The text for today
is divided into four phrases: If
you continue in my word…you are truly my disciples…the truth
will make you free…and you will be free indeed.
Like you, I have
memories of favorite songs about freedom. Those songs are deeply
imbedded in my psyche and emotional reservoir. I remember one song
that was composed in 1964 for the Disney flick entitled, BORN FREE.
That Disney movie was about two lion clubs and was very forgettable,
but the theme song for that movie became immensely famous and a
favorite even today for karaoke singers. That song became so famous
that it became the national song for one nation in Africa. The
pianist, Roger Williams, made it a song for the whole world. It is
the song, “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the
grass grows, born free to follow your heart. Live free.”
And that is what
the Reformation was all about and is all about today. Live free. God
has designed human beings so that we want to be free and to live
free. Spiritually free so that we are no longer afraid of death and
a vengeful God but free to die and live with God for all eternity.
Emotionally free so that we are no longer hung up on our childish
selfishness but free from personal hang-ups to truly love others.
Economically free so that we are no longer worried about paying for
food, water and heat but free to have access to the necessities of
food, water and shelter. Politically free so that no political or
cultural system is treating us like a slave but we have freedom of
speech, press, and religion. As the song says, we want to live free,
to be free.
Another song about
freedom is a Bible camp song. The high school kids have developed
motions for the song, and the song goes like this:
“It’s a long, road to freedom a winding steep and high
and when you walk in love with the wind on your minds, you cover the
earth with the songs you sing, the miles fly by.” We all know that
the road to free is a long, long road, and that road winds steep and
high. We know that freedom is way up there in front of us like a
symbol or beacon that pulls us upward and forward. Spiritual
freedom. Emotional freedom. Economic freedom. Political freedom.
Freedom is out there above us and beacons us forward to reach its
Another song about
freedom is the freedom song from the 1960s, “We shall over
come.” The last verse is about freedom: “We shall all be free.
We shall all be free. We shall all be free, someday. O deep in my
heart, I do believe. We shall all be free someday.” In that song,
deep in our hearts, is that dream of freedom for all people, that we
all shall all be free someday. Not merely freedom just for me and
mine but for all of us here on this earth. And the dream is not for
freedom in the afterlife but freedom for in this life, on this
planet, on this earth. Spiritually free. Emotionally free.
Economically free. Politically free. There is this dream of freedom
for everyone on this earth, deep in my human heart.
The song about
freedom that I love the most is from my youth. As a young man in
high school, I barely made the high school choir. In that choir, I
learned a song, “God’s Son Has Made Me Free.” The words, as I
recall, went like this: “God’s Son has made me free, from sin
and tyranny, from bonds of death and fear of sin, God’s Son has
made me free.” Then there was a pause and the choir sang,
“God’s Son has made me free.” Then we crescendoed and went up
a third. “God’s Son has made me free.” Another crescendo and
up a third. “God’s Son has made me free.” Then the choir
bellowed out: “Yes free. Yes free. Yes free.” And then the choir
reared back on its heels, sucked in a deep collective breath, and
sang with all of its power, ringing the words and notes in the air,
“God’s Son has made me free.” In that moment, the goose bumps
on my skin were bumping. My toes were tingling. My heart was
pounding. And in that moment, I believed that God’s Son had set me
Free. Freedom. We
all want it. For everyone.
And Martin Luther
did not have it. Martin Luther did not know the smell of freedom.
The taste of freedom. The feel of freedom. Martin Luther was not a
free man. In spite of the fact that Martin Luther would become the
father of Protestantism with its 565 million members. In spite of
the fact that Luther would become the bridge between the old way of
thinking of the Middle Ages to the new ways of thinking in the
Reformation and the Renaissance. In spite of the fact that Time
Magazine would determine that Luther was the third most influential
person of the second thousand years of Western history. In spite of
all of these grandiose claims about Luther; as a young man, he was
Martin Luther was a
slave to his childhood, a slave to the thought patterns of the
Middle Ages and a slave to the religious practices of the Roman
Catholic Church at that time. Luther was a slave to his childhood in
which his father beat him so severely with a rod that his fanny
would bleed. This was common for Germanic fathers to do this to
their children at that time in history. Fathers would beat their
children severely for any infraction, disobedience, or mistake.
