New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
“Are you free?”
If I hadn’t just read this scripture, my initial response would be similar to the Jewish followers of Jesus, “Of course I’m free!”
But… this week, my life intersected with a number of people who don’t seem free at all.
On Tuesday at the Robbinsdale Chamber gathering, I heard the story of homeless youth in our community. There is a shelter in Brooklyn Park – and they don’t have enough beds for youth under age 21. Each of these homeless youth has their own story – but they all yearn to be free.
On Wednesday night before classes, a young man, Patrick stopped by the church. He asked to use the phone. A volunteer pointed out the phone in the library. He apparently called a friend – who came by looking for him. The friend told us – Patrick is in a whole lot of trouble, can you help me find him? We searched. No Patrick. At our Adult class, Life Groups, we prayed for Patrick – that the right people would find him. The next day, we found drug syringes in the bathroom. Patrick – those drugs will not set you free.
Thursday I went to a class for pastors at Central Lutheran downtown and enjoyed a fabulous lunch. It was too much food – so I wrapped up half of the sandwich and the cookie for another time. As I went to get my coat, I saw a woman, sitting by the door with two bags of supplies from Central’s foodshelf. She greeted me and when I greeted her she poured out her story – and asked for a ride. I maybe could have helped her. But from my work downtown with homeless people – I knew that it probably was more than just a ride that she needed. So – probably more to appease my guilt than to help her - I gave her the other half of my lunch. It soothed my conscience a bit - but it didn’t set her free.
There were more stories – this week, last week. A woman suffering from depression, a man suffering from addiction, a woman with anxiety, an elderly man feeling lonely and isolated, a young adult over-loaded with debt. None of these problems can be solved by simply “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” or by applying more drugs or money.
Were any of these people free? Judging from their stories, it’s easy to see that none of these people are free. But they aren’t the only ones.
When Jesus says, “the truth will make you free” Jesus is speaking about a freedom that moves beyond our political, economic, or financial situations. For when Jesus says, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” Jesus is talking about your soul, your spirit.
Sin isn’t a word that’s used much in public discourse today. That’s not because people are so much better behaved now than in Jesus’ day. But when Jesus talks about “sin” – he’s not just talking about breaking commandments or rules. Instead of picking one greatest commandment, Jesus told his followers two: love God and love the neighbor as yourself. So “sin” is anything that gets in the way of love.
What gets in the way of love? We do – or at least our reputation does. And that’s the Reformation that the church needs today in order to BE Christ’s body.
Somehow, we as “the church” have gotten the reputation of being the place where you have to act as if you’ve got it all together. Somehow we as “the church” are seen as judgmental, as “holier than thou.”
Jesus did not come for those that are “holier than thou.” Jesus came for sinners – for people that fall short, for people who are broken, for people who are hurting, for people who have suffered from addictions, for people who have been bullied, for people who have felt lonely, for people who are in need of love and care. People like you and me and the neighbor outside our doors who doesn’t think that he would belong.
I used to work downtown Minneapolis. Suburban churches would come and bring food – and then stay for the meal. One day a church group of working professionals came straight from work -- some of them were still dressed in suits and ties. But the “regulars” were not real impressed with the fine clothes. One kind of tough-looking man, John, had a bit of a chip on his shoulder and he accepted his plate in silence – refusing to look at the well-dressed do-gooders. But one of the men, Jim, noticed him – and stopped at his table. Jim said to him, “I like your pendant. It matches mine.” Jim reached under his dress shirt to pull out his AA pendant. John, surprised, pulled out the chair next to him and said, “Have a seat, brother.”
The church – Christ’s body – is a bunch of broken people. Luckily I don’t have to look far. For we are all broken people – it doesn’t matter how or in what way. We are all “sinners” in need of Jesus. And Jesus, because of Jesus’ great love for us – all of us broken people - came to set us free – warts and all.
That’s what Jesus does. Jesus Christ frees us FROM our sin – that is everything that would keep us from living a life of love and frees us FOR living our lives in love. From sin. For love. And since Jesus does it, you can count on it. As Jesus says, “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
The question then, is how do we live into this relationship with Christ? How do we learn to live into a life based on love and not fear, kindness and not hate, graciousness and not judgment?
Jesus said, “Meno.” It’s a Greek word that looks rather ordinary in today’s Gospel. It’s translated as: “Continue.” But “Meno” is a beautiful word that also means remain, live into, abide. So what Jesus is saying is: “Continue/ Remain/ Abide/ Live into my Word.
Live into my Word by reading Scriptures. That is why we are gathered together today to hear God’s word. That is why today, in keeping their baptismal promises, parents placed in Rylee and Lydia’s hands the Word of God so that they too can read and learn and know God’s love.
But that’s not all. The Word of God is more than Scripture, it’s more than the words written on the page.
The Word of God – is Jesus. As we read In the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God.” So the Word of God is Jesus.
And, as we gather in community to ponder the Word of God in scripture and what Jesus, the Word of God, is speaking to us, we also hear the Word of God preached through words – and shown through deeds. The Word of God is proclaimed as we gather for a meal of bread and wine and as we gather(ed) for a breakfast served through acts of love and kindness. For the Word of God is ACTIVE and needs to not only be heard but also to be lived out by you and me. For we are Christ’s broken body. We are Christ’s hands and feet and we are called to live out Christ in words and acts of love.
Sometimes we will fail. Sometimes we will try to look like we have it all together. Sometimes I would like to pretend that I have it all together. But I don’t – and neither do you.
But the good news is that even when we think we have made a mess of it all, Jesus says, “You are forgiven – and free by God’s grace.” That’s the Good News. Christ comes again to forgive us, heal us and set us free. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
October 30, 2016