From the time Jesus told his followers – “you know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, disciples across the ages haven’t always understood what Jesus meant about freedom. Immediately, those who heard this reacted defensively claiming the freedom they had been guaranteed through their identity as Jews who were free in their homeland, as opposed to those considered slaves to the Roman occupiers. They were not wrong about this, but they didn’t completely understand the wholeness of which Jesus was referring.
There are many things, beyond human authority, that can take away freedom. Jesus was talking about freedom from sin, something he knew was the supreme oppressor of humanity. Sin, itself is a complicated topic and one I’ll blog about at another time, but I find Augustine’s concept of disordered loves to be very helpful here. Augustine wrote that we love many things, but sometimes we get these loves out of order and that leads to sin. For example, we know that our love of God, should be greater than our love of money. However, we sometimes turn away from God, even deny God, for the sake of profit. When we are told something in confidence, our love of popularity trumps our love of others when we decide to share this information, even though we agreed to keep it a secret. When we protect one love and give up the other, that is an example of sin, and this is what Jesus talks about when he pronounces that truth will make us free. This freedom is to simply love, and love extravagantly without worry about loss, or even about ourselves.
I like what theologian Robert Jenson has written about this freedom to love. He writes “The Gospel is permission, granting of freedom to love. I am free to decide anew, not on the basis of some stated code, what in each situation is in fact needed by the one the situation gives me to love”. When Jenson talks about “stated code” he is talking about anything that binds us and causes us not to fully love another person. It might be fear of rejection, social expectation, money, popularity, even a moral standard. When Jesus pronounces us free, he has released us to love without worry that we might make a “mistake”, that we might offend some sense of propriety, even that we are free to love unburdened by the need to receive anything in return.
This was one of the great rediscoveries of the Lutheran Reformation, which this week begins a celebration of its 500th year. In the years leading up to the Reformation, the Church had fallen into a trap of preaching that humans in some way could become acceptable to God through doing good works. The result of this, was the sad question that people would ask: “Pastor, have I done enough?” What the Reformation unlocked was the understanding that Christ had already answered that question for us and had declared us free of having to depending doing enough. Christ pronounced our freedom, so that we might simply go forth and love each other. So, if you want to do anything to commemorate the Reformation, go and love someone, you are free!
For the text of today's sermon, click here
Devotions for Week of October 30, 2016
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.