Sunday, October 29th, 2023

If You Continue in My Word

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.  Let us pray.  O Lord, send forth your Word into our ears, that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. The number of people in here wearing red means that, no doubt, you know what today is, and you know that on October 31st 1517, the then monk Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, and that event started a chain reaction that led to the church we are familiar with today. Now certainly Luther wasn’t the only one involved. There were many faithful men and women who contributed along the way, but if Doc Brown and Marty McFly we’re going to get in their DeLorean and go back to the one event that started the whole thing, if they wanted to change the course of Reformation history, well the church door would be the one. So here we sit just over 500 years later, just over 5000 miles away from the Castle Church in Wittenberg, sitting in a church of our own, a church that bears the name of Luther, Grace Lutheran Church of northeast Albuquerque. We call ourselves Lutherans, and we do so not because we hold the man Martin in such high regard, but because of the way he relentlessly pointed people to the gospel, and  the gospel of forgiveness reconciliation. Here we sit, half a Millennium later, singing A Mighty Fortress, celebrating the well-known Reformation confession, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, received through scripture alone. Here we stand, a living object lesson, illustrating the point that Jesus is trying to get us to see in today’s gospel reading: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “If you abide in my word,” says Jesus, and any good Lutheran would of course ask what does this mean? What does it mean to abide in the word of God? Some translations render the phrase, if you continue in my word, abiding, continuing. These are words that describe an ongoing reality. That’s precisely the point that Jesus is trying to make. I’ve probably told you before, I feel like the amount of time we spend watching television and movies has taught us to see our existence like it’s a movie. Sometimes we stir up drama, just as a plot for today. Other times, we approach life like we’re waiting for the credits to roll. It’s like we approach our problems and difficulties as if there will come a point when everything will wrap up neatly in the end. We approach politics as if once we get the right person elected, our world’s problems will all be fixed from Bush to Clinton, Clinton to Bush, Bush to Obama Obama to Trump, Trump to Biden, and Biden to whoever comes next. Political division runs more deeply than ever. The rhetoric is harsher and more cutting, because it’s more absolute, because we assumed that once we got the right person in place all of our problems would go away, and then they didn’t. Most commercials and pundits speak as if choosing the wrong person, well that’s just going to bring an end to America as we know it, and conversely, choosing the right person will be the dawn of the age of prosperity. But we’ve heard that before, and despite all the Chicken Little panic, somehow, life continues to March forward getting the right person into the right political office, in the right election, well that’s not the end. Because time marches on. We approach our relationships in the same way we approach marriage in the same way. As if life is just one romantic comedy in which bride and groom, struggle with a few things, but eventually move happily along to the altar, overcoming whatever obstacles stood in their way, until they finally say “I do” and then the credits roll. At least they do in the movies, but not in real life, because real life, and real love, and real marriage last well beyond the wedding reception. The words, happily ever after, may be etched on the photography album, but once the celebration is over, the bride and groom must continue as husband and wife, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live. You speak words of promise on your wedding day, but then you spend the rest of your life continuing in those words, abiding in those words. So Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Luther may have driven the nail into the church door over 500 years ago, and there may have been some much needed and important changes that happened in the church as a result, but here we are today half a Millennium later. The credits have not yet rolled on the story of God’s church. Time marches forward. Life goes on, and we continue. We continue in God’s word, because our life as the children of God is lived as a journey, not a destination.  A journey through the trials and temptations of a fallen world, a journey through the sadness, and the heartache of watching loved ones suffer, maybe even die, a journey through a world, filled with injustice and hatred and bigotry and betrayal, a journey through a world that at every turn seems to take the idea of a loving and merciful God and throw it back in your face. “How,” the world asks, “How,” we ask ourselves, “How can I believe in a loving God, when my child has cancer? How can I believe in a loving God, when I see those, whose lives have been ripped apart by abuse, when I see the way that the people in our country are being torn apart by bitterness? How can I believe in a loving God, when there’s so much evil and pain in the world?” And Jesus answers our question with the same words that He spoke to the Jews who had believed in him. “When you continue in my word, you know the