Posted on Oct 29, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Today is Reformation Sunday, and aside from being the day we celebrate the Affirmation of Baptism, or Confirmation as we so often call it, for seven of our young adults, it is also a very special historical moment not just for Lutherans, but I would argue for all Christians, throughout the world. This year, we commemorate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s October 31, 1517 posting of the 95 Theses on door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. As we reflect on not only what it means to affirm our baptisms, we are also challenged this year to think about the 21st Century relevance of notion of reform that Luther and so many other reformers fought for some 500 years ago.
Now, for many of us, when it comes to remembering our own confirmation we are reminded of all of that memorization. If you grew up in the Lutheran tradition, confirmation was about memorizing Luther’s Small Catechism. So, for example, when it came to the Ten Commandments, we not only memorized the commandments but we memorized Luther’s explanation. So the first commandment is “Thou shalt have no other gods.” But then we would go on to say, “What does this mean?”, then we would repeat the answer “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” We did this for all Ten Commandments, for the Creed and for the Lord’s Prayer, right? But the problem with such a practice was that like in Jesus’ day with so many of the faithful, just because we memorized something God had said, or attempted to learn the meaning, if we never took the time to apply it to our lives, then it was, and is, of little value. God gave us His Word, not to be memorized but to be lived. God gave us His Living Word, Jesus Christ, not so that we might know about it, or about Jesus, but so that we might become truly free in this world, and so today, we are challenged to reflect on what makes us free. For the confirmands they are not made free today because they are going through some formal rite. For you and I, we are not made free today because we have memorized the Small Catechism, or Scripture verses, or any other number of church teachings. No, what will truly make us free is coming to know God’s Word in such a way that it becomes a way of living. Theologians call this Orthodoxy, that is believing the right way, verses, Orthopraxy, that is the actual practice of our faith.
You see, we Christians often believe that if we know what to say or think then we have all we need. So, for example, I know the first commandment is “Thou shall have no other gods.” I can honestly say I only pray to one God and that is the God of all creation. But, do I believe that in such a way that it makes me act differently in this world? To be honest, I am not sure I do. The past couple of weeks in adult Sunday School, we have been wrestling with the reality of how we treat our money, and to be honest, most of us treat it as a god. We worship it, we desire it, we seek more and more of it. We often allow it to have such power over us that it controls our lives instead of us controlling it and using it to better not only our lives but the lives of others. In a time in the world when we have more money available to us than any generation before us, the majority of us struggle financially. And yet, God has provided us knowledge and practices to follow when it comes to our money that promise us that it can be a great gift to be used to bring about good, but most of us fail to live into those practices because we treat money as a god. We have a $600,000 budget here at Salem and we cannot meet that budget even with 140 households in our membership. Our facility study is coming to an end and the Dream Team has been provided some incredible concepts to proceed with, but the truth is, we are talking from $1,000,000 for a minimal beginning to what will most likely be over $10,000,000 cost to completely renovate and expand our facility. That’s a lot of money, but the question isn’t really about the facility, it is about what we believe God is calling us to do and be and if that call requires a better facility then I would argue God has provided us all the means we need to make it happen. We each just need to decide if we are willing to live differently with our money. We each will have to decide if we are willing to free ourselves from a god, small “g”, that is controlling us and keeping us from being free and if we are willing to let go of that money in such a way that frees us to be all God has created us to be. In the end, when we say, I will have no other gods, we have to decide for ourselves if this is something we know, or something we actually do.
So, confirmands, let me ask you, do you feel free today? You no longer are required to be here every Wednesday night for confirmation class. You no longer have to write sermon notes. You no longer have to sign up to be an acolyte or crucifer. You are free; well, kind of. You may not have these requirements on you, but truth be told, the world will place many other requirements on you, and today, as you affirm your baptism and the vows to remain faithful, and as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, you and all of us are challenged to discover what it is that really makes us free.
Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31). But, just like our ancestors who heard Jesus say those words, we believe we are already free. We too say things like, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” (John 8:32-33). But, just like our ancestors, we are slaves to this world. We are slaves to financial wealth. We are slaves to electronics, to media, to capitalism, to… , and until we learn to not let the ways of this world dictate our actions, but to let God’s Word determine how we will live, then we cannot be truly free.
Let me give you an example. The sixth commandment says, “Thou shall not kill.” Now there is a commandment I think we can all say we have followed, right? I have never killed anyone. But, have you talked about someone behind their back? Have you made fun of someone because of how they look, or how they speak? Do we value others based on their skin color, their sexual preference, or their economic status. If so, then we have killed and we continue to be slaves to the social norms of this world.
So, do you want to be truly free? Well, you can be, and that gift of freedom has been freely given to us. That gift of freedom is Jesus Christ. Freedom comes in following Jesus and his ways. It comes not only in believing, but also in living differently. The world says that to be free you need power, wealth, and control. But Jesus says to be truly free, give up your power, give away your wealth, and let go of your control and follow him. The truth is, power will destroy you; wealth is a gift from God and is to be used for God’s will, not ours; and control, well, we don’t really have it, for God is in control. When we learn to accept this truth, we will be truly free.
Today I pray that all of us might reflect not only on Jesus’ call for our lives, but on Luther’s challenge to the world to change and what that might look like today. Legend tells us that Luther started all of this at the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. A church door that represented freedom! This door we have up here holds the dreams of a few of us who posted our dreams for change. I pray that each of you comes to know that your real freedom comes through that doorway that leads to Christ and from nothing else. Real freedom comes by living as Christ calls us to live. Amen.