John 8:31-36 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.”

I went to get my eyes examined. The exam chair with its big apparatus has always intrigued me as something from another world. But I didn’t say this as I sat in the chair, chin on the chinrest and forehead pressed into the machine, looking into the lenses. Angie, the technician said, what’s better, “one or two”? Then she moved some dials, click, click and gave me another set of choices, “one or two?” “One.” I said. Click, click… again and again Angie asked “one or two?” I tried my best to answer.  Finally Angie seemed satisfied that she had dialed in the perfect lens for me.

A week later, I was back. With some gentle yet firm coaching on Angie’s part, I was able to stick a little piece of plastic in my eye – and I could read without glasses.  I thought it was a miracle!

For those of you who have dealt with glasses and contacts for years, I’m sure this seems like old hat to you, but I was truly amazed at my restored vision.

Anniversaries are an opportunity to look back – and to see what God has done in our world and in our lives. Today marks the 501st Anniversary of the Reformation. While the Reformation began as a church debate – Martin Luther and friends seeking reform of the church---it became a fight that ended up dividing the church. But…500 plus one years later, it’s wonderful to see Lutherans and Catholics joined together to celebrate our common heritage and the transforming faith that we share. Bishop Ann Svennungsen and the local Catholic Archbishop Hebda traveled to Rome together with a joint choir singing a newly commissioned work: So That the World May Believe – a Motet for Unity and Service.  Ordinary people figured this out long ago. Now, finally, official church bodies are starting to see it.

Anniversaries offer the opportunity to look back to see what God has done. Many thanks again to ALL of you who made Faith-Lilac Way’s 75th Anniversary Saturday and Sunday celebrations a chance to witness to the power of God in this place and to see the many people whose lives have been transformed by faith.

This summer, I travelled to England for an Anniversary of my own and stopped – maybe not surprisingly -- in a number of churches along the way.  One delightful little cobblestone town, by the name of Rye, had a beautiful big old stone church. As we looked around, I noticed an anniversary banner. Interested to see what it would say – who knows maybe something we could glean for our anniversary –so I went closer. But unlike the bright and shiny new Anniversary banner that we have hanging in the narthex, this banner looked kind of worn.  It clearly had been hanging there for some time. I looked closer to read the words: Celebrating 900 years!

900 years and counting. We aren’t even close to done yet. So… no resting on your laurels!

That’s what I think Jesus was saying to the Judeans – Jewish people like him – who believed in him and were following him. Jesus tells them to “continue,” which means abide, remain, keep on,  in His Word and then… you WILL know the truth… and the truth WILL set you free.

I think it was Jesus’ invitation – and speaking in future tense -- that ticked off the Judeans. Looking back on their heritage, they responded… “What do you mean? WILL know the truth? WILL BE free? We already are!”

The writer of the Gospel of John recounts the story with some heavy irony. The Judeans say: “We have never been slaves!”  Jesus could have reminded them of their ancestors being slaves in Egypt… and in the exile in Babylon… and… the Roman soldiers who were, at that very time standing guard at the gates. But instead he says, “whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.”

What is Jesus talking about? What does sin have to do with their freedom? The Judeans just don’t see it.

Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us a window into understanding this. However, Paul’s letters are not the easiest to read. He doesn’t speak in short, clear sentences. And, he uses terms that don’t immediately translate into our time and culture. First, “sin” is not just the things that we do – or don’t do – but anything that separates us from the way of God.  And, especially in New Testament times, “The Law” doesn’t just refer to rules about how fast you can drive your car, who has to pay taxes, or who goes to jail.” The “law” refers both to the 613 commandments that are a part of the Old Testament and to the natural law of the rhythms of creation.

So, when our lives are measured against this standard, no one gets a perfect score – no matter what your heritage or how many anniversaries your group has celebrated. We all sin. But, as Dr Lose writes, “Sin” here, isn’t so much accusation but description. We are flawed, far from God, simultaneously beautiful as well as broken, courageous and confused, capable of great good and so often perpetrators of great harm.1  

Not one of us is perfect. No one of us is free from sin.  But… we have been given a promise and a gift. And the wonderful news is that, as Paul writes, “there is no distinction.”  Jesus Christ died for all who believe. There isn’t an asterisk that says… except for those with blue eyes... or except for those who were born in Wisconsin… except for those who aren’t perfect.  NO. Paul writes, “there is no distinctions since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God they (WE!) are now justified – that is made right with God---by God’s grace as a gift through Jesus Christ.  

What a wonderful gift!  God’s gift of grace is given for You ALL … And YOU ALL….And YOU all…. And YOU all.  I’m not just speaking Southern here. The You Jesus is addressing is plural – all of you. And…this is the gift of Freedom that Jesus was talking about…. So let us CONTINUE in Jesus Word and in Jesus’ way of love and grace.  Because Jesus makes NO DISTINCTIONS – Jew or Greek/ Wisconsinite or Minnesotan / Mexican or Morrocan / Black or White or Brown or any other color of skin or eyes / Male or Female/ Queer or Straight/ Republicans, Democrats or Independents, Jesus doesn’t divide us up in any of the ways that we do –the Son of God has set you all free.

Angie sent me home with a trial set of contacts. I was beyond excited. But that night… I couldn’t get it out!  I tried and tried. No luck. This was frustrating! My eyes started to tear up. I tried one more time. Out it came easily. I realized: I simply needed practice.

That’s what we need as Christians too. Practice. Jesus invites us to Continue in his Word and share the Grace of God’s love with others Without distinction. It isn’t in our DNA to do so. It is so much easier to care for people who look like us, have the same heritage as us – who cheer for your team – whether it’s the Vikings, Packers or Bears or… whoever.  The point is, seeing and welcoming the neighbor takes practice. But with the Holy Spirit to open our eyes – we are FREE to love and serve our neighbor as Christ loves us. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

1. David Lose: In the Meantime