Festival of the Reformation
30 October 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You can have the burden of slavery and know it.
They had been there for 400 years. The descendants of Jacob and his twelve sons had been fruitful and multiplied, to the point that Pharaoh feared them. He forced them into labor for Egypt, and tightened his grip on their lives as slaves. Years, decades, then centuries were spent serving Egypt in hard labor. The children of Israel were slaves, and they knew it.
They worked. They cried. They prayed that the Lord would free them from their burden of slavery, so they could be free indeed.
Father Martin, the Augustinian monk in Wittenberg, had the burden of slavery to sin. His mind and heart were constantly burdened with it. He worried so much about this slavery that he was constantly going to confession and admitting the most insignificant offenses. He was scared to death that God was going to condemn him to hell. He cried to God as he faced this burden, and the Lord would soon bring him to realize that he had been made free indeed.
You can have the burden of slavery and not know it.
The Jews to whom Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel lesson were still stuck in slavery to sin. They did not understand or believe what God was doing to free them from their transgressions. They attempted to keep God’s Law, but truth be told, they did not place their trust in keeping the Law. Their faith was in the fact that they were descendants of Abraham. They were in the covenant.
Kind of like when a family brings their child to be baptized, and does not return to keep the child being taught the Word of God. The Lord has brought them into His covenant, and has made them His children. But the families are keeping the children away from the nourishment of the Lord’s Word and Sacraments, and thus those children often fall from faith, and die an early spiritual death. They may grow up and know they are baptized, yet have no clue what that means or the salvation they have denied.
When you support and encourage such a baptism, it is as if you assisted a woman in giving birth while journeying on the Underground Railroad, but then helped to send mother and child back to the plantation. So should you discourage such baptisms? Not exactly. Don't discourage, but don't aid parents in their sin of not returning to Divine Services. Warn them of the judgment that they are invoking on themselves by keeping their children from the Word of God! Help them to understand the ongoing need for forgiveness and nourishment that they and their children have, just like everyone else. Christians must make every effort to support and encourage the ongoing receiving of Christ's Means of Grace. When we don't, we aid people in staying slaves to sin, without their knowledge of it.
You can be freed from slavery and not know it.
By the Middle Ages, a problem had developed in the Church. Misunderstandings and incorrect teachings led many Christians to think they were still under the burden of sin's slavery. That somehow the work of Christ had not been enough to free them from the old masters of sin, death, and the devil. So many went about, believing in Jesus' death and resurrection, but fearing that He would not be pleased with them, or judge them worthy of Him.
How sad that so many lived with troubled consciences! Jesus Christ had freed them from all that condemned them, yet they did not understand this freeing grace.
The sad thing is, many still do not recognize that to this day. Some are people in the Roman Church who know that Jesus is their Savior, yet still fell the need to "do their part" with works of love. They think they still need to work at being freed from sin. Others are Protestants who don't think they are freed from slavery to sin until they are old enough to decide for themselves, and make a decision for Christ--that somehow it is the work of their faith making Him their Lord and Savior.
And don't go shaking your head at them. This can be a frequent sin of yours. You can think that there is something more that you need to do. "God has done His part, now, if only"...There it is. If you hear things in your own mind or other preachers say phrases like,"if," or "all you need to do is," you know there is false teaching going on. Don't give in.
You ARE freed from slavery and know it.
"The Holy Spirit has called [you] by the Gospel, enlightened [you] with His gifts, sanctified and kept [you] in the true faith." By the suffering and death of Jesus, you have been freed from the clutches of sin, death, and the devil, which have been your slave holders, having had a hold on you. Christ is the Champion who has defeated these enemies, who were your masters. He has rescued you.
Now you are free indeed! Jesus redeemed you from the sin you were born into, the slavery that held you from conception, and delivered you up out of slavery. He has claimed you, washed you, and given you new birth into life everlasting, making you free indeed.
Now, He leads you, His baptized, to abide in [His] Word and be His disciples. So now you... know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free. Not just any truth in this world. Not some bit of knowledge or wisdom. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Yes! He is Truth incarnate! So if you abide in the Word of God, you will know He who is the Word of God -- He who is the Truth -- Christ Jesus!
Dear friends in Christ, you are free. Free indeed! Christ Jesus has purchased and won your redemption, and there are no strings attached. No "if's," "and's," or "but's" for you to complete. No fictitious purgatory for you to suffer and endure. No good works needed to please God and have Him save you. No adult decision to follow Jesus required in order to please God and have Him save you. The Son of God has done it all. Nothing depends on your own works or words or abilities. It is all Jesus! It is all God the Son! And "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Amen.
Rev. Richard A. Heinz, Pastor,
St. John's Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL