Sermon for the Twentieth 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."

Set free by Christ

Every now and then you hear of the extra ordinary things that people do to find freedom. The paper on Thursday reported the naturalisation ceremony that took place in Brisbane. There was a picture of a man holding two young children. He and his wife and infant son are from Ethiopia. They had escaped their war torn country, and via a Sudanese refugee camp, they came to Australia. But their freedom came at a price Ė they had to leave their children aged 14, 13 and 8 behind in the care of relatives. The father expressed how painful it was to be separated from them.

People are prepared to risk everything, make such great sacrifices, and even put their own lives in danger in order to find
freedom from oppressive governments,
freedom from fear and war,
freedom to be educated and to work,
freedom to live in safety.

This search for freedom is nothing new. The movie Braveheart is about William Wallace and Scotlandís fight for freedom from the cruel reign of the English king. Wallace had many victories over the English but in the end, a friend betrayed him. The king by then was very old and frail and dying but was determined not merely to kill Wallace but to have him beg for mercy and a quick death. Just before Wallace died, he mustered all of his remaining strength and screamed out "Freedom!!" - its sound penetrating the air - and reaching the ears of the dying king. As we read the history books, we are overwhelmed with the fact that the search for freedom is behind so many wars, and so many deaths.

We donít even have to go to the history books to see struggles for freedom.
To the patient in hospital, freedom means release from a hospital bed and having good health once again.
To a student, freedom means no more homework and exams.
To those who are in unhappy marriages, freedom means release from all the arguments and the misery.
To the tired and overworked, freedom means getting up late, enjoying a hobby, getting away from all the worries and burdens of their work.

For some the idea of freedom gives them permission to do as they please Ė it doesnít matter if they hurt others or their property. Freedom means blurring the distinction between right and wrong to the point where even wrong is regarded as right. They claim they are free from all the old taboos and restrictions. Do drugs and alcohol, pornography, have sex whenever and with whoever they like, murder the unborn, violence, robbery, greed, and selfishness become expressions of their "new" freedom. This isnít freedom. Itís just another form of slavery.

Today we hear Jesus talking about freedom. First, he says, "the truth will make you free". Those who were listening didnít understand what he was talking about. They didnít need to be made free. They had all the freedom they needed. They werenít slaves to anyone or anything. They were already free. The average Australian would respond in much the same way. We are free. We donít need to be made free.

Then Jesus reminds his listeners, "I am telling you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin." People donít like being reminded of this. They think that too much is made of sin by the church. Some even deny that sin has a firm grip on them. We donít like thinking of ourselves as "slaves of sin".

To be called a slave of sin is serious stuff.
A slave only does what he is told to do.
A slave has no freedom, no rights.
A slave cannot free himself; he is bound to be a slave all his life.

"Everyone who sins is a slave of sin", our thoughts, words and deeds are ruled by sin. There is not a moment in our lives that sin doesnít dictate to us what we should do. No sinner can free himself/herself from the grip that sin has on their lives.
We might go to self-improvement classes:
attend counselling sessions to try to improve our behaviour;
go to therapy groups to try and be more positive and less influenced by our selfish nature
but as good as these might be, a slave is always a slave.

Our sinful desires, the temptations that the world and Satan put in front of us to lead us astray, make it clear that in spite of our firm resolve to be better people, to change, our bondage to sin is never broken. In fact, denying that we are slaves of sin is just further proof that we are helplessly trapped and we canít do anything to free ourselves.

Some say that if I really try to avoid the big and obvious sins, God wonít hold my little transgressions against me. In other words, "Iím not really a bad sinner. I might do a few little wrong things, but hey, everyone does that".

And thatís just the point. Everyone is a sinner, and as far as God is concerned a sin is a sin.

To make matters even worse God demands perfection! 100%! Thatís the way he intended humans to be from the very beginning of time. God himself is holy, perfect, and sinless. Heaven is a holy, perfect and sinless place, and sinners by themselves have no chance of getting there. No matter how shining and bright we think we are, or how many excuses we have, the Bible says, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God".

In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther found himself in a church that had an elaborate system for offering people personal freedom. Freedom could be obtained only by confessing all your sins to a priest, and then doing a series of devotional good works that would make satisfaction for your sins and secure your forgiveness. The only trouble was that even while you were doing these good works of satisfaction, you were already starting to commit new sins which then had to be confessed, absolved, and satisfied. And in the course of this second round a third round would begin, and so you found yourself on a treadmill of hopelessness and condemnation. People could never be sure that God loved them and had forgiven them.

The terrible thing was that the church of that time had made freedom from sin and forgiveness a number of hoops that people had to jump through. But they could never be sure if they had jumped through enough hoops to satisfy God.

What Jesus says brings relief. He says, "If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free". There is only one way you can be released from slavery to sin and no longer suffer the consequences of such slavery Ė Jesus the Son of God declares you free. You canít free yourself. Only the one who has the real authority and power can set you free. Only the Son of God can set you free.

Luther said this so well when he summarised how enslaved to sin we are 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 Apostlesí 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 is 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 didnít 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 donít deserve it.
It is a gift that belongs to anyone who believes in Jesus.

God's loves the unlovely; he forgives those who are trapped in fear, pain and the cycle of violence.
He sacrifices himself for every unlovely thing we do.
He doesn't excuse sin; he cures it. This is God's way of dealing with sin.

The freedom that Christ gives fills us with hope.
You may be disgusted in your own behaviour.
You may believe that you are hopelessly trapped in sin,
helplessly caught up in bad habits, bad thoughts and bad attitudes.
You may consider yourself too weak to resist the temptations that catch you out so easily.
You may be caught up in guilt and low self esteem that makes you feel powerless.
The freedom that Christ gives enables you to see that God still dearly loves you and that he still regards you as his special child.

We are forgiven. We are free to live happy and guilt free lives. We are free to be what God intended us to be - to love, serve and forgive others as God has loved, served and forgiven us.

There is no doubt Ė the freedom that Jesus gives changes things. It changes the way we live our lives
- the way we treat other people
- the way we conduct our business
- the way we act towards our partner, our children and our parents
- in fact there is not a situation and relationship that is not affected by the new freedom that we have in Christ.

Some of us have heard this kind message a hundred times before; others may be hearing it for the first time. Whatever your circumstances this freedom that Jesus is a serious offer. Itís free. There are no gimmicks or catches. God's gives forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift to you. What an awesome gift. What an awesome God we have.

These words are music to our ears, "If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free."

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th October, 2003

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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