I’m sure many of us were glued to our TV screens last Sunday and scouring the news to see the list of freedoms that we were granted as we slowly began our relief from stage 4 lockdown. For many it was the freedom they were looking for – but for others it still seems as if they are locked down and have to wait a little bit longer. Freedom.
That has been the focus in all this time of pandemic. When do we get our freedoms back? Freedom is important and it was for freedom that Luther fought extremely hard to bring about the Reformation because he had seen that we had lost our freedom as children of God and sadly it was his own church that was responsible. Luther brought about a reformation in his church because he believed that the church had failed in the message that Christ had sent them to proclaim.
If we think back to Easter when Jesus came to the frightened disciples locked away in fear of their lives – he proclaimed firstly their freedom – peace be with you. They had been in lockdown – in fear. Once freed from their lockdown in fear, Jesus sent them to proclaim freedom to everyone – if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them. Or as Jesus said on other occasions – whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.
Freedom – that’s the Reformation message today and it comes through loud and clear in our bible readings today: Jesus, similar to Luther, had found that the religious leaders of his time had also strayed from the pure teaching of the Gospel. He says to them: If you hold to MY teaching you are really my disciples – you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Freedom is at the heart of the Gospel. Freedom is what we lose when we stray from the Gospel. And when we stray we begin to find ourselves trapped in our sin and guilt. St Paul says we are slaves to sin. And that’s what Jesus came to set us free from as he reminds us in John 3:17 – For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. To free the world through him. And likewise St Paul in our 2nd reading today focuses us on freedom from sin. He says that we are justified freely by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And what Paul highlights is that we keep slipping away from our freedom because sin has a unique way of recapturing us. And it does this by convincing us that the way out of imprisonment to sin is by doing good works. It sounds logical. We do something bad so to offset it we do something good. But that’s the spiral that Luther sunk into.
Luther struggled with sin and guilt. So he did more and more to try and undo the mess he was in. But the more good he tried to do – the more he became aware of just how bad he was. And instead of finding freedom from his sin and guilt by doing good – he just found more and more sin and guilt to the point where he even stated that he hated God because God was a tyrant – a dictator. A tyrant who wanted more and more from him and drove him to breaking point where Luther finally discovered that it wasn’t about trying to please God but receiving his grace and mercy through forgiveness. And that’s why Jesus when he sent his disciples into the world instructed them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins – not obedience to the law. Repentance and forgiveness free us while obedience keeps us trapped and locked away in fear.
That’s why Luther, when he was driven to breaking point at his guilt and sin that was weighing him down cried out “I AM BAPTISED”.
Many times Jesus points out that God is not a tyrant: In Matthew 7 he says: Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Or the woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t bring her comfort by saying she had done nothing wrong but proclaimed her forgiven.
And that’s why King David when writing Psalm 32 says: Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them. He doesn’t say blessed are they who do no wrong. He doesn’t say blessed are they who keep God’s law. No. Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven.
God’s relationship with us is about freedom – freedom from guilt and sin. And it is the truth of the Gospel that does that – and the truth sets you free. Jesus says – come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your souls.
But it’s not just sin and guilt that enslave us for which the Gospel brings freedom. The Gospel can also bring comfort from our earthly anxieties as we discover a God who loves and cares for us. There is so much anxiousness in our world created by Covid19 especially amongst those who don’t know God in their life. Even though we take great precautions with sanitising, cleaning, wearing masks, social distancing – there is still a level of anxiety that this pandemic has caused.
A lot of that anxiety can come because of our fear for the future.
Worrying about the future is not new – in fact it goes right back to the beginning of time. Adam and Eve had everything they needed. They had not a care in the world as God provided for their every need. But the devil got into their ear and caused them to worry about the future. He tempted them to eat the forbidden fruit after which their eyes would be open and they would be like God. They would be in control. And isn’t that what causes us to be anxious – when we are not in control of our future. Jesus knew all too well that worrying about the future was part of the human condition because we like to be in control of our destiny. In Matthew chapter 6, verse 34 he says: do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Martin Luther was worried about his future. But not his earthly future but his eternal future. He was worried about what would happen to him after he died and whether he would go to heaven. And it made him very afraid – which is what not knowing the future does to us – whether it’s our future on earth or in the afterlife. Luther wanted to be sure about his eternal future so he worked harder and harder to please God. He deprived himself of any luxuries. He did so much just so he could be sure about his future. And then he discovered that he didn’t need to worry about his future because God has taken care of that through Jesus.
God’s love for us is shown through Jesus’ death for us and his death assures us of our eternal future in heaven and that’s what Luther was not hearing from his church. No one knows what our earthly future holds. And it doesn’t matter how successful you are – how much money you have – how popular you are. Our lives can change in an instant. No one knew that this year was going to turn out the way it did. No one was prepared for it. And that’s why Jesus said – don’t worry about tomorrow. Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be taken care of by God.
I know that God is in control of what’s happening even if it doesn’t look like it. Our church doors are still closed but I still believe God has a purpose in all this. God made a very special promise to us in Jesus. As Jesus was about to ascend into heaven after defeating death by rising on Easter Sunday he said to his disciples – and to us – I am with you always until the end of time. A promise that comes to us in our Baptism.
So if you are anxious about the future – just remember that Jesus already knows your future and he has taken care of the most important part of your future- your eternal life in Heaven. So do not worry about tomorrow but let Jesus, who is the beginning and the end – the same yesterday, today and forever – let him take care of all your concerns as you put your faith and trust in him.