You know, I’m not sure how many of you realise this, but I’m really really strong. Like reeeaaaally really strong. I can like, lift up really heavy things without any help and I literally feel no pain so if I ever get shot I could probably just dig the bullet out with a knife and then sew myself back up. That is how physically strong I am. And I’m not just physically strong, but I’m mentally strong too. I can navigate any city in any country without asking for directions and also I can do complex calculations in my head without any assistance from a calculator or a pen and paper or even my fingers. I’m that mentally strong. And I’m not just physically and mentally strong, but emotionally strong too. I watched Crazy Rich Asians a couple weeks ago, and you know what? I didn’t even cry. I rolled my eyes and shook my head and did those hand waves that mean “whatever” a couple times, but not a single tear came out of these physically, mentally, and emotionally strong eyes. That is just how strong I am.
Now, I don’t know how many of you were buying all of that, but I was purposely exaggerating a bit for dramatic effect… just a bit. I admit that I’m not really really strong, just really strong. I think my strength only deserves one “really”. But being completely honest, I’m not as strong as I was saying. Not even close. I’m not that tough. I’m not as “manly man” in that I don’t eat glass for breakfast or open beer bottles with my eye sockets. But that isn’t going to stop me from pretending that I am or taking the chance to have all of you somehow believe that I am.
So I will brag about myself even when I can’t stand braggarts. I will walk around like a tough guy even when I typically laugh at people who do that. I will continue to refuse any kind of help or assistance that is offered to me in hopes of everyone around me believing that I can manage on my own independent, capable, and really, really strong self.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all do that to some extent. Don’t we all like to look, sound, and act stronger or better than we are? Don’t we all want to put our best foot forward and show the world what we are capable of and then some? Don’t we all like to pad our stories and resumes a bit just to be that much more impressive to those around us?
It’s like we do this so much that we even sometimes start to believe these things we tell ourselves. Now, this isn’t exactly a bad thing when we tell ourselves that we’re smart enough, good enough, and that doggone it, people like us, but it is when we start to think we are just inherently better than everyone else, when we start to push back on the community that we need and are called to, when we think that we are just so strong and mighty that we don’t have to rely on anyone but ourselves which includes God. It’s when we tell ourselves that we can handle it all, we can take care of everything, and that we tough enough to push through whatever life throws at us by ourselves, that’s what scripture warns us against and tries to protect us from.
In today’s gospel lesson, which is the same for every Reformation Sunday, Jesus comes to the people who were already following him and gives them the promise of a lifetime, that his truth will make them free. You know we hear this and think man that is awesome. We like to be free. We don’t like not being free. Our ears and eyes perk up when we hear and/or see a store sign promoting “free”. So yeah, we like free.
But these folk don’t seem to for some strange reason. They almost sound offended, don’t they? They’re all like, “bro, we’re descendants of Abraham and we’ve never been slaves to anyone. Ever. Never ever never no way never happened. Never mind the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and currently right now the Romans, but we’ve never been slaves, dude. So how dare you say that we can be made free?”
We read this, sit back and think, are you kidding me man? You’re pushing away this promise because of your own ego? You’re offended by this gift of grace? You think you’re so good and strong even to the point of rewriting history and your current reality in order to look and sound tougher than you are right now? Sheesh, get over yourself man.
But if you think about it, this reaction is totally natural. They are offended because they actually believe deep down in their hearts that they don’t need to be freed because they are as free as can be. They don’t need such a promise because in the light of their current self-proclaimed freedom status, it’s pretty much moot. They don’t need any kind of external help because they have it under control. So Jesus suggesting that they need freedom and that he has the keys to that freedom is just offensive to them.
Don’t believe me? What if I gave you a magazine and said this will help you dress nicer. Or if I told you that I know of a really good therapist and that you should think about making an appointment? Or, my personal favourite that I used to do to my brother especially when he was talking to girls, grab a thing of gum or breath mints and very obviously offer it to you?
It doesn’t matter if you need it or not, it’s just that someone noticed your faults, someone saw where you are weak, someone realised that you need help. And just the offer is borderline offensive in that we want to deny that we have any faults or are weak in any way or would need any kind of help from someone other than our own strong and capable selves.
So we refuse help. We decline when our friends offer to pay for our meals. We scoff at the idea that someone else might know what we need and are able to provide for it better than we could ourselves. We are almost offended by graciousness.
And so Jesus tries to explain it to them, that whoever commits sin is slave to sin, and that it is the Son that can set us free from that slavery. And so, like the rich man we heard about a few weeks ago, we make excuses for ourselves and say we’ve kept the laws since birth! We’re good people, strong, capable… righteous, even. We aren’t slaves to sin. We’re not addicts or anything. We got this under control.
But that’s the thing, the “sin” that Jesus is talking about isn’t individual and specific bad things that we do. “Sin” isn’t a broken rule or command. “Sin” in this case, isn’t an intentional action, avoidable or not. Rather, this sin that Jesus is talking about, this sin that enslaves us all, this sin that has been committed and we need to be freed from is actually the condition of the whole human race, this mentality that we all have as people, this insecurity that comes from believing the lie that we aren’t worthy enough, that we are insufficient, and that we aren’t loved.
And so in that insecurity, we do things to try to claim that love by brute force. We put it on ourselves to make ourselves worthy. We compromise our morals, we live more in the grey areas of life, and we might even go and eat fruit from a forbidden tree because we believe that it will give us power.
This is the sin that Jesus is talking about. This is the source of all other things that we typically would label as sin. This insecurity is what we are slave to, as we try to protect ourselves from those feelings of inadequacy and by pump ourselves up, as we deny any of our faults and are offended when anyone notices them, when we deflect any help that is offered in case it makes us look weak, and Jesus offers to set us free.
Because as tough as we’d like to be, we all need to be loved. As strong as we think we are, nothing quite melts our hearts that first time we hear someone other than a relative genuinely saying, “I love you”. And as secure as we’d like to be, we just need to hear that we’re loved again and again.
And that is why we gather at least once a week. That is why come together as a community to hear, to see, and to taste the signs of God’s love for us. That is why we keep coming back, that we be reminded of the truth of God’s promises of welcome and inclusion, of grace and mercy, of being made worthy as God’s beloved children… the truth that sets us free.
The truth of the promises of Christ that we are made to be good enough by the grace and mercy of God. The truth of God’s Word telling us that we are dearly loved and cherished and unique in our own way. The truth of God’s kingdom to which we all belong, that we are surrounded by the community of saints, the choirs of angels, and the eternal body of Christ.
This is what a young monk wanted to teach the people suffering from this insecurity almost 501 years ago, that we cannot break ourselves free from this cycle, we cannot buy or muscle our way to righteousness, we cannot redeem ourselves from under this slavery. This young monk wanted to reform the way the church sees how life works, how the church sees each other for who we are as God’s beloved children, and how the church understands salvation, that it isn’t by works and the things we do or don’t do, but by the eternal grace of God. This young monk, named Martin Luther, also was a slave to sin, insecurity, and the lies told by all the things that go against God’s truth, was anointed by God to speak, strengthened by the Spirit to reveal, and freed by Christ to know love.
And for us, dearly loved and redeemed, may we remember the Reformation, not just the one started 501 years ago, but the constant reforming of our lives continually setting us free by the truth of Christ and the cross, allowing us to love and be loved, and redeemed by the eternal grace of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.