What is Holding You in Slavery?

October 25, 2020

John 8:31-36

As Lutherans, one of the staples of our liturgy is the Confession and Forgiveness. While we practice individual confession and forgiveness, it is much more common to partake in the corporate confession and forgiveness when we gather as an assembly, either in-person or virtually as we have learned to do over the past several months.

As Lutherans, one of the staples of our liturgy is the Confession and Forgiveness. While we practice individual confession and forgiveness, it is much more common to partake in the corporate confession and forgiveness when we gather as an assembly, either in-person or virtually as we have learned to do over the past several months.

While the words of the confession and forgiveness may change over time, they point to the redeeming grace found in God; It evokes not only our sin, but the sin of the world and how we are, as humanity, not complete until we are redeemed in that grace and mercy. There is a comfort in reciting these words as they are combined with the forgiveness. A forgiveness we need to hear every week.

In the beginning of the confession we recited this morning, we acknowledged we “cannot free ourselves.” Reformation Sunday is a day for us to reflect on such things as we contemplate scripture and the writing of Martin Luther. The freedom found in Jesus Christ was a revelation for Luther and it became the foundation of his arguments against what he thought was wrong teaching by others in the church in the sixteenth century. Jesus Christ bears our burdens and, in this action, we are given the freedom of grace.

Yet, as Jesus speaks to those gathered in our gospel, there is still the notion of slavery. As Americans, the mention of slavery can bring up many thoughts and emotions as we contemplate its definition given our context and personal experiences. As a mostly homogenous group of white Americans, slavery is not going to bring about the same feelings as it does for our siblings of color. Slavery is still very much with us today and we are all held in it is some form or another.

It is easy to forget one’s past when it is not convenient to remember. This can be witnessed in the words of the Jews that are listening to Jesus when they say, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” If I am recalling correctly, wasn’t there that time our Jewish ancestors were enslaved in Egypt? How about the time the Babylonians conquered Israel? It sounds like there may be some selective amnesia taking place here.

We are prone to the same. Given the scope of time, it was not that long ago that the Americas were under British rule. And while proudly stating that “We live in the land of the free,” that has not always been the case and one could argue there is still work to do. Our early ancestors on this continent took land from the Native Americans and enslaved and killed them; they enslaved African-Americans; and even our ancestors of different nationalities and faith traditions were looked down upon, such as Irish siblings and Roman Catholics. Today slavery occurs in the form of racism and many others ‘isms, and even more physically in human trafficking. These are just some of the sins that Jesus refers to and the ones we confess.

We also sin in our own thoughts on a daily basis, thus the need to continually return to confession and forgiveness. We can be slaves to our own thoughts. We can become fearful of making mistakes or even sinning (trying to focus on perfection). In these instances, we are held in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. In a familiar quote, Martin Luther writes

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says [2 Peter 3:13], we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells …. Pray boldly – you too are a mighty sinner.” (Luther’s Works, Vol 48, p. 281-282, boldface added)

We will be slaves to sin. Jesus reminds us that his presence frees us from forces around us that are vying for our attention and focus. Quite often, Jesus steers us in a different direction than society. Martin Luther was trying to re-steer the church back to the Word of Christ. The powers of both the 1st and 16th Century were focused on empire and control.  We live in a society in which power is what makes society move and it is the political capital of choice. In Jesus, we are freed from that. We are freed from the power grabbing and scheming. The only claim on us that we need to be concerned with is that we are children of God. A God who is gracious and merciful.

One commentator sums up Luther’s quote on sinning boldly in this manner, “Get off your butt and do something — even if it’s wrong. God can forgive it.” We cannot worry about perfection. For there was only one person that can claim that designation. Jesus knows that we are going to sin and fall short of the glory of God. Each of us are held captive by sin, and we are redeemed by the grace and mercy of God through Jesus’ love poured out for us on the cross.

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