Sermons

VicarSharonRichterSermon for Reformation Sunday-

Being “Free Indeed”
By Vicar Sharon Richter -

 

Jesus said in John 8: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”  You will be free, indeed! What does it mean to be free indeed? 
 
Well, today, on Reformation Sunday, Lutherans everywhere preach about justification by grace through faith alone.  They are talking about freedom from the tyranny of Law, and God’s grace that we experience by faith.  This is what they mean by “free indeed.”
 
But we are going to take a little detour and explore “free indeed” in another way.  By way of an elk-
Can you see the elk?
Some of you may have seen this in the news.  This week, an elk was spotted in Pickens County, South Carolina.  Well, big whoop you might say.
 
It actually IS a big whoop.  This is the first elk sighting in South Carolina since the 1700s.  South Carolinians have gone 300 years without seeing an elk.   Where did it come from?  How did it get there?
 
Well, it got there because it is free indeed.  Animals wander where they will. They eat what they want to eat, or what they can find or catch.  They don’t follow rules, they don’t obey signs, they don’t sin, and they don’t have responsibilities. They spend their lives being free . . . indeed.
 
This elk seems to have wandered down from North Carolina, where a small herd was reintroduced in 2001. This is what it means to be “free indeed.”
 
“Oh,” you say?  “But people are not animals.  We DO have responsibilities.  We DO sin. We DO have to follow rules and obey signs. We cannot be that kind of free!”
 
Quote WeAreInAreformationYour points are well taken.  But perhaps we can at least learn something from this elk.
Picture this elk.  He’s enjoying new pastures, and new territory, and legions of new fans, all because has dared to go where he was not expected to go and do what he was not expected to do. He has spread the Gospel of Elk to South Carolina.  And surely other elk will follow. 
 
This is what a reformation is.  It is when we do something we were not expected to do . . . go somewhere we were not expected to go . . . say something we were not expected to say.  It’s when we break the traditions, bend the rules, and enter entirely new territory.  And we take the gospel with us. 
 
Let me give you another example—a personal one.  I am not supposed to be here.  I’m happily married, I raised a family (of which I’m very proud), and I had two prior careers.  I have hobbies and avocations enough to keep me busy.  But my husband is in Philadelphia, and I am preaching in Santa Monica (Los Angeles) on Reformation Sunday.
 
Has this ever happened to you?  You wake up one morning and wonder, “How did I get here?  What am I doing?  Will anybody notice?”
 
Presuming that waking up where you don’t expect had nothing to do with a night on the town, it could well be that the Spirit has blown you there.  As Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
 
I was happily living my life, writing, editing, translating, and making mosaics, and without a by-your-leave, the Spirit up and blew me here.  With a little kick in the pants just to make sure I did it.
When I go where the Spirit is blowing me, I am being free indeed. I am going where I’m not expected to go, doing things I’m not expected to do, saying things I’m not expected to say, and I’m taking the gospel with me. 
 
I am having my own personal reformation. I am free . . . indeed.
Can you see yourself having your own personal reformation?  Imagine it for just a moment . . . . .
Well, I find this all compelling.  But perhaps you’re not there yet.  So let’s talk about the church.  Let’s talk about the reformations.  Plural.  The reformations that were, that are, and that will be.
There have been at least three, conveniently spaced about 500 years apart. The most recent one was when good old Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door in 1517, 500 years ago.
It is important to realize that every time the church reformed, Western society reformed too. And this year is no exception.
 
“What do you mean, ‘this year?’” you may ask.
Well, the fact is that we are not only due for a reformation, we are in it.
Here’s how we know it:  Church attendance is not “tapering off!” In fact it has dropped off a cliff, along with Rotary, and Elks, and virtually every other institution by which we have ordered our society. But while western churches, are languishing, Christianity elsewhere is booming.
Korea is now more than one-third Christian.  In Africa Christianity is growing faster than anywhere else.  In China, a persecuted but sturdy “post-denominational” Christianity meets in houses like the early church. It is now almost 8 percent of the population.  And 8 percent of over a billion people means that China will soon be the world’s largest Christian country.
 
Here’s a news flash for you.  Europe and America are now mission fields.  The rest of the world sends missionaries here.
 
But don’t despair. Christianity in America is not dying.  It is only reforming!  We have “spiritual but not religious” people up to here! People are hungry for the gospel. They want to connect with it emotionally and spiritually.  But they are no longer coming to our sanctuaries.  Most of them, even the ones in our sanctuaries, don’t understand the differences between denominations.  They church shop and go where it’s convenient.  People no longer want to be encumbered by doctrines or rigid rules, or even the traditions that we, here, still hold dear.  . . . .    So much for potlucks
So where are these spiritually hungry people?  They are establishing dinner churches, and house churches, and prayer chains, and drum circles.  They are in yoga classes, and meditation groups, and they are walking labyrinths and seeking God in nature.  And God is certainly there. 
Here’s one unexpected place where they are dominant.  Social media. The number one topic category on Twitter is religion and spirituality. 
 
Christians everywhere are beginning to go where they’re not expected to go, and to do things they’re not expected to do, and to say things they’re not expected to say. And they absolutely have taken the gospel with them.
 
It is our challenge to join this reformation and to take the gospel with us.  We can resist it, of course, and cling to our traditions and our sanctuaries, but the reformation will go on without us. 

Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Can we be free indeed? Can we, like a certain elk, wander out of our safe territory and seek something new?  Can we, like a certain ministry intern, leave our safe home and our safe church and go to preach the gospel in a new place?
 
Can we reform far enough to take the gospel into coffee shops, and pubs, and shopping malls?  Can we take it onto Twitter and Facebook and Instagram?
 
When we are “free indeed,” we are free not only of the tyranny of the Law that so occupied Martin Luther. We are free also of the tyranny of traditions and institutions and doctrines that have suddenly begun to choke us, and to prevent us from connecting with spiritually hungry people.
 
Let us do the unexpected.  Let us go where those spiritually hungry people are. And let us bring the gospel with us.

Amen

 

 

Vicar Sharon Richter
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California


Being “Free Indeed”
Sermon for Reformation Sunday
Written by Vicar Sharon Richter
October 930, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran and St. Bedes, Santa Monica, California

 

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