Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’” When I read this verse of today’s Gospel, I was a little confused. The people speaking are Israelites - children of Abraham - but they seem to have forgotten their people have, in fact, been slaves. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt for over 400 years!
Just as the people talking to Jesus want to deny their history of slavery, we also deny our bondage to sin, don’t we? We refuse to accept that anything can have so much control over us. Freedom is such an important concept in American culture. We take pride in our heritage of revolution against England, and we celebrate that freedom every July 4th with parades and fireworks. We revel in our freedom to choose our country’s leaders. So, it can be hard for us freedom-loving Americans to admit that we could be in bondage to anyone, or anything.
A young monk named Martin Luther, in 1517, struggled with the same question. Searching the Scriptures, the answer came loud and clear in Paul’s letter to the Romans. “…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift.” We can’t. God can. It’s a gift! We don’t have to do anything to be okay with God. God loves us exactly as we are, right here, right now. It starts with God. We hear, “The truth will make you free.” Jesus’s words can make us uncomfortable. He says, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” This slavery Jesus talks about… Jesus wants us to know the truth that will set us free. What is that truth? Jesus’s answer is simple, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus, himself, is the truth that will set us free. It is through Jesus’s life, death, and Resurrection that we are set free from sin.
Jesus also said, “This bread is my body, given for you; and this wine is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of me.” These are words that assure us of forgiveness. Jesus, the Living Word of God, has given us this meal, shared in community. It is Jesus’s words we need to remember. And Jesus’s life, lived for others, calls us to follow Jesus in caring for our neighbors.
Will we still make mistakes. Will we still sin. But we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Jesus. God loves us! That’s it, pure and simple. That truth frees you from being a slave to sin. God loves and cherishes you beyond measure. And that, my friends, is the beginning of freedom. God loves us, exactly as we are, right here and right now. And God loves us too much to allow us to remain as we are. God softens our hearts, and fills us with love through the Holy Spirit.
We grow in freedom. We are given the strength, energy, passion, and energy to live as Jesus would have us live. The way we open our hearts is through spiritual practices: Scripture reading, prayer, meditation, and noticing God’s Sacred Presence with us. Taking time to become still gives God a chance to get to us. We create space to hear God’s direction and guidance. God’s Spirit dwells in each of our hearts, continuing this process of growing in love.
The Holy Spirit sparked the first Reformation in 1517, and continues transforming the church through transforming each one of us. We are the church, not the building. God’s love transforms us in very real, significant ways. We take on God’s characteristics of love, forgiveness, and service. Our decisions and responses become more and more loving. Let go and surrender to love. God loves us into life. We grow to be free to love. Thanks be to God!