truth.” Continue in God’s word. That means we live in it, we study it, we meditate on it, we allow it to be the lens through which we view and understand reality. To abide in God’s word is to listen when He says to you in that word “Take heart. In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Or when He compares the suffering of this life to the refiners fire, so that the genuineness of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes, when it’s tested by fire, the genuineness of your faith may be found to result in praise and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. To listen when He assures you that the sufferings of this present age are not even worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. To continue in the word of God is to know the truth that sets you free and here is the truth: the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil, 1 John, chapter 3, verse eight. We continue in the promises of God’s word. We may not see the final results yet, but we have the promises, and because we continue in that promise, because we continue in that word, we know the truth, the truth sets us free from the burden of doubt. Yes, of course, the world could be a painful place to live, but we’re waiting for the new heavens and the new earth. Because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, we know that the truth of our salvation will not fail. We are free to be people of hope in a world of sadness. For the truth has set us free, but maybe we misunderstand freedom. Maybe we misunderstand and confuse freedom with autonomy. Maybe we try to use our freedom like a spoiled toddler, always demanding his own way, or better yet, or maybe worse yet, we try to use our freedom like a new high school graduate, who has left home for the first time, without the watchful eye of parental supervision. These young men and women often give in to the whims and the temptations of whatever comes next, they’re free to do whatever they want for the first time in their lives. So they think. But their freedom often ends in crippling debt, disease, broken relationships, any number of emotional scars. Why does that happen? Well because doing whatever I want is a pretty awful definition of freedom and it’s certainly not the freedom that Jesus is talking about today. I once heard a seminary professor describe it like this. He said freedom is like a young eaglet who fell out of her nest and landed in a gopher hole. And so, the eagle was raised as a gopher, living in the tunnels. Of course, her developing talons and her beak were not great for tunneling and digging, but she did alright. And she didn’t really enjoy the vegetarian gopher diet and her growing wings were making it harder and harder to get through the tunnels each day, but she was surviving. Then one day she found a tunnel that led to the surface. One day she crawled out of that tunnel, covered in matted dirt. When the fresh air hit her nostrils, somehow, she knew exactly what to do. She knew what those wings were for, so she spread them out, and soared into the heavens, finally free. Soaring majestically above the clouds, the eyes of a huntress spotting prey from high above, the sharp talons snatching fresh fish instead of whatever it is gophers eat. Her freedom was not found in some mythical autonomy to do whatever she wanted or be whatever she wanted. No, her freedom was found in being who she was created to be, because that is true freedom. That’s the freedom that Jesus is talking about today. The freedom that comes from abiding in His word, from continuing in His word, from being shaped by His word. You don’t set a fish free from the water. The fish’s freedom is found in the water, being who it was created to be. So also, our freedom in Christ. “If you continue in my word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The truth of our sin, the truth of our salvation, truth that Luther recognized, posted as the very first of those 95 theses, all those years ago, the entire life of the believers lived in repentance, rejoicing in the gift of forgiveness, the truth that our righteousness comes to us as a gift from a merciful God, the righteousness that God gives to us, the truth that there is nothing we could ever do to hope to save ourselves, trying to win our own salvation, is like a fish trying to live as an eagle, or eagle trying to live as a fish. The fish would suffocate in the eagle’s nest, and the eagle would drown in the fish’s bed. Their freedom is found in being who God created them to be. Our freedom is found in the same place, living as the people God created us to be. Even more importantly, living as the people God redeemed us to be. Continuing in His word of forgiveness, abiding in the words of new creation spoken over us in the water of baptism, confessing our sin, being free from the burden of guilt that would suffocate us, being free to forgive those who have sinned against us, free from wallowing in the bitterness and hatred that would drown us. Our freedom is found in spreading the wings of compassion, living in self-sacrifice towards the people around us. Freedom is not an excuse to selfish living. Freedom is finally being released from shallow and short-sighted mentality of the world, to live as the people of God. Credits haven’t rolled yet. Life goes on, so we march on as the people of God, continuing in His word, continuing in the message of Reformation. Faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone, Christ alone. Continuing in His word. That’s what makes us free. In Jesus name, Amen.