From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

This Sunday:Reformation Sunday

This coming Sunday is Reformation Sunday at St. Paul’s, a remembrance of the Protestant Reformation of 1517. We’ve been leading up to this Sunday for the past four weeks when we focused on four “sola’s” of the Reformation: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone, Christ Alone.

One of the interesting challenges for me in preaching this series has been to focus on what Jesus taught. Did Jesus teach we are saved by grace alone? Through faith alone? In Scripture alone? That he alone is the sole mediator between man and God? It’s easy to use Paul’s letters for this, but going directly to Jesus has been more interesting, at least for me if not for my hearers!

For this Sunday I’m again turning to the gospels to see what Jesus taught about reformation. It gets a lot easier if you think of repentance rather than reformation because Jesus spoke quite a bit about that. So the text for this Sunday’s Reformation sermon is John 8:31-36; here it is in the ESV:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

What first struck me as I studied this text was that Jesus’ hearers here are some Jews “who had believed in him.” Yet when you read through to verse 44 you read that Jesus calls them children of the devil! What’s going on here – some of those who believed in him were children of the devil?

As I studied and pondered further, I saw something else. Immediately before this text, in verses 12-30, Jesus has been teaching about himself, who He is. And some who heard believed in Him. But now in the text for this Sunday, Jesus implicitly changes the subject, from who He to who his listeners are. He promises that the truth (“I am the way, the truth and the life”) will set His hearers free. And that’s what chafes them – wait a minute Jesus, we’re children of Abraham. We’ve never been enslaved. Whattya mean saying “you will become free”?

They see themselves as the free children of Abraham; Jesus sees them as the enslaved children of the devil. They agree with Jesus as to who He is; they disagree vehemently as to who they are. Read the rest of chapter 8 to see how the conversation plays out.

So what does this have to do with Reformation Sunday? Simple: people, including church people, including Bible believing, washed in the blood people, need to repent, to be reformed. I don’t mean as in Reformed faith, but that would be good too! :-). Of course it’s easy to see how flagrant sinners need repentance. But what about us good people? Luther, bless his heart, pointed out that we good people especially need to repent – of our goodness!

This Sunday I’ll talk a bit about what that means and how that happens. In the meantime, remember what the Reformers said: Semper reformanda, always being reformed. And what do you know, of all 95 of Luther’s theses, the very first one is this:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Happy Reformation Day Marty and Cal! Happy Reformation Day to us all!

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