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Interim Pastor, Timothy Swanson

"The Truth Will Make You Free"

John 8:32


This month is Reformation Sunday of which John 8:32 is a key phrase within the Gospel reading. We read this within the context of our American culture as the home of "free" and therefore to preserve the freedom of all. Yet, as Christians, it is Truth that makes us free. Christ is Truth. It is Christ who alone truly makes us free.

The founding fathers lifted up freedom meaning liberty and justice and the pursuit of happiness to set our nation apart from tyranny, that is, suppression. The pursuit of happiness meant that everyone has the opportunity to pursue a career and a life in freedom from bondage. This was the aim of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Yet the founding fathers knew it needed a religious base to keep freedom from lapsing into a "do what you want" understanding; that is, we still have a moral responsibility that checks greed, avarice etc. With the separation of church and state, every religion is to have equal footing. The state is to stay out of running the church affairs not the church to stay out of political affairs that would provide that moral base (Jefferson wanted the separation because the church of England, that is, Anglican was the state religion of Virginia in which the taxes supported that particular church while others had to fend for themselves). So, freedom is seen as giving all respective bodies equal opportunities to practice their religion.

This understanding of freedom, however, becomes a Law. When we speak of the Truth or Christ sets us free, we are referring to the Gospel. The question becomes, "how do we keep the Gospel from becoming another Law?" Christ is not another Law giver. He is Truth. Yet laws put limitations on freedom because freedom cannot be an absolute. We cannot do whatever we want? The Law is to protect freedom but at the same time it can be manipulated by "sinful" intentions. Justice can be reduced to manipulating the law in order to win. The justice we proclaim is lost when the needs of the week, powerless and poor are trampled by those who have power. In this case, freedom and the pursuit of it becomes unjust.

As Lutherans, we confess in the Gospel and we do not reduce it to another Law. The Laws of Moses have become subservient to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Decisions are not made by what the laws say so much as how the Gospel brings us to make decisions. Absolute freedom leads to death to which the law cannot save us. It is a reliance on the Truth, that is, Jesus Christ that sets us free. To be free in this way, our understanding of human beings (selfish intentions) and lifestyles must die in order that God can continue to act in our lives to free us in Christ through the resurrection in order to be a new creation set within this old creation.

In American Protestantism, of which our founding fathers were predominate, the Law was used to improve the human conditions until one could attain to a state of perfection; the puritan reformed goal was growth in holiness and perfection (sanctification) in order to create a kingdom of God here on Earth (A City built on a Hill) which separates being justified by faith from sanctification.

When we separate these two (Justification, being saved and sanctification, do good works) the emphasis fall on human efforts exemplified in being successful. For the puritans, to be successful was to be favored by God. Ultimately, it has the need to be free to be able to pursue happiness. This is a reliance on human good works not the work of God. Once God (justification) is separated from doing good works we lose all moral grounds of human responsibilities ((stewardship) toward God and toward creation. So, we dig and dump and pollute and destroy in the name of progress and success because it is within our rights (freedom) to do so. This is not true freedom but the pathway to death.

Luther did not separate God's actions (justification; being justified in Christ) with our growth in works (sanctification); we are saved by God for good works. In is what God does to us, for us and through us. We must die "in" Christ to rise "with" Christ to be little Christs "in the world" today. This is a daily exercise (Luther's Small Catechism). This is a radical death that leads to resurrection which is God's act of renewal. This is the Truth of the Gospel that makes us free to be people of God. We are free to live fully a life of God in this world. It is the freedom of our actions without thought of whether it is within 'my" own interest to do so that reflects God's works with this world. We are to act first and then reflect on it; not reflect on it and then act. We are free in Christ to act in this fashion because we are justified by Grace alone and not by our works, that, we act in faith that God forgives. It is our freedom in Christ that causes us to act without a "what's in it for me mentality.

It is a Sacramental Life in Christ. It is gift; a gift from God that frees us from death where we "humbly" acknowledge our Life in Christ. It frees us to live under all conditions of this world. We cannot build the kingdom of God in this world too racked by sin nor are we to want to escape from this world but to live a full life in Christ knowing that the Truth of the Gospel has set us free to be people of God both loved and redeemed by him and wanting at the same time to serve God through the good we can offer as thanksgiving. The earth is sacred and we know it should be treated as such as a creation of God; for Luther reminds us in the first article of the creed, "God has created me and all that exists". We and creation belong to God of which we declare Christ as Lord of creation who sets us free to live full and obedient lives within it.

For November: This is a Lutheran understanding of Evangelism and being evangelistic and why we need to make our witness to Christ our ultimate goal and therefore top priority in ministry. We are called to bear witness to the Gospel that alone can set us free

Let us pray that God will grow the body of Christ together.       

Your servant in Christ,   Pastor Tim





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“If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”               Mark 8:34b-35

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