Sermon – October 28, 2001 – Freedom and Truth

October 28, 2001

Freedom and Truth

This week you no doubt heard that NASA put an orbitor into orbit around
the planet Mars. So far , so good. Over the next three years, this
mission will study the mineral and radiation and water content on the
Red Planet. Much is at stake. It was a trip of 286 million miles.
There were 220,000 individual critical measurements that all had to go
right for this mission to be a success, for that spacecraft to arrive
and be captured in orbit by the gravity of Mars.
So far they have been successful. That was not the case in 1999. Then,
someone forgot to transpose one english calculation into a metric
calculation and the mission failed. One measurement out of 220,000.

Can you imagine if the integrity of our faith and salvation, if God’s
promises were determined by the same scale? Can you imagine if one
little mistake would result in the complete failure or our relationship
with God? Can you imagine if our peace and our hope were at risk by one
little mistake? That would simply be a religion of fear, without hope,
without freedom.

There is no freedom in that. But wait a minute. Don’t we still hear
those messages? Either self-generated or from the outside. Don’t we
conjure up the formulas in our minds that somehow God is talking about
someone else than me when we heard the words of promise and salvation?
I think so.

We struggle to live in freedom as Christian people. Let me read you
something written by a guy named Robert Capon. “If we are ever to enter
fully into the glorious liberty of the children of God, we’re going to
have to spend more time thinking about freedom than we do. The
church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. She
has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes
that she has made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs,
but we never really hear them, because our man concern is not to make
music, but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch.”
We spent so much time in the fear of making mistakes that we are like
ill-taught piano students, banging out the uninspired chords of
religious behavior without living in the freedom that is ours through
Christ. It’s like that old childhood suspicion where you are walking
down the sidewalk and avoid the cracks because of some ominous
consequence. So we stumble along in our journey of faith in a jerky
and unnatural motion, taking every step in fear. That’s not freedom.
And that’s not truth. When the church speaks such language, she is not
speaking the truth. When we live under such anxiety, we are not living
in the freedom of the truth of Christ. God intends for us this
freedom. We know that because we heard the words of Jesus today saying,
“you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Let’s talk a minute about this truth.

First, the truth is that all of us, each of us, without exception, ever,
has made the kind of mistakes that in the math of NASA would destroy our
hope. St. Paul said it, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory
of God.” And the knowledge of that is a tremendous burden which can
obscure our vision of freedom. Sin is not small thing.
That’s a truth.

Another truth. God doesn’t want that kind of relationship. God wants to
be forgetful of our mistakes, our sins. Through the prophet Jeremiah,
God said it, “The days are surely coming when I will make a new covenant
. . . and I will be their God and they will be my people . . .and I will
forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”

Another truth: That new covenant, the fulfillment of that desire of God.
. .. . is accomplished through Jesus Christ for the specific purpose of
forgiving our sins, being God’s agent of forgetfulness, not past, but
present and future too, drawing us into a relationship with God that God
seeks and supports through the Holy Spirit. .. . . a relationship of
peace, and love and hope for this day and the next.

Another truth: We can’t achieve this on our own. We can’t get to God
without Christ. We can’t get good enough for God. That was Luther’s
problem, until his struggle and study led him again to the grace of
Christ. The great truth is that this relationship is not contingent on
our goodness or failures, but on the goodness, the grace of God through
Christ.

A final truth: That in this relationship, in this fulfillment of God’s
passion to be in relationship with us, there is true freedom. This is
what freedom is. That the mistakes, the sins, even the doubts that weigh
on us so heavily and so justly are not enough to destroy us because
Christ stands as our mediator, as the fulfillment of God’s intention for
this relationship.

Now let’s talk a little about freedom, because although it the
consequence of God’s intervention, God’s purpose, we still struggle to
understand it. Partly because we approach freedom wrongly.

