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Edward F. Markquart


Reformation Sunday     John 8:31-36

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 goal.

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.

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 not free.

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 Eastern Africa.

Another example. 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 spiritual fiber.

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.

I 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.

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