Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Text: John 8:36
Jesus said to them, “If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.”

Freedom from shackles

The search for freedom has been an ongoing one throughout history.  Wars have been fought to fight back oppressive forces and to restore freedom to people who felt the weight of tyranny, cruelty and rule by foreign outside forces. 

Earlier in the year we visited the Republic of Ireland and the evidence of the struggle of the Irish for freedom is clear on monuments and plaques at significant spots.  It wasn’t hard for us to be mistaken as English, that’s until we opened our mouths and they heard our accent. 

I was booking into a camping ground in the south of Ireland when some English bank notes fell out of my wallet onto the counter with the very bold picture of the Queen staring straight up at the elderly man booking us in.  There was an awkward silence when I realised what had just happened.  The Irishman light heartedly broke the silence and with a chuckle said, “I haven’t seen her around here for a while!”  I know he was trying to be kind but that 10 pound note probably brought back some deep seated memories of oppression and cruelty.

We don’t even have to go to the history books to see struggles for freedom. 
To the Syrian refugee freedom means getting across a border to a place where there is safety and where a family can live as normal as life as possible even if they have to walk halfway across Europe.
To the patient, freedom means release from a hospital bed and having good health once again. 
To the addicted, freedom means no more reliance on substances to feel good or to deal with the world. 
To those who are unhappy at work or overworked, freedom means getting a job they can really enjoy, have some time off with their families or do a hobby.

In the second half of the last century there arose a new idea of freedom – freedom is doing as you please. There was a blurring of the distinction between right and wrong to the point where even wrong was regarded as right.  People claimed they are free from all the old taboos and restrictions.  Modern morality urged on by the pop culture promoted drugs and alcohol, pornography, having sex whenever and with whoever, murdering the unborn, violence, robbery, greed, and selfishness. These became expressions of their “new” freedom.  Somewhere parents stopped teaching Christian faith and values believing they were giving their children freedom from the old ways.  Instead they have just given them a new slavery – self-centredness.

Today we hear Jesus talking about freedom.  First, he says, “The truth will set you free”.  If I went out on to the street and said, “Hey friend, I want to tell you something really important.  You believe you are a free person, right?  You’re not!  It’s the truth that will set you free!”  I’m sure that person would think I’m nuts.  Either he would walk away or would say, “We live in a free country.  Of course I’m free.  You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Jesus’ Jewish listeners thought about the same.  They were descendants of Abraham.  This gave them a privileged position with God and need not fear any punishment for any sin. 

Then Jesus reminds his listeners, I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.  People don’t like to be reminded of this.  They think that the church harps on about sin too much.  They say they don’t like talking about sin and sickness and death when they come to church – church should be a happy place.  This whole idea of being a “slave of sin” is too old fashioned for the modern church.

But there’s no denying Jesus’ words here.
To be called a slave of sin is serious stuff. 
A slave is controlled by someone else, in this case, it is sin that controls us.
A slave is a slave for all of life.  We are bound to sin all of our lives.

Everyone who sins is a slave of sin”.  Jesus doesn’t leave much room for any doubt here.  There is an ongoing action of sinning intended here in the language.  Not just individual sinful actions but a lifestyle – slavery is a way of life – something from which we can’t escape.  There isn’t a moment in our lives that sin doesn’t dictate to us what we do. 

A symbol of slavery are chains or manacles or shackles. They bind and restrict freedom.  They can’t be removed.  They cause pain.  They are a constant reminder that our whole being belongs to someone else or in this case something else – sin.  A slave can’t break his own chains and be really free.  Even if he should somehow break the chains, a slave is still a slave.

This is the human dilemma.
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;
we might distinguish between big sins and little sins and say the little ones don’t count;
but none of these things change what Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave of sin”.   

In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther found himself in a church that provided an elaborate self-improvement scheme with the promise of giving people personal freedom. Freedom from sin was offered in all shapes and sizes and Luther himself was caught up in trying to make right all his wrongs – to get rid of his chains of slavery.  But in spite of assurances from the highest levels, the words of Jesus still stood, Everyone who sins is a slave of sin”.  No self-improvement scheme was going to break those chains.

What Jesus says next brings relief.  It’s not the slave who frees himself.  Jesus says, If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.  It is the Son who breaks the shackles and chains and by doing that changes the relationship between the slave and the master.  The slave is no longer a slave but becomes a son, a daughter.  The Son declares us free.  It is only the Son of God who can do this. 

Some of us learnt about this at Sunday School and Confirmation classes when we memorised these words from Luther’s Small Catechism. 
At great cost He has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person,
He has freed me from sin, death and the power of the devil –
not with silver or gold
but with his holy and precious blood
and his innocent suffering and death. 
All this he has done that I may be his own….”
(Second Part of the Apostles’ Creed, Lutheran Publishing House 1960).

I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate those words when I learnt them as a child and nervously recited them to the Sunday School teacher after spending Saturday night memorising them.  They are loaded with depth and meaning, in fact, Luther’s explanation of the Apostles’ Creed as a whole is one of the finest statements of the Christian faith and well worth revisiting.

“The truth will set you free”, Jesus said earlier.
At Jesus’ trial Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

Well, here it is.  The marvellous, extraordinary, mind-blowing truth that God has come to earth and muddied himself with our worldly filth in order to break the chains and shackles of sin that bind every single human being. 
Jesus came to rescue us from slavery to sin.  He doesn’t dismiss sin as irrelevant or make excuses on our behalf.  He came to break sin’s power over us.  He gave his life for us on the cross; to free us from the power that sin and Satan hold over us. 

God shatters the chains of sin and declares us holy and clean. 
He restores friendship with us.  He claims us as his sons and daughters.
He forgives us even though we don’t deserve it. 
This is grace.  It is a gift that is grasped in faith. 

The freedom that Christ gives fills us with hope. 
There is a life that breaks the shackles of sin that wear us down and the chains of evil that cause us to be so ashamed of the way we carry on.
There is hope that breaks the manacles of depression and sickness and on-going medical treatment – the love of a Saviour calls us his own friends and will not leave our side.
There is life that breaks apart the shackles of guilt and low self-esteem that hold us back.  There is freedom in forgiveness and fresh starts.
There is life beyond the chains of death – a new life in the glorious place we call heaven.

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. 

If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.  Without a doubt we need to keep on reminding ourselves of this truth every day.  We find it difficult to adjust to this freedom that Jesus gives because we like putting on the shackles and chains again.  Whether willing or just out of habit we do it because sin is so much a part of us.  We need to return to Jesus in faith and repentance and be told again that the Son has set us free.

Jesus also gives a stern warning.  It’s hard hitting.  He says, “Unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). That’s how deadly serious Jesus is when it comes to the chains of sin.  Sin is a killer.  It will kill anyone who rejects Jesus and is not set free from their shackles.  Jesus offers to break the chains of every person who is a slave of sin and give freedom.

“If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.”  This is an awesome gift.  It’s worth talking about and celebrating.  It’s Good news that changes lives.

I started in Ireland so I might as well finish there (and it’s not an Irish joke). A young Irish priest was walking from town to town in his rural parish when he sees an old farmer kneeling by the side of the road, praying.  Impressed, the priest says to the old man, “Son, what is your name?”
“Paddy”, the old man replies.
“Paddy, you must be very close to God”. 
Paddy looks up from his prayers at the priest, thinks a moment and then smiles, “Ya know Father, aye, he is very fond of me.”

That’s grace!


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th October 2015

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