’s doctrine is rare, especially when people encounter an evil wind.”

Discipleship can be a costly thing. That’s what I’m hearing you say Martin. It’s never been easy, but perhaps that’s the point isn’t. No matter the time or the place…discipleship and following Jesus is a little bit like dying. We’re dying to ourselves–our pride, our ego, our anger, the yucky stuff that gets in the way of being God’s person in the world. We’re dying to it so that we can rise to be something new that God has created for us. And it’s a daily thing…a daily dying and rising.

Ja vol! That’s good…I like that…daily dying and rising. Ja!

Good…I’m glad you like it. You wrote it. When writing about baptism…you say the fact that I am baptized is not a once and done thing, but a daily work of God’s grace in my life. You’re quite the wordsmith!

Ach! You make me blush.

Okay…so tell me Marty…if I can call you that… Jesus says to people who are really trying to follow him and believe, that they will know the truth. What does “you will know the truth” mean? Is it like Tom Cruise in a Few Good Men “I want the truth!” and Jack Nicholson says “You can’t handle the truth!”

Well, I don’t know Tom Cruise or Jack Nicholson. Are they reformers? I’m getting off topic. “Christ says: “You will know the truth;” that is to say that he will redeem you.”

But Marty, what does that mean?

‘Imagine Christ saying this to you: “You suppose that I will lead you into a physical empire in which you will occupy high and mighty positions. But you are mistaken, for this is not true. This is only a mask and carnival mummery. No, I want to bring you to a kingdom and life in which truth reigns and real life exists.”’

Okay, so the truth will make me free. And the truth is that the things around us are temporary, but God is eternal. The governments and rulers and kings in our life never replace Christ as our one true king. Our one true Lord. Is that what you’re saying?

Ja Vol! “Secular emperors know only about building, sowing, and planting, But no one else is acquainted with the government of Christ, which informs man how to live before God.”

Marty, I’m so glad that you said that. It’s often so easy to focus on the empires and powers before us, and to lose sight of the sovereignty of God. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that. So…the truth is that God leads us. We’ve been given this temporary time in the here and now, but we never can lose sight of the eternal. This is life is about being a persistent disciple. Right?

Ja! “The Christian life consists of faith and charity!”

So now help me with this whole freedom thing. Sometimes I struggle with freedom. Sometimes I like to think of freedom as I can do what I want, say what I want, eat what I want, spend what I want. And that’s my freedom. And in America–that’s pretty true. So what in the world does Jesus mean when he says, “the truth will make you free”?

“Here’s the truth: Christ will truly make you free–not in a physical manner, but He will free you from sin. Here Christ wants to state: “I am not a beggar preacher who discourses such things as temporal riches, honor, might and pleasures.” For all these are nothing but pig dung and filth…

Got it. Prosperity gospel equals pig dung. Thank you Rev. Dr. Martin Luther for never being vague in your opinions.

“But Christ is speaking here about true, eternal, and spiritual freedom. And remember “A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. AND A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all.”

Right…the truth is that Christ is Lord of all and servant king…and we’re free from our sins because of this servant king who rules us. And to be free, we in turn are to be servants. That whole last shall be first and first shall be last, turn the other cheek, love your enemies stuff that Jesus says. This is our reality as Christians.

Ja vol! “Note well that the real freedom is freedom from sin… Christ makes you free by dying for you, shedding his blood, rising from the dead, and sitting at the right hand of God.”

So my dear brother Martin, though 500 years, two continents, an ocean, and lots of changes in the world divide you and I, we are both but beggars needing Christ’s freeing hand in our lives. And the only way we can say thank you to our Lord is by offering that mercy and love in what we do and say.

Ja! I would say that this is the life of the Christian. And it never changes. “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise.”

So this day and this week to come is a gift for us to live as Jesus lives…to serve as Jesus serves. We can constantly be growing into better followers of Jesus.

“We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road.”

And with that we would say thanks be to God. Amen!

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Rev. Sarah Teichmann

Pastor of Christian Formation

Pastor Sarah served as Pastor of Christian Formation at St. Peter’s from 2014 – 2021. She now serves the wider church as a partner at Kirby-Smith Associates.

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