Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Today we celebrate Reformation Day. You know the story. Luther. 95 thesis. Big door. Bigger fight. We know it’s important. Especially lately. I don’t think it’s just because of anniversaries. I think it’s because we look around the church today and it looks…apathetic. We hear that story and then look around an it feels like something’s missing today. Heroes. Passion. A people who cared. A church that stood against all odds. That lived when everything around it called for it to die. It sounds familiar.
I don’t think we do this as some kinda sarcastic “invite a Catholic to church” day. We don’t celebrate what would come to break the church so that if I told you San Antonio had 500 churches you’d probably think that number sounds low. That doesn’t even count the street preacher who told me I was going to hell the other week. We’re looking for heroes. Passion. A people who care. A whisper of a hope the church that stands today against all odds will make it another generation. Because these are dark and latter days.
So we tell the Luther story one more time. Maybe we’ll make a quip about the selling of indulgences to support a corrupt institution or prayers to the saints or something else we learned along the way and try not to think too hard about why prayer chains are totally different because the saints we want to pray for us are still on earth. Celebrate a man who didn’t want the denomination named after him in the first place, and preach some manner of the following: 1) Luther was awesome. 2) Believe like he did. 3) Be brave like he was.
The irony gets lost. It’s a small mirror of the very thing Luther stood against. The issue was deeper than corrupt practice. It was the foundations of the faith. 1) The Holy Roman Catholic Church is the only source of salvation. 2) Assent to the doctrine of the church. 3) Do what is in you. See it yet? 1) Luther was awesome. 2) Believe like he did. 3)Be brave like he was.
The thing is, Luther was a dumpster fire. Folks argue over what kind of mental disabilities he suffered under. Anxiety. Depression. OCD. It wasn’t just that Luther saw a doctrinal problem and made good choices. It’s that he tried all of the things the church pointed him to and never once found any peace in it. Luther was never the role model that makes Christianity look easy. He was never the hero we think we need.
The kind that makes Christianity look almost too easy. The kind that’s just so in love with God, and because of it, so happy. All the time. I’ll let you in on a secret I didn’t find out until after I grew up and put on a black shirt. I see Lots of people love God. I really, truly do. As much as they love Him, they still walk around bound to fake smiles and t-shirts with bible verses on them. To what Christians are supposed to look like…when underneath sometimes we feel nothing like the heroes we imagine. I see people chained To the desperate hope that nobody can see what’s real. Chained to the effort of pretending that something about us is true when it isn’t, that fake me that I need so I can be to be accepted, loved. So I can matter. We feel so chained to the need to be more that we are. Holier, happier, better.
The problem is, the more we fake it, the more the expectations pile up. And none of us, not one is as great as people around us want us to be. Sometimes, even pretending to be something more is too much. Sometimes we’re just desperate to look less ruined that we are. It’s fear. Fear of being really known. Really seen. Because what’s really inside me is ugly. The church calls it sin for a reason.
Sin breaks stuff. It hurts people around me. Hurts me. We’re pretty good at hiding it. But still. There’s that guilt of knowing the truth. As much as I pretend, it doesn’t change anything. It just gets harder to carry around. Even what I can hide from everyone else, God sees. And as much as we wish for one, we don’t have a God who says, “do whatever makes you happy. Just love me and it will all work out. Just believe hard enough and all things are possible for you to do.”
Your God threatens punishment for sin. All of it. The pain we inflict upon our neighbor who God loves, the way we mistreat and disrespect Him when we claim to love Him so much. We know what we should be. And we aren’t. Any one who practices sin is a slave to sin. I know what that feels like. And we carry it privately because we’re in love with a lie. The same lie the devil’s been telling us since we’ve been around to tell.
It’s on you. You better carry it. You love God enough to make it ok. Then he just waits until we’re teetering on the edge to point out to us when we don’t. It takes one whisper. If you really loved Him, why are things like this?
God sees you sinking under the weight of all of it. Maybe not today, but you’ve felt it. Truth is, Christianity not about how much you love Jesus. None of it. It’s about how much He loves you. This is the truth that sets us free. The Word made flesh so that we can abide in Him when everything else falls apart. The Word come down from heaven to submit to the slavery of sin and bear it unto death. This is what love looks like. Christ on cross for you.
And when it seems too far to help, He brings it to you. He delivers the salvation and freedom won at calvary by the Holy Spirit. He gives you a new identity. A free identity. You are baptized. That’s who you are. Baptized. That’s enough. That’s true. That’s free.
You don’t need to put on fake smiles. You don’t need to pretend to measure up. Every day, Christ does it for you. Every day the old Adam, the guy who walks around a slave, is drowned. Every day, God raises up a new man. Free.
This is what Luther fell upon when there was nothing else. This is what the reformation was about. It’s not about poking fun at Catholics or having a million denominations so that you can make choices. It’s not about heroes. It’s about Jesus. And Jesus is for you. He is the word that we abide in. And so in Him, we are free. Free from sin. From bondage. From death itself. Free to lift up our heads and live.