Luther thought that God, his heavenly father, was like his earthly
father. God, his heavenly father would punish him severely for any
infraction, disobedience or mistake. Luther was also a slave to the
thought patterns of the Middle Ages which ruled the world for a
thousand years. Luther thought that the world was flat, that the sun
revolved around the earth, and that the trees and woods were filled
with goblins, witches, demons, and trolls. Luther was also a slave
to the Roman Catholic Church, his mother church. Luther was to say
his prayer beads, venerate statues of the saints, and make
pilgrimages to Rome in order to earn forgiveness and salvation. The
Roman Catholic Church was trying to sell pieces of paper which would
free grandma and grandpa from the fires of hell. From the money
earned from selling of these pieces of paper, St. Peter’s Basilica
in Rome was being built. Because of all of this, his parenting, the
thought patterns of the Middle Ages, the religious practices of the
Roman Catholic Church, Luther was not a free man.
As a footnote, I
would hope that you would attend the new movie by the name of LUTHER
that was recently released to 300 theaters here in the United
States. The movie, LUTHER, could be helpful for you to begin to
understand the Luther story. The two stars of the film are will know
actors: Joseph Fiennes
and Peter Ustinof. There are great costumes, great cinematography
and great settings. The movie, LUTHER, is part of a current genre of
films currently being made about great religious personalities such
as Mel Gibson’s PASSION which is in twelve segments for ABC. We
think of other epic films like GHANDI, ELIZABETH, and SIR LAWRENCE
OF ARABIC, and in none of these films, does the main character of
the film ever match the truly great features of the actual
historical figure. Similarly, with the film, LUTHER. The film,
LUTHER, does not match the greatness of the man. A viewer is
disappointed in the film, simply because of that. I know I was. In
the reviews of this film on the web, there is a site by the name of
Rotten Apples and it gave Luther about a five. Right in the middle.
I agreed. Even so, I hope you would take time to see this epic at
one of your local theaters.
To continue. Luther
was not a free man. He was a slave to the punitive patterns of his
father from childhood, a slave to the thought patterns of the Middle
Ages, a slave to the religious practices of his mother church, the
Roman Catholic Church. Then, his transformation, his reformation,
his change slowly began. It occurred when he was a professor of New
Testament in a small German village by the name of Wittenberg. He
was in a tower there, in his study, and he was deeply studying the
Bible. It was in his in-depth reading of the New Testament that
changes began. In his reading of the New Testament, Luther
discovered that God was not punitive like his earthly father but was
merciful and kind. Luther discovered that God’s was more powerful
than the demons and devils that surrounded him and live within him.
Luther discovered that God’s love and mercy for him was entirely
free, that he didn’t need to earn or buy God’s forgiveness. As
Luther saturated himself in the Word, he discovered freedom and he
became one of the most significant people to walk across the human
stage. Luther became free to be the kind of human being that God
intended him to be.
What is freedom
anyway? Free to do your own thing, eat at McDonalds, vote on
election day? What is freedom?
Freedom is to
become the kind of human being that God wants you to be. Let me give
you two examples. Would you come with me to the Woodland Park Zoo up
in Seattle? Would you come and visit the giraffes? Would you imagine
a giraffe almost bumping its head on the ceiling of its cage? Would
you imagine a giraffe out in the field in the zoo, where you can see
no fences but you know fences are there hidden behind the trees?
Now, is this giraffe free? No. Why not? We know that the giraffe is
not to be domesticated but is to be out roaming on the broad
expenses of the Serengeti Plains in Africa. Cows may be intended to
be domesticated and live within fences but not giraffes. It is their
God given intention that a giraffe is to be roaming on the plains of
Think of a guitar string such as used during the children’s sermon
today. When the E string from the guitar was hanging there freely,
was it free? No. It seemed free but it wasn’t. But when the E
string was attached to the guitar at two ends, the E string was then
tightened down and it became taught and it would “sing” the E
note. That was God’s intention for the E string, to sing an E.
Similarly, when we human beings are bound in love to our God and our
neighbor, we are free. That is our God given intention, to be bound
in love to God and neighbor. Freedom is not doing your own thing
like a free dangling E string, free with no attachments, free but
not bound to others. No. It is the binding of our lives to God and
neighbor that our lives begin to sing. Freedom is being the person
that God intended you to be.
I would now like to
do a brief Bible study of John 8:31 which has four parts: If you
continue in my word…you will truly be my disciples…the truth
will make you free … and you will be free indeed.
