Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost
|Text: John 8:34-36
Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave of sin.
A slave does not belong to a family permanently, but a son belongs there forever. If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free”.
Are you a slave? Let me repeat that. Are you a slave?
You might be saying to yourself, “That’s about the dumbest question I have ever heard a pastor ask as an opening to a sermon. I’m an Australia and I’m blessed to live in a country where freedom is highly regarded and is defended at all costs. We hear of slavery and human trafficking in other parts of the world but this is not something we tolerate here in this country.
Most countries at some time have had to fight wars for their freedom and there are wars going on right now to protect freedom but we have never had to fight for freedom right here on our own soil. We have fought battles elsewhere for freedom but not here. If you ask an Aussie, “are you a slave?” you’re sure to get a strange look and the reply, “Ya must be kidding, mate”. Ask the question, “Do you have freedom?” and you’re most likely to get the answer, “Too b.. right!”
In the gospel reading today, though quite short with just 6 verses, Jesus talks about slavery and freedom. The Jews were about as indignant as an Aussie would be when talking about slavery. Even though they were slaves of the Roman political and military machine, they claimed that they were free of all oppressors, and superior to all non-Jews because of their connection with Abraham and the God of Abraham. They might say, “When it comes to knowing God, we know all there is to know. We are not the slaves of sinfulness because we know what he wants and how to please him. You must be kidding, Jesus, when you put us, the descendants of Abraham, and the word ‘slaves’ in the same sentence”.
Jesus insists that the Jews, we Aussies and
everyone else, need real freedom from slavery. He says, “Everyone
(and he leaves no-one out –
young and old,
those who think they have got it all worked out,
those who believe that sin is nothing to worry about,
those who believe sin is just some religious gobbledegook to frighten people)
everyone who sins is a slave of sin – not just a victim of sin, or caught up in sin and can’t help themselves, or a casualty of sin, or has the occasional slip-up – but is a slave of sin”.
A slave is someone with no freedom, has no
escape, no rights,
and once a slave always a slave unless by some strange and quite freaky miracle, someone might buy a slave and let him or her go. But who would do anything like that? No-one had that much love for a slave? Freedom for a slave was virtually impossible.
I go back to my original question – “Are
you a slave” – and this time add “Are you a slave of sin?”
Think about that for a moment.
What enslaves you?
What sin keeps cropping up and traps you and wraps itself around you, and as hard as you try, you can’t untangle yourself?
What is it, and give it whatever label you like, that you know you want to change but you can’t?
You know you ought to change but you don’t have the will power to do it.
Unless we are terribly misguided, all of us would agree that even though we are solid Christians, and Lutheran at that, and know Christ our Saviour, sin still manages to wrap its tentacles around our motives and thoughts, our speech and actions, our desires and good intentions. We end up joining Paul saying, “I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can't make myself do right. I want to, but I can't. When I want to do good, I don't. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway” (Romans 7:18-20 NLT). We are slaves, we can’t escape sin, as long as we are in this life, sin will continue to affect our lives and the world around us.
It’s easy to think of sin as the individual actions and words that we find ourselves doing that are offensive to others and to God’s sense of holiness and perfection. Remember God created us to be like him – to be made in his image – and sin is not a part of being made in the likeness of God. Sin is so totally opposite to what God is like.
The big temptation for us is to dismiss sin
as unimportant and say,
"The things that we don’t do, and often don’t even realise that we should have done them, don’t really count as sin.
It’s not a sin when it’s only a small thing that we don’t get right.
It’s not a sin when everyone else is doing it.
It’s not a sin if no-one is seriously hurt".
Whatever we say about sin, it doesn’t matter, Jesus nails it when he says, “I am telling you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave of sin”. There is no escape.
Sin is a part of human nature. It’s who we are. It’s wrapped around our identity and personality and character and corrupts all of us – body, mind and soul.
And so we come to the core of what Jesus says today in the Gospel reading. In a few short verses, he uses the word “free” in a powerful way. He says, “The truth will set you free” and “If the Son sets you free then you will really be free”.
We know the price people are prepared to pay for political freedom. The movie Braveheart is about Scotland’s striving for independence from England. William Wallace became the folk hero of this fight for freedom and in the movie Wallace had many victories over the English but in the end was betrayed by a friend. The English king, who himself was dying, was determined to make Wallace suffer a slow death. Who can forget Wallace screaming out with his final breath “Freeeeedom!!!” – its sound penetrating the air – and reaching the ears of the dying king?
Right now in the Middle East people are
sacrificing their lives for the sake of freedom.
But the freedom Jesus is talking is different to political freedom and
much more important.
He is talking about freedom from the power of sin to drag us down, to condemn us, to build an impenetrable wall between God and us and between us and heaven.
He is talking about freedom from the power of sin to drag us to hell and eternal damnation.
There is only one way you can be released from slavery to sin and no longer suffer the consequences of such slavery – Jesus the Son of God declares you free. You can’t free yourself. Only the one who has real authority and power can set you free. Only the Son of God can set you free.
Since today is Reformation Sunday why not
quote something from Martin Luther. He summarised so well how we are enslaved to
sin and how the Son of God has set us free.
He says in the Small Catechism,
Jesus rescued me when I was lost and sentenced to death.
He set me free from all my sins, from death and from the power of the devil.
It cost him more than gold or silver; it cost him his life.
Even though he was holy and innocent, he suffered and died for me” (Second Part of the Apostles’ Creed, Openbook Publishers 1996).
This is at the very core and centre of what
the Bible has to say.
This is God's message to all people;
it’s the central message of the church.
Jesus has rescued us from slavery to sin. We are helplessly trapped. God sent Jesus to give his life for us on the cross; to free us from the power that sin and Satan hold over us.
He didn’t send Jesus because he could see a
spark of good in us. No, he sent
Jesus because he could see that we are hopelessly enslaved and that our only
hope is for him to intervene and to set us free.
God declares us righteous.
He restores friendship with us.
He forgives us even though we don’t deserve it.
himself for every unlovely thing we do.
He doesn't excuse sin; he cures it. This is God's way of dealing with sin.
Jesus came to offer this truth to everyone
and everyone who believes this truth will be set free from all guilt and from
the power of death to kill us.
To all who reject this offer there is no freedom. They willingly choose to bear the consequences of their choice.
Earlier I asked, “What enslaves you?” “What sins keep nagging at you and seem to be unshakeable?”
It can be so frustrating to reflect and
think with some disgust,
“There, I’ve done it again!”
“I’m too weak to resist my bad habits, bad thoughts and bad attitudes”.
“I get to a point when I seem powerless and the bad in me just takes over”.
The freedom that Christ gives fills us with
The freedom of Christ enables us to see ourselves with new and different eyes.
We see that God’s heart aches when we hurt ourselves through our sinfulness but he still regards us as his own special children.
Even those who don’t know God yet and are totally unaware of the freedom that they have in Christ, are loved by God as his children made in the image and likeness of God. He is waiting for them to know and trust in the Son who sets them free.
And this is where the rubber hits the road. Some of us have heard this message hundreds of times before; others may be hearing it for the first time and others are waiting to hear it. This latter group are waiting for someone like you and me to tell them of the freedom that Christ gives. They are waiting to be told – sometimes through words; sometimes through deeds of kindness that this is a message for them. There are no gimmicks or catches. God's gives forgiveness and eternal life and it’s a free gift for everyone. What an awesome gift and we need to always find ways of offering this gift to everyone we can. Without the freedom Christ gives, there is nothing.
These words are old words but as important as ever,
“If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.”
© Pastor Vince
19th October 2014