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 8:31-32
Today we celebrate this truth, the freeing truth of the Gospel, a truth which broke free again 502 years ago, when Martin Luther began the Reformation. The truth of the Gospel is the one, great truth of our life as Christians. It is certainly the one great truth of my life.
This truth is the reason why I became a Lutheran, 27 years ago today. And it is why I have devoted the last 20 or so years to being a pastor. Because the truth of the Gospel, of God’s love in Jesus, needs and deserves to be shared in as many different ways a we can, by as many different people as possible.
The world has certainly changed in the last 500 years. Martin Luther was deeply anxious and troubled over how to please a God who seemed angry and disappointed with him. Things are different now. That is not so much of a concern anymore. But the world is still anxious and troubled. The world still needs to be reminded of God’s love. And maybe you and I do, too.
Martin Luther was set free from his anxiety by the gospel. And he wanted everyone around him to be, too. So, he wrote his famous 95 Theses, and then nailed them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on that October day in 1517. Because he wanted everyone to experience this freedom, this peace, this blessed assurance. And the only way to experience this is through the truth of the Gospel.
Martin Luther calls this truth the “true treasure of the church.” In fact, that is how he describes it in those famous 95 Theses. Tucked in among them is Thesis 62, my personal favorite, which reads: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.” The true treasure of the church, and the true treasure of our lives, is this most holy gospel; the good news at the heart of our faith. This good news that can be described in so many different ways.
Think of how this good news is described in the readings which we have just heard.
In our Gospel Reading for today, the good news that we just heard is that if the Son makes us free, we will be free indeed.
In our First Reading today, from the prophet Jeremiah, the good news that we heard is that God will make a new covenant with us, and he will forgive our iniquity, and will remember our sin no more.
In our Psalm for today, Psalm 46, the Psalm which inspired Martin Luther to write his most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the good news that we chanted is that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
And in our Second Reading today from St. Paul, the good news that we heard is that we are justified (or made right with God) by faith in Jesus.
These are all ways to describe our true treasure, the treasure of the gospel, which Martin Luther calls the true treasure of the church.
The Church Forgets
But if you study the history of the church, one of the things that becomes obvious, is that the church has often forgotten this good news. The church often forgets that its true treasure is found in nothing but the gospel. It is not found in the latest program or marketing technique. It is not found in the latest style of worship. It is not found in the latest in the next great preacher or writer. The true treasure of the Church is found only in the gospel. But the church forgets this. Which is why it needs servants like Martin Luther. To remind it. And this is why Luther and the Reformers of his day often said that the Church is always in need of being reformed. Because the Church is always in need of being reminded of the truth of the gospel.
But there is another truth that we need to acknowledge today. Because it is not just the church that is prone to forget its true treasure. We as individuals also forget this true treasure. We all, as Christians, are prone to forget that the greatest treasure in our lives, in this world, is the gospel. We get caught up in the day-to-day of our lives, and we forget this great truth: That there is no greater treasure that you and I will ever have than this Word of promise from our Lord.
But we forget, don’t we? We must forget, because if we didn’t, we would never be anxious about anything that we face in this world. After all, the sufferings of this world cannot compare with the glory that is promised to us. We must forget, because if we didn’t, we would each day find a way to shout it from our rooftops, that the treasure of the gospel has been given to us and to all who believe in the promise.
So, my question is: why? Why do we forget? As I have pondered this question, I have come up with a theory: That we are prone to forgetting the good news of the gospel, because we often forget the bad news that makes the gospel necessary.
We forget the bad news that we need to be made right with God. That we are not right with God of ourselves. That we are sinners, standing under God’s judgment. And we are captive to sin. Our only hope is to be found in God’s grace.
When you read through the entire Bible, it is really amazing how often the Word of God seems to be trying to remind us of the bad news. Beginning with the story of Adam and Eve, the Bible spends a lot of its time trying to point out to us the bad news.
Even in today’s Readings, we are reminded of the bad news. The prophet Jeremiah spends a great deal of time pronouncing the bad news to the Israelites living in exile, before he shares the good news that God would “forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”
St. Paul spends a great deal of time in his Letter to the Romans pointing out the bad news that “there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” before he shares the gospel word that we “are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood.”
And in our Gospel Reading, Jesus reminds those listening to him of the bad news that “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” before he shares the gospel word that “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Yes, it must be easy to forget the bad news. Or, more likely, we must want to forget it. Because who really wants to remember bad news, anyway? There’s enough bad news in the world. Why would we want to add to it at church?
What Happens When We Forget
But, here’s the thing: If we forget the bad news, then the good news is soon forgotten, as well. Or, even worse, the good news seems unnecessary, irrelevant, not something that we need, or that fits into our life anymore.
If we don’t really believe that we’re lost, then we’re not going to listen to anyone’s attempts to show us the right way.
If we don’t really believe that we’re sick, then a miracle drug which promises to cure our illness also seems useless.
If we don’t really believe that we are somehow wrong with God, then the good news, that we are made right with God, by grace through our faith, can seem pretty useless to us.
Maybe that’s why we so often forget the good news that we celebrate today. Because it’s so easy to forget the bad news.
Maybe that’s why it is so important for us to gather here every Sunday, to be reminded that we are all sinners, that none of us deserves salvation and eternal life. To be reminded of this so that we can remember the good news, that God so loved the world – so loves us – that He gave His only Son, Jesus, who freely gave his life for us, to set us free.
So, as we gather on this joyous Festival Sunday to celebrate the Reformation of the Church, let us not forget the bad news: that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That we are captive to this sin. And that we cannot free ourselves from it with our own strength.
But let us only remember this bad news, so that we never forget the good news: That we are God’s beloved children, all of us; and there is no sin strong enough to tear us from this love. That we have been made right with God, by God’s amazing grace, through our faith in Jesus. That God promises to be our refuge and strength when the storms of this life hit, a very present help in trouble.
Let us hold onto this great good news at the heart of our faith; let us treasure the amazing truth of the gospel; and let us find new ways to remind ourselves, and one another, of this truth. For if we continue in God’s Word, we will always be Jesus’ disciples, and we will always know the truth, the truth that makes us free.
Thanks be to God. Amen