October 31, 2010
John 8. 31-36
A Lutheran/ Well, Mr./Ms. Skeptic, This certainly was the best time for you to accept my offer to worship with us. On Reformation Day!
A Skeptic/ (With hesitation) I’m … not … sure I know what you mean by that. What’s any different about today than any other Sunday?
A Lutheran/ Well, today is Reformation Day when we celebrate a reform movement ignited by a man named Martin Luther. He was inspired by God to initiate rippling changes in the Church of the Middle Ages that still effect us today! This morning we thank God for Martin Luther, his unique perspective on the faith of the individual Believer, and, where the Church got in the way of a person living out such faith, his courage in forcefully challenging the Church to change!
A Skeptic/ You mean you brought me here for a history lesson?! Boring!!!
A Lutheran/ NO! NO! Not a history lesson! An experience!
A Skeptic/ An experience of what?
A Lutheran/ An experience of Christians who are free to express their faith through worship and praise of God as well as through many ways of learning and digesting God’s Word.
A Skeptic/ Sooooo, what else is new?
A Lutheran/ People are not always free to express their true hearts in worship. Throughout history things have gotten in the way.
A Skeptic/ What things?
A Lutheran/ Well, for instance, in the Middle Ages the Church got in the way.
A Skeptic/ How?
A Lutheran/ By setting up all kinds of rules and rituals that people were told they had to observe in order to have any chance for salvation. There were prayer rituals and rules about offerings, worship services held in a different language so that the people could not understand what was going on. Religious leaders discovered that they could get rich by keeping the people from learning about God and instead, totally dependent on the Church and its leaders.
A Skeptic/ So what else is new?
A Lutheran/ Really, the Church was publicly restricting just about every aspect of the believer’s life. The only way you could know God was through participating in the Church’s rigidly controlled means of knowing God. And the God that the Church was revealing was a mean-spirited, unjust, angry God.
A Skeptic/ Okay! Now you’re beginning to grab my interest. Go on!
A Lutheran/ First, let’s listen to a reading from the prophet Jeremiah.
A Skeptic/ What’s Jeremiah got to do with it?!
A Lutheran/ Just hush for a minute and listen with both ears!
A Skeptic/ Sure… (fading off)
[Reader reads Jeremiah 31.31-34]
A Skeptic/ So, a bunch of boring words by a dead prophet about something God said regarding a dead people. What in the World does this have to do with the Reformation and this worship service this morning?!
A Lutheran/ Ah! The prophet who said the words may be dead and the People the words were originally spoken about may be dead, but the God who spoke the words then, in those particular times, is speaking them to us again today!
A Skeptic/ Hunh??? (Very puzzled???)
A Lutheran/ We believe that God is a LIVING GOD who not only spoke his Word in the past, but also continues to speak his Word to us today, tomorrow and the next day! When we hear these words read this morning it is like God speaking them again for the first time ……. TO US!
A Skeptic/ (Stares at “A Lutheran”speechless!)
A Lutheran/ I take your silence as indicating I should go on.
A Skeptic/ Please.
A Lutheran/ Note what God is saying here.
“I will put my law within them,
and I will write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
A Lutheran/ Do you get the difference between what God is saying here and what the Church has been doing throughout the ages, even today.
A Skeptic/ Well, God is saying that he wants immediate access to people’s hearts. I assume he doesn’t mean that he is going to literally do an “etch-a-sketch” on the human heart. (Holds hand over heart as if in pain.)
A Lutheran/ (Chuckling.) Oh no, not that. But you are exactly right. God’s plan for us is to have an immediate, intimate relationship to each individual believer. Nothing should stand in the way of this. Not friends, family, Priest, or the Church!
A Skeptic/ Now I’m getting this. What’s next?
A Lutheran/ [Turns and gestures to congregation] Let’s all read Psalm 46 responsively.
A Skeptic/ Why couldn’t the Psalmist just have said,
“God is great
God is good
now we thank him…”
A Lutheran/ [Abruptly interrupts!] Now don’t be silly. These words come from deep within the heart of the psalm writer. But you are right in understanding that these words praise God who is great. So great, that he rules over earth and heaven. So great, that even in the height of his power he is at the same time in the midst of us.
