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I have to admit that I’m always a little uneasy about celebrating Reformation Day. It could give the impression that we’re celebrating Martin Luther, or an event that happened in 1517, or even the Lutheran Church. I mean, think about it. The church calendar follows the life of Jesus. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ birth, during Lent we celebrate Jesus’ road to the cross, at Easter we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, during Pentecost we celebrate when Jesus gave the Holy Spirit and sent his disciples out. The church year is all about Jesus! And Reformation Day seems like a strange interruption to all of that. Here we are marking the occasion of the beginning of the Reformation, October 31st, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg.
I have to admit that every time Reformation Day rolls around on the church calendar I cringe a little bit because it’s easy to get the impression that what we’re celebrating today is not Jesus, but Martin Luther, or an event that happened in 1517, or the Lutheran Church. And that’s a problem because if there’s one thing we Lutheran Christians have going for us, if the Reformation is about anything at all, it’s Jesus, and Jesus alone.
That’s why we read the gospel reading we did today. It drives home the good news with absolute clarity and in no uncertain terms that if you have Jesus, then you have everything. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Jesus, after all, is the Son of God. Jesus is the one through whom all things were created. Jesus isn’t just alive. Jesus is life. The only reason the sun rises in the morning, or the rain falls and nourishes the ground, or our hearts beat is because of Jesus. Jesus isn’t just alive, Jesus is the source of life, the one in whom all things live and move and have their being. The one who holds all of life in his hands is the man, Jesus of Nazareth. And so if you have Jesus, then you have everything.
If that was ever crystal clear, it was when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. When Lazarus was sick and near death, his sisters sent word to Jesus. But Jesus didn’t go right away. He waited several days before he left. And by the time Jesus got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. When Lazarus’ sister Martha saw Jesus coming, she ran out to meet him and she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” And Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” But she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
You see, Martha thought that Jesus was giving her some sort of consolation prize. Yes, I know he will rise on the last day. I’ll just have to wait until then. But Jesus immediately corrected here. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” The resurrection isn’t this far off event that’s going to happen some day in the future. I am the resurrection. I hold all of life in my hands. And on the last day when the dead rise from their tombs, I’ll be the one making it happen. The dead will hear the command of my voice and come to life. The resurrection isn’t some far off event. You’re looking the resurrection in the face! I am the resurrection and the life.
And to prove it, he went to the tomb and had them role the stone away. So they took away the stone. And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And the man who had died came out.
Jesus isn’t just alive; Jesus is life itself. So if we have Jesus, then we have something that no amount of sickness, or poverty, or death can take away from us. Sickness may wreck our bodies or dementia may destroy our minds. But do you know what it doesn’t destroy? Jesus, who will raise the dead and make all things new! Or we may struggle to pay the bills and not be sure how we’re going to make ends meet, always feel like we’re chasing life and can never catch up. But no matter how much chasing we do in life, no matter how far we think we’re falling behind, do you know what we already have? Jesus, who will raise the dead and make all things new! Death may steal life itself from us, our children, the people and the places we love. But do you know what death doesn’t steal from us? Jesus, who will raise the dead and make all things new. And so if we have Jesus, we have something that no amount of sickness or poverty or death can take away from us.
And if we have Jesus, then we have something that can’t be improved on by money or status or success. Even if we’re in good health, or don’t struggle to pay the bills, or if we work our dream job, it doesn’t get us more than we already have in Jesus, who will raise the dead and make all things new.
If we have Jesus, then our lives aren’t finally bound up with our job, or our health, or our house and car. Our lives are finally bound up with Jesus. And that means we’re free to actually live, not worrying about whether or not we’ll ever catch up with the bills, or whether our health is keeping us from living the life we wanted, or even if death will come and steal it all away. Despite poverty, despite struggle, despite death, we have life that cannot be taken away in Jesus. So we are free to worry about others. We’re free to live in the place and with the people God has given us for today. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”
That is the gospel message that broke into the Reformation and brought life and freedom. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Listen to Luther describe that freedom: “If you have Christ…you have eternal life, and you will be delivered from eternal death. If we are free from eternal death, we are also free from temporal death, and all the debts and obligations involved in temporal death, such as sin, are wiped out. If sin is removed, the Law, too, is done. If the Law is done away with and fulfilled, God’s judgment and wrath are also gone; devil, death, and hell are eliminated, and all is settled and arranged…Now if you believe in Christ, you have all this: hell has been subdued, sin is removed, death is overcome, and eternal righteousness, blessedness, and life are yours. Who can fully evaluate such a treasure?” (LW 23:106).
If the Son sets you free, then you will be free indeed. If you have Jesus, then you have eternal life. And if you have eternal life, then you are free from death. And if you are free from death, you are free from sin. And if you are free from sin, you are free from the law. And if you are free from the law, you are free from the wrath of God. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.
And so, we are free to live day in and day out, not worrying about ourselves, but about the people God has put in our lives. Luther again: a Christian, he says, “has such abundant riches in his faith [in Christ] that all his other works and his whole life are a surplus, which he can by voluntary benevolence serve and do good to his neighbor.” “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”
Now if there’s a reason to celebrate Reformation Day, that’s it! “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Reformation day isn’t about Martin Luther or the 95 Theses or the Lutheran Church. Reformation Day is a great reminder of the message that’s been handed down to us. It’s a great reminder of the message that has been passed down to us and that we enjoy week in and week out. Week in and week out we come to church and we bring the burdens of life, only to have them swallowed up by the good news of Jesus Christ, who gives himself to us in his word, and in his body and blood, and in the forgiveness of sins, and promises us that if we have him, then we have life that doesn’t come or go, but life that endures forever; the good news that in him, we have everything. A message that sets us free to live, not to worry about ourselves, but to love and serve our neighbor. Reformation Day is a wonderful reminder of what we have, and of what has been handed down to us.
And it’s a wonderful reminder of what we have to give to others. Because there are so many churches out there, it’s easy to think that we don’t really have anything special to give to the world. But we as Our Redeemer Lutheran Church do have something to give, something that you can’t get at Wal-Mart or from Amazon or from school or work or from camping –something that is rich and full and everlasting: And his name is Jesus, who laid down his life for you and took it up again to give you life, to free you from sin, death, and the devil!
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.