Sin, Grace, and Freedom

Reformation Day – October 30, 2011

John 8:1-36

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Romans 3:19-28


What does  Reformation Day mean to you?

It’s certainly more than Lutheran Pride Day…

It’s more than a time for a history lesson about Martin Luther and the other reformers.

It’s even more than an opportunity to hear Bach in church!

I’d like us to consider today, that Reformation Day is a day to remember

how we are similar to others, rather than how we are different.


I’d like us to think about how Reformation Day is a day to celebrate

a fundamental aspect of God which is given to all people, not just Lutherans.


And I’d like us to think about how Reformation Day changes us – reforms us –

and challenges all of us to respond.


So in three words I’d like us to think of Reformation Day in terms of:

Sin, Grace, and Freedom


Let’s start with the most difficult word first – sin.

Our sin.

As Paul writes in the second reading, “All have sinned and fallen short.”

There are no exceptions in that statement…

All have sinned.

It is part our very existence – our common humanity.

Sin enslaves each of us.


The sin which enslaves us is much more than breaking the ten commandments.

As David Lose says, [i] It’s the kind of sin which makes it hard for us to trust other people,

because we worry they’ll take advantage of us.

It’s the kind of sin which makes it difficult for us to share with others,

because we worry there’s not enough to go around.

It’s the kind of sin which makes it hard to imagine the future as God sees it (and Jesus preaches it),

so we accept the way things are instead of taking care of our neighbors.


On Reformation weekend we acknowledge a state that all humanity has in common – we are sinners.

I’m a sinner.  You’re a sinner.

Lutherans are sinners.  Buddhists are sinners. Roman Catholics are sinners.


And in many ways, this is where the old, pre-Reformation Luther stopped.

Looking at himself as a miserable sinner.  Unacceptable to God.

Longing for some assurance that God loved him.


He wasn’t alone.

As he traveled to the holy city of Rome seeking a greater closeness to God,

he discovered other people were worried too.

Other people were also longing for some assurance,

…and a misguided church was willing to give it to them – for a price – in the form of a piece of paper called an indulgence.


I don’t know about you, but I think I might have bought one – or two – or three.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something that you could carry in your wallet

and pull out to look at at a moment’s notice?

Something that says – don’t worry – your sins are taken care of – and here’s proof.

Sin binds us all together…but Luther’s great insight was – so does grace.

Grace – God’s unconditional love.

As the passage in Jeremiah says, this new covenant with God is written on our hearts – not on a piece of paper.

Your sin – my sin – is not only forgiven – it is remembered no more – it is forgotten.


God’s amnesia for our sin is grace.

And when we experience such grace, we know it is a great gift.


When I was about five years old, my younger brother and I were running inside the house…

I knew the rule, “No running in the house,” but we were children and we ran.

Gary was about 3 years old.

I started to chase him, and I chased him head first into the dining room radiator.


He cracked his head open;

went to the ER for his first set of stitches;

and has had an ugly-looking 2 inch jagged scar in the middle of his forehead ever since.


If he had been twenty years younger,

it might have been cool to have a Harry Potter scar on his forehead,

but there was nothing cool about it then.

Every school picture, there it was – a reminder to me – “No running in the house.”


Years later, as an adult, I asked my mother about that day

and what she remembered about Gary’s scar.


She said, “Oh yes, that was when he was a toddler and fell into the radiator.”

I said, “No – don’t you remember?  We were running – I chased him into the radiator!”

And she said, “No – I don’t remember that at all!”


And I believe her.

I don’t think she remembers what happened.

Forgiven — and even forgotten.


God has done that for each of us.

Forgiven sin.  Forgotton sin.  That is grace and it is a great gift.


The third word I’ll talk about today is freedom.

Because with the gift of grace comes freedom.


In the gospel reading for today, the Jewish leaders with whom Jesus is sparring with,

take offense when Jesus claims that the truth of God’s grace will make them free.


“What?”  they say.

“We are descendents of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone!”


Now we can all laugh a bit at that,

because they seem to have forgotten several pieces of their history!


Their Jewish ancestors were enslaved over and over again –

by the Egyptians, by the Assyrians, by the Persians,

and even now as they spoke, they were held captive to Roman rule.


Jesus skips over the obvious, and goes on to point out that since we all have sinned,

we are slaves of our sin.

God leads us into freedom as our sin is forgiven and forgotten through Jesus Christ.

When Luther realized this freedom,

he wanted to share it, to talk about it, to debate it.

And so he posted his 95 theses onto the door of the church at Wittenburg.


There was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week which compares

Luther’s action with the Occupy Wall Street movements across our nation.[ii]


It says, that for some in the Occupy movements,

standing vigil in the city squares is their way of posting of 95 theses.


It’s their way of calling for conversation and debate in a society

that bases its security not in collecting indulgences

issued by the church at the expense of the poor –

but in collecting other pieces of paper

issued by banks sometimes at the expense of the poor.


We still need Luther’s message.

We are those sinners for whom Christ died making us free.

Life has changed.

We don’t need to stockpile pieces of paper in our wallets – indulgences or otherwise.


Christ has set us free so that we can

love and serve our neighbor extravagantly;

so we can dare to care for the poor;

so we can give witness to the gospel in a frightened and wounded world;

so we can share all that we have and all that we are no matter what.[iii]


Sin. Grace. Freedom.

Three words for this Reformation weekend.






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