If you continue in
my Word. At the heart of being a disciple of Jesus, is to continue
to live in the Bible. That is where Martin Luther began to find his
freedom: in his immersion in the Bible. Other famous people from
history have discovered the importance of the Bible to their lives.
Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, said that the Bible was the
best gift that God ever gave to the human race. John Quincy Adams,
one of our earliest presidents, said that he read the Bible through
once a year, every year. Theodore Roosevelt said that the knowledge
of the Bible was worth more than a college education. Goethe, the
famous German philosopher, said that the beauty of the Bible grew in
proportion to our understanding of it. But I like best the quotation
by Charles Spurgeon, a famous preacher of the last century, when he
said that he outgrew the clothes that he wore as a ten year old but
that he never outgrew the Bible. I personally have found that to be
true. That is, I am sixty-three years old and as I study the Bible
today, I have never learned so much from it. My suspicion is that
some of you may have the feeling that you have outgrown the need to
immerse yourself in the study and reading of the Bible. … Today,
there are many places that we immerse ourselves in the hearing of
God’s Word. The sermons that we hear we want to be based and
directed by a specific Bible passage or passages. We study the Word
of God in classes that we take. We read the Word of God devotionally
in the morning or at night. As Christians, we are in the regular
habit of daily eating and consuming the Word of God into our inner
You are truly my
disciples. Jesus says that to be his disciples, we continue to live
in his word. The word, disciple, means pupil. We are pupils of
Jesus. In confirmation, we discuss that a good pupil or student is.
We talk about the three Ls of a good student: listens, learns
and lives out. A good student listens carefully to the teacher. We
all know when we listen carefully such as a visit to the doctor’s
office to hear about our prostate, our lungs, our breasts, our
heart, the beat of an infant’s heart. Sometimes, when we visit a
doctor’s office, we bring “another set of ears” with us (our
spouse or friend) so we can hear even more clearly. So it is with
the Word of God. We listen carefully to Jesus, who is the Mind and
Heart and Soul of God for us. The second L stands for learns. A good
pupil first listens carefully to the teacher and then learns what
the teacher has said. The way a person best learns what the teacher
says is to actually do it and in the doing it, the student learns.
For example, if I am learning a process for the computer, I listen
carefully to what my teacher is saying, I learn it enough to try it
on my computer, and then I try that procedure over and over again on
the computer, practicing what I have been taught. It is in the
practicing that I actually learn what I was supposed to learn.
Similarly, with Jesus, it is in the practicing that I actually learn
what Jesus meant. Jesus taught to forgive the people around us, not
merely seven times, but seventy times seven or infinitely. As I
start practicing the forgiveness of Jesus in my daily life is when I
finally learn what Jesus was talking about. Jesus said, “Whoever
lives and believes in me will never die but live forever.” When I
begin to practice that teaching in my daily life is when I begin to
understand what Jesus was saying. Jesus said, “If you continue in
my word, you are TRULY my disciples.” In other words, there are
people who claim to be Jesus’ disciples but are not because they
do not continue to immerse themselves in his Word.
You will know the
truth. When you immerse yourself in the Word, you will know the
truth about many crucial values in life. You will know the truth
about death, that you are not to fear it, that death is not the last
word. You will know the truth about forgiveness, that the
forgiveness of Christ is as essential as bread and water, sunshine
and rain, for life in its fullness to exist. You will know the truth
about suffering, that suffering can build character. You will know
the truth about loving God and your neighbor, and that your neighbor
is all people on this planet. You will know the truth about wisdom,
wisdom for loving for spouse, wisdom for loving your children,
wisdom for daily life. You will know the truth about Christ, that
Christ is the Heart and Mind and Spirit of God, God in human form,
God’s own Son.
The truth will make
you free. When you know Christ, you will know what it means to be
free…even when you are politically enslaved, even when you are
broken and can’t pay for the next meal, even when you are hung up
on your own selfishness, even when you are afraid of God and dying.
Even when you are fully human and bound by sin, you will find
freedom in Christ.
This morning, you
want to be free. You want to taste the flavors of freedom, smell the
aromas of freedom, touch the feelings of freedom. Because God made
you in his image, you want to be free.
like that song, BORN FREE, as free as the wind blows, as free as the
grass grows, free to follow your heart. Live free. Yes, we all want
to live free. Amen.