Gospel: John 8:31-36
31Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
“For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” Romans 8:28
A young, German monk read these words almost 500 years ago. He was 22 when he decided to give up life as a law student and become a monk and he spent most of his life afraid. He was afraid of being killed in a storm, so he swore an oath to become a monk if he would survive. When he following through on his promise, he was afraid he wasn’t “monking” right (sorry, I’m not really sure what the proper verb to be a monk is), so he spent hours in confession, spilling his guts of every action he could ever remember that could, in some way, be a sin. He was afraid that the devil was coming for him. He was afraid that he wouldn’t measure up to God’s standard because he knew that nobody could ever fully keep the law.
And then, one fateful day, Martin Luther read Romans. And not just read it, but immersed himself in it. He read it over and over and over, to the point that he actually started to believe what he was reading. And what he read lead him to believe that he didn’t have to be afraid anymore. He thought so highly of Romans that he believed that Christians should memorize the whole book! Maybe that makes the confirmation program here seem not so bad, right?
And then, on October 31, 1517, the pound of hammer on nail echoes through the Castle Church of Wittenburg, Germany. The ink on that paper held in place by those nails spelled out the beginnings of a revolution in church history. Soon, Martin Luther was boldly waving the banner of grace and standing up to every authority who dared to oppose this one truth that affected him so deeply. “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
So, why the church door? Why would that be the place that Martin Luther made his public appeal to the church authorities? It seems pretty weird to us. But it was, in fact, a fairly common thing to do. Church doors became a sort of bulletin board for community events – they would often be places where the average person could find important news, announcements, and debates. And that’s precisely why Luther chose that place to make his stand – he was using the normal communication of the time, the places where people would see it and could respond do it for themselves. He didn’t want it to be hidden anymore, written and secretly sent to a few, select people. Martin Luther was using the social media of his time!
Which is so refreshing, isn’t it? Martin Luther suddenly goes from this sort of crazy monk to being this really bold guy who was just using what he had around him to make a point. Instead of hiding behind walls or privacy settings, he went public, using public space for debates, pamphlets (thanks to the printing press, a new media of that time), and visiting people throughout the region. He began speaking out against people were trying to make salvation a game of following the rules or paying fines. He spoke out for all people who believe that they are not able to earn God’s favor through being good enough and instead have to rely on God being good enough. He preached that the cross of Christ is our salvation. And he did it where he already was.
Now, this, of course, is both a great encouragement and a little uncomfortable. The same Holy Spirit which turned a paranoid, scared young man into a bold proclaimer of grace alone, scripture alone, and faith alone is the same Holy Spirit that inspires us to be bold proclaimers. We praise the same Jesus that Martin Luther spoke about – the same Christ who lived for you, died for you, and rose for your salvation. We are involved in the same movement of reformation and recreation – God is always reshaping us, molding us, taking our good and bad and using it to do incredible things. We take part in the same process of redemption and salvation that Luther proclaimed to the masses.
What started as nailing a few pages on a door looks a little different now. Perhaps, instead, it’s a post on a wall, a tweet, a snap, or something else that I probably have never heard of. It’s a chat with an old friend over coffee or phone call with a long lost relative. It comes in the Sunday morning prayers and the Tuesday afternoon slump. Instead of a nailing pages to doors, we might put something together like this:
I don’t always nail things to doors, but when I do, stuff happens. Regardless of how it’s done, we trust the when we speak grace into the world, light into darkness, that stuff happens. Because this process of reformation and proclaiming grace is happening all around us, all the time. In the most ordinary ways possible. Sometimes, God’s work is feel so ordinary we miss it. It comes in the normal, boring stuff of this world. Poet W. H. Auden (in a poem called Herman Melville) describes that “we are introduced to Goodness every day. Even in drawing-rooms among a crowd of faults.” Even in our brokenness, God’s love and goodness is shown to us. And we have the ability to show the love we have received in our everyday lives.
In a world where we often feel pressured to always say things, do things, think, process, and look a certain way, there may be no better way to speak of God than what we see in Romans: “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” There is nothing you have done and nothing you can do that would make God love you any less. God’s love for you and for all people is a gift. It grace. Through faith, through trust in God’s grace, you are set free. You are set free from the need to be anything more than a forgiven sinner. Nothing more, nothing less.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Son has set you free. Jesus has set you free from the need to measure up to impossible standards. That changes everything. That knowledge turned a scared monk into a Reformation Period powerhouse. That knowledge makes lowers the mighty and lifts up the weak. Grace, the free gift of God, makes you free.