First, we get it mixed up with our sense of national freedom. Freedom is
one of the best and most meaningful words in our national culture. We
understand it because we remember that once we were not free, that we
were under the thumb of another nation. But through trial and sacrifice
and unity, we attained our national freedom. We earned it. Same with
the Americans who are descendants of slaves. Only through great personal
sacrifice and struggle and trial were these Americans able to gain their
freedom. The problem with translating this notion of freedom to our
faith is that the former is a freedom earned by our own sacrifice and
suffering. But this is not the freedom of the soul and the spirit.
Under this national understanding, we earned it and through a host of
ways we celebrate that success and that sacrifice. But it doesn’t
translate to our faith. That’s why it is not appropriate to fly a flag
inside the sanctuary. It reinforces this notion of an earned freedom and
detracts from the true, unearned freedom we share in Christ. We can’t
get there on our own.

Which leads to the second problem we have with understanding freedom is
the notion that it means that we can do whatever we want. That’s not
freedom. That’s license. It simply makes us the object of our own
idolatry . . . and finally fails us in our considerations of divine
things, radical hope. . . and forgiveness from the tremendous burden of
our brokeness before God because it is limited by our own selves.

True freedom, the freedom of the gospel is first, to be released from
the constant fear of messing up–freedom from the constant fear of a God
standing by with lightening bolts to zap us at every wrong turn. True
freedom is the freedom to ask for and forgiveness, to know that Christ
stands as God’s agent of forgiveness and forgetfulness. I like a
business adage that has circulated
lately, “be sure to generate a sufficient number of excellent
mistakes.” In other words, dare to live with some passion and risk.
Luther said it another way. “Sin boldly for grace abounds even more.”
Now that doesn’t mean live life doing what you want to do, whatever it
is. But rather to live with passion and hopefulness. Forgiveness,
grace, grants us this permission.

And I think we have to say that true freedom is the freedom to doubt. To
doubt. To grapple and struggle with faith. To wonder and question,
because faith is a relationship; “I will be your God and you will be my
people.” And we wonder what it means to be the people of God, and we
struggle with our inability to understand sometimes, and we doubt and
fear. It is not a workbook that we fill out and turn in to God. True
freedom is to struggle with these great truths without the fear of
breaking the relationship which draws us into them. Freedom is to know
that there is one who stands with us ready to make the course correction
when we err, so that our whole mission does not fail.

Finally, Jesus says true freedom is knowing his personal truth, his
incarnate truth. What we can know of this truth, he has shown us. His
sacrificial and redemptive love, calling us to unconditional love for
others. He has shown this in his promise of grace and forgiveness, and
our call to live outside ourselves, to be graceful and forgiving to
others. True freedom is to live in relationship with all people, in
relationship with God’s creation. To know that there is nothing, not
even death, that separates us from the love of God. Freedom is to know
the truth that God wants for us this passionate loving relationship and
that God has given us the means to live in it.

Today is Reformation Sunday, a day in the church year when we mark the
cataclysmic events that proceeded from Martin Luther’s passionate
ministry to understand God. Certainly it’s appropriate to do that, but
more importantly we celebrate today the fact that the church has
reclaimed this truth, this freedom. Or, more accurately, that the church
is in the process of reclaiming these truths. One of the best things
Luther said in all of his copious writing was to remind us that the
church is always in need of reform, in need to correct itself from
generation to generation, to turn to this truth and freedom. To remind
us that the body of believers is always in danger of taking the power of
grace onto themselves, forgetting that this is a free gift. To be
reminded that because of Christ God may be a forgetful God who will
remember our sins no more. The church is always in danger of making
Jesus into a copilot who follows where we we steer, and not the savior
of the world, the source of our grace,. . . . the very word of truth

Which brings me to the final question. How many Lutherans does it take
to change a lightbulb? Change? Change? My grandma gave that light
bulb to the church 17 years ago and we’re not changing it! The church
is always in need of reform, or reexamining how it proclaims the truth
and freedom of the Gospel. God gives us the power and permission to
change, to seek again this truth and freedom, and it is a meaningful and
hopeful journey.

In search of meaning and understanding of the universe, the spacecraft
hurtles toward its destination, pilotless, in danger of being destroyed
by a single mistake. That is the cold, uncompromising truth of that
journey.

Thank God we don’t need to live like that. Thank God for the
uncompromising truth of God’s love and the freedom Christ grants to us
through his grace. Thank God for that, today. Amen

Copyright (c) 2001 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus