A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reformation and Cultural Amnesia

In honor of Reformaion Day, I thought I would share my Reformation Sunday sermon.  Happy Reformation Day/Halloween/All Saints/Dia de Los Muertos!

“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.’“ (John 8:31-33)

There are at least a couple of ways of looking at this passage, either of which paint it in somewhat of a humorous light.  Possibly, Jewish leaders have forgotten their history and have disconnected themselves from the story of Israel as slaves in Egypt. Or, when Jesus talks about being slaves, they are thinking about their cultural context in which many worship and sacrifice to idols.  Sometimes enslaved can refer to being enslaved to idols.  Even in this interpretation these children of Abraham are practicing some selective memory since the history of Israel is not without its ventures into idolatry.  

As Americans, we have no room to scoff at these Jewish leaders’ historical amnesia.  The land of the free and the home of the brave is also the land of the slave and the ransacked home of the victims of nearly genocidal systematic violence.  The “good ole days” tended to be far from good for minorities and paradoxically perilous for both foreign immigrants and those original natives of this land.  Yet we often practice cultural amnesia by lauding ourselves as fiercely independent pioneers who pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps completely ignoring all those shoeless folks we ground under our boot heels in the process.   The church practices similar selective forgetfulness as we too often speak harshly of other faiths and ignore  our own dark history from the crusades to our own Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism.  

And so it is not a stretch to hearken to the words of today’s gospel as if they were spoken to us.  Jesus says, ”If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31) Lest we too protest we are slaves to none and nothing Jesus elaborates, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34) Even if we succumb to cultural amnesia and blindness to the contemporary sins of our nation, and the harmful actions of the church throughout history, personal failings confront us more directly.  Who among us can even truly live up to the most essential tenet of our faith to love our neighbors as ourselves?  Who among us can say, without a glimmer of a doubt, our beliefs and the actions based on those beliefs are right? 

Jesus tells us the truth will set us free.  The truth of God’s love as revealed through Jesus, the truth of forgiveness and grace, sets us free to live and love boldly.  We are set free from past mistakes.  We are set free from concern for right belief.  Freedom means we let go of concern for our own salvation, leaving such in the loving hands of God, so that we might see and serve our neighbor in need.  

Sometimes I despair at hearing Christians say heartless things in order to justify self-righteousness or inaction in the face of suffering.  Freedom feels no need for self-righteousness because all has been made right through grace.   Freedom does not seek an excuse for loving less because there is no need for excuses, no one keeping score, only forgiveness and growing in love. 

We will all make mistakes.  We will all fall short some times.  Martin Luther certainly did by falling into bigotry against Jewish people.  But even this horrible sin did not define all of who he was.  He was also a person with a particular message to deliver in a particular time in history.  Just as all of us are.  We each have a message to bring.  Not all of our audiences will be so large as Luther’s, nor will we all use words. But we are free of our failings, free of our strivings, free to be a message of love delivered in our unique way in our unique moment in place and time.  

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