Sunday, October 26, 2008

Jesus Gets Us Unstuck

Christ the King Lutheran Church, Moorhead
50th Anniversary—Reformation Sunday
October 26, 2008
John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’

Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

When I was in high school many moons ago, I (like your own Pastor Matt the birthday boy) was a member of FFA, which according to one wag, meant “Father Farms Alone.”

One of the things we Future Farmers of America in southern Minnesota did back in the early 1970s was to raise pheasants on our farms for release back into the wild. We did that because, due to a loss of habitat, the wild pheasant population in our area had declined drastically And so we FFA members raised birds to restock the depleted pheasant population.

There was just one problem with that, though. It wasn’t hard to hatch pheasants, feed and water pheasants, and give pheasants a nice place to grow up in. The problem wasn’t at the front end of that process—the problem came at the very end.

Those crazy pheasants, you see, had a hard time catching on to that “release back into the wild” business! I still remember, one spring morning, being part of a bunch of blue-jacketed FFA boys, who had a couple of cages full of ready-to-release pheasants on the back of some guy’s pickup…..and when we lifted one of those cages down to the ground….when we opened the door of that cage, the birds just sat there.

They weren’t exactly longing for freedom. These wild creatures, who had grown accustomed to three square meals in a nice, warm, safe place….these pheasants clung to the sides of their cage and would not stride out into the sunlit freedom for which we had raised them.

So we FFA boys had to literally drag the pheasants out of their cages, shoo them away, and then run back to the pickup so the pheasants wouldn’t follow us back home.

So much for pheasant freedom, I guess!

And that gives us a picture of a broader, deeper truth…namely, that one of the crazy things about freedom is that sometimes you can’t give it away!

Jesus bumps up against that strange truth in this morning’s gospel reading from John, chapter 8.

Here in these verses, Jesus aches to give away the freedom that he has come to bestow upon the world….and yet his listeners, those “Jews who had believed in him” weren’t buying any of it. Like my old FFA pheasants, Jesus’ hearers clung desperately to the sides of their cages, they couldn’t see any good reason to step forth into the glorious freedom Jesus was talking about.

Who us? they asked Jesus….We don’t need freedom. You can’t free us from anything. “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.”

That last line is about as outrageous as the inflated promises we’re hearing daily in the waning days of this presidential campaign season. “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.”

Such a statement could be true—only if you completely forgot slavery in Egypt, conquest by the Babylonians, exile by the Assyrians and every other episode in which God’s chosen people had CONSTANTLY been under some tyrant’s thumb. In fact, when Jesus and these Jews had their encounter, in that very moment, they were all under Roman rule, they were all in some sense “slaves” to the dictates of far-off Caesar.

Who us? Freedom? We don’t need to hear about that. “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone….”

….and denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, either!

This massive “disconnect,” this huge communication gap between Jesus and the “Jews who had believed in him”—this wasn’t just a “Jewish problem.” No, it was, and it still is a human problem.

None of us….not a single one of us….wants to imagine that we are not free. When we think of ourselves, we don’t use words like “slave” or “captive” or “prisoner.” That isn’t the self-image we carry around.

Freedom may be nice for someone else….but we don’t need any of it. We’re fine. We’re content. We’ve grown accustomed to things the way they are. What would we do with freedom?

It is precisely into this situation, into this human condition, that our Lord Jesus has come with a commission from his heavenly Father to set all the captives free. And so, right off the bat, Jesus almost always has to help us, first, see our need for freedom….just as he does here in John, chapter 8.

And so, face to face with these Jews who had believed in him, Jesus comes out and bluntly says it: “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

Sin is something that we don’t just dabble in, from time to time, Jesus says. Sin is not a “take it or leave it” thing for us. No, but rather, sin is like eating potato chips. We tell ourselves we’re just going to have one or two or maybe three…and then just like that we’ve polished off the whole bag. Sin swamps us, sin washes over us, sin overwhelms us.

Jesus has to talk just that bluntly here because the first step toward freedom involves sizing up the cage we’re already in, perceiving how we’re clinging to the walls of a prison cell that will be the death of us.

Jesus starts setting us free by helping us first see our lack of freedom. And then Jesus doesn’t just talk about freedom. No—but rather, Jesus does freedom to us. Jesus makes us free.

Syndicated columnist Mark Steyn writes: “The other day I found myself, for the umpteenth time, driving in Vermont behind a…vehicle [proudly displaying on its rear bumper a FREE TIBET bumper sticker.] It must be great to be the guy with the printing contract for [those] 'FREE TIBET' [bumper] stickers. Not so good to be the guy back in Tibet wondering when the freeing [of his tiny nation] will actually get under way. For a while, my otherwise not terribly political wife got extremely irritated by these [bumper] stickers, demanding to know at a pancake breakfast at the local church what precisely some harmless hippy-dippy old neighbor of ours meant by the slogan he'd been proudly displaying [on his car] decade in, decade out: 'But what exactly are you doing to free Tibet?' she demanded. 'You're not doing anything, are you?' 'Give the guy a break,' I said back home. 'He's advertising his moral virtue, not calling for action. If [the U.S. secretary of defense] were to say, ‘Free Tibet? Jiminy, what a swell idea! The Third Infantry Division goes in on Thursday’, the bumper-sticker crowd would be aghast.”

God so loved the world that God didn’t shower down on it a billion bumper stickers that say FREE SINNERS!

God so loved the world that God sent his Son, who came among us to do something about our servitude, that is, to make us free. And…“If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

Jesus came among us, not just liking the idea of freedom, but bringing freedom, doing freedom, marching into Satan’s stronghold and blasting open the doors of his dark dungeon. Such freedom was precious enough to our Lord Jesus, that he was willing—more than willing—to shed his blood for it, for you and for me.

And that’s what we’re about, dear friends. We’re about setting people free, in Jesus’ name.

When we’re at our best, we Lutherans know that and we do it “in spades.” On this Reformation Sunday, every year, we recommit ourselves to being agents of God’s freedom, just as Martin Luther did 491 years ago, when he nailed that manifesto to the door of the Wittenberg Church—a declaration of independence, a charter of freedom for generations to come.

You’re about that here at Christ the King. You’re in the freedom business. Folks come here, not fully realizing how they’re stuck in some cage, stuck in an addiction, stuck in a revolving door of rotten relationships, stuck in the illusion of respectability, stuck in “affluenza,” stuck in whatever it is we’re stuck in.

We come here stuck—and Jesus gets us unstuck. Jesus makes us free. Jesus frees us from our past. Jesus frees us for God’s future, and the grand mission that God is forever calling us to serve.

That’s what you’ve been doing so well for the past 50 years, it’s what you’re about, after all: setting sinners free in the name of Jesus. Mending lives back together again through the grace of Christ the King.

Two weeks ago I was at another 50th anniversary celebration, down at United Lutheran Church of Elbow Lake. And during the children’s sermon that morning I asked the kids whether 50 years was old or young. Most of the kids thought 50 years was pretty old…but one bright young man raised his hand and said: “Fifty is old….but in ‘church years,’ fifty is still pretty young.”

You’re still pretty young here at Christ the King. In fact, you’re far closer to the beginning than to the ending of your days. God has lots more in store for you. You aren’t going to run out of things to do anytime soon.

Because as long as anyone—anyone!—is frantically clinging to the wall of some cage or prison cell….as long as anyone is still stuck in sin, Jesus, the savior from sin, Christ the King in our midst, will be at work, setting us all free.

In the name of Jesus.

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