A Skeptic/ [In a loud exuberant voice!] YEAH! He’s right in our midst protecting us “good guys” and scaring the heck out of those “bad guys!”
A Lutheran/ Now you are getting silly again! God is in our midst. You are right about that. But he is in the midst of the whole world defending his whole creation from all cosmic and earthly dangers.
A Skeptic/ And quite often defending us against ourselves! Our foolish thoughts and actions!
A Lutheran/ EXACTLY! Just as God, through Jeremiah, is declaring his intention to have an immediate, intimate relationship with each or our hearts, so God, through the Psalmist is revealing himself to be the Almighty God of the whole universe …
A Skeptic/ [Enthusiastically interrupts!] And the loving God of our hearts!
A Lutheran/ ABSOLUTELY! “The Lord of the [cosmos] is with us;…
A Skeptic/ the God of our ancestors is our refuge.”
A Lutheran/ Our next reading is from Romans and will describe the wonderful benefits of God’s immediate presence with us.
Read Romans 8. 19-28
A Skeptic/ Interesting. Nowhere in any of these readings today has there been mention of the Church controlling how believers and God are to meet or communicate.
A Lutheran/ Good point! The God who spoke directly to our ancestors is speaking the same Word to us right now.
A Skeptic/ And that Word is…
A Lutheran/ The Word is that we, each and every one of us, are sinners. Because we are all sinners, we are absolutely unable to please God through our own personal words and actions.
A Skeptic/ [Enthusiastic as if on to something!] So God brings his grace into our midst, forgiving our sins and restoring the chasm that our sin creates between us and God.
A Lutheran/ I have never heard it spoken better!
A Skeptic/ [Looking proud of her/himself.]
A Lutheran/ Now don’t go getting too haughty about this. That too, can lead to sin.
A Skeptic/ But God will give me a good dose of that grace of his and I’ll be forgiven. [Smiling.]
A Lutheran/ [Looking at Skeptic a bit sternly.] But grace is not to be taken for granted! We are to live in God’s grace with a deep appreciation for what it has cost God.
A Skeptic/ [Puzzled.] Oh???
A Lutheran/ Listen to one more Bible story, this one from John 8.31-38.
Read John 8.31-38
A Lutheran/ Even our ancestors took God for granted. They assumed that just by following the traditions of Abraham, the one to whom God first promised his saving love, that they were good with God.
A Skeptic/ You mean they thought because they followed all those rituals, rules, bloody sacrifices and a host of other nitty-gritty details that they had earned God’s pleasure?
A Lutheran/ Right. And these were the kinds of things the Church and its leaders clung on to up until the time Martin Luther and his fellow reformers condemned practices of the Church that got in the way of the believer’s direct and Intimate relationship with God.
A Skeptic/ But doesn’t the Church still do that today?
A Lutheran/ In some ways we probably still do. The visible Church is human you know, and we still cling to our human insecurities.
A Skeptic/ Yes, we do! Why don’t we just get rid of all our liturgies and Councils and committees and constitutions, all that detail stuff?!
A Lutheran/ [Chuckling.] Well, that certainly would appear to make us free. But really, being human don’t you think that abandoning all of those things would result more in chaos and confusion among believers than it would foster true closeness with God.
A Skeptic/ I guess… [Thoughtfully fading off.]
A Lutheran/ As the Apostle Paul wrote, “We are all in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” So yes, we as the Church will always do things that in some ways inhibit our intimate relationship with God. Just as do individual believers.
A Skeptic/ So, is it enough just to know the “TRUTH that will make you free?”
A Lutheran/ To know it, to preach and teach it over and over again, and, to strive for it in all that we do as a Church and as individual believers.
A Skeptic/ Yes, to know this “TRUTH” that God writes on our hearts …
A Lutheran/ …The God who is “present in the midst of us” wants us to know deeply and thoroughly that we are his children destined to live in his GRACE completely and thoroughly…
A Skeptic/ …This is the Word of “TRUTH” that “SETS US FREE!”
A Lutheran/ “So, if the Son makes you free…
A Skeptic and A Lutheran/ [Together, boldly!] YOU WILL BE FREE, INDEED!!!
© 2010 thomas m. lang