WORSHIP October 30 2022 11:00 Traditional Worship Service

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I have a love-hate relationship with Reformation Sunday. We remember a few things: Luther’s posting of the 95 theses; how Luther didn’t really want to split from the catholic church. He was trying to reform abusive practices. There’s surely some good stuff in there. But then again, we have to remember there’s also some anti-semitic writings from Luther which the ELCA has repudiated. We can repudiate all we want, but they’re still there. They still exist. Writings like that still influence people, writings that are racist, writings that are insensitive to people of varying cultures, ethnicities, and religions. They influence people in the world and because the church is made up of people, they influence the church as well. To reform is an ongoing process. As we grow and learn, we reform and change. Case and point – the ECLA’s repudiation of Luther’s anti-semitic writings. That was in 1994.

The Reformation never really ended. It just looks a little different today than it did 500 years ago.

Since the start of the Reformation in 1517, the church has been divided over and over and over again. We’ve built up and torn down. We’ve formed relationships and broken them, both in and outside of the church community. Disagreements, large and small, have led to breaks within our communities because of fear, closed minded-ness, of not wanting to learn or grow or change. Just within Lutheranism alone there are various denominations, and within far too many, I couldn’t even be a pastor because I’m a woman.

We live within a culture of consumerism – where the consumer is always right and that feeds into every which way we function. If it doesn’t agree with me or makes me a little uncomfortable or challenges me in any way, I can just walk away. I don’t have to consume this. I’ll go consume something else. Another book. Another movie. Another podcast. Another newspaper. Another church. One that perhaps doesn’t have a female pastor.

And I’ll tell you what, if it hadn’t been for a few family members, the pastor I had in high school, and a few campus ministry folks that didn’t give up on me along the way, I probably would have given up on the church a long time ago. Found another religion…or not…because I disagreed or I was hurt or not welcomed. I could name off a number of reasons. The things that gave me hope were the people who allowed space for the questions, who didn’t look at me funny when I cried in church, who created room for the healing I didn’t even know I needed. It was that openness from these folx that revealed to me a freedom from all the troubles, all the anger, all the frustrations that burdened me. They knew a freedom found in God’s love, and it showed. Whether they realized it or not, I’m not sure.

Something that came up in two conversations this past week and a half is this congregation’s desire for education – the desire to learn and explore, to ask questions and wonder. Someone said to me that they’ve never been to a church so vocal about faith and social justice. Now, I accepted the call here partially because of that culture – a culture that does not shy away from the tough stuff. Being affirming of the LGBTQ community, having an Authentic Diversity Team and a Community Outreach and Advocacy Committee. Bible studies and Life Groups that help us dig deep. I don’t want to lose any of that. In fact I want to push it, encourage it, grow it, because in our world, filled with culture wars and alternative facts, this is a place where I feel relieved, and where I hope others will find that relief as well.

Maybe relief isn’t quite the word though. Maybe it’s freedom. Not freedom in the very Americanized sense of the word but freedom that releases our minds bound by our cultural biases. Freedom that leads us down a path of love that isn’t afraid of taking steps in a different direction if it serves the purpose of love of neighbor and love of community.

In our gospel passage today, Jesus is speaking to “believers” – people who believed in him. (This also means that there were people around who didn’t believe in him.) Jesus says, “If you live according to my teaching, you really are my disciples; then you’ll know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

And everyone listening is kind of confused because in their immediate context, the concept of freedom is the direct opposite of slavery. And in our context, we have our own vision of what freedom is – freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc.

The “believers” respond by saying they’ve never been slaves to anyone, which is kind of confusing because if Jesus is speaking to his community, that means they are most likely Jewish because Jesus was Jewish, – it means there’s this major part of their genealogical history of being enslaved in Egypt. So, maybe this is a mixed group of people – Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans. There were some folks new to the faith, some folks who had it deep in their blood.

Jesus doesn’t question this though. Instead, he redirects back to his point. We do not have to be bound to sin – to our mistakes, to our wrongs, to the hatred and oppression of the world. We are made free by the love and grace of God. We are free. The truth – the truth that the love of God surpasses anything we might conceive of in this world – that truth makes us free. And let me circle all this back to what Jesus is saying at the beginning of the passage – “If you live according to my teaching…” “Live according to my teaching.” So, this isn’t just about believing in Jesus. This freedom and this doing and this believing – they are all wrapped up together.

Kyle Brooks, a professor of homiletics states, “Active devotion is a process of becoming, of expanding the boundaries of understanding and growing in wisdom, knowledge, and freedom.”

We push for freedom. We desire it. And yet, what is the construct of freedom? If Jesus sets us free, what is its purpose? So we can feel good about ourselves knowing we aren’t judged day and night. I’d say yes, that is one of many answers. But what is the point of knowing we aren’t judged? What is the point of feeling unbound? This experience, this knowledge and reality of freedom – it is the thing that helps us get the really important stuff done – like opening our minds to education, like exploring and asking questions of the world instead of just taking it for what it is. Creating change in our communities through advocacy. It makes room in our hearts and minds so that we can dig deeper without feeling bound to what was. It leads us into community, ready to receive our neighbor with open arms.

In following the ways of Jesus, we learn truth, the truth of God’s love. That love sets us free – free to reform, free to change, free to be.

I ask you then, what is freedom? What does such freedom look like in your world?

-Pastor Emily Ebert

 

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