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Reformation Day Sunday, 10/28/2007

Sermon on John 8:31-36, by Walter W. Harms


Juneteenth is a day of special celebration in Texas. Although the

Emancipation Proclamation which was to free all slaves in the U.S. A.

had been issued on Sept. 22, 1862 with an effective date of Jan. 1,

1863, it had little immediate effect on most slaves in Texas because

they didn't hear about it. But on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon

Granger arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of the state and

enforce the emancipation of its slaves. There he read the contents of

"General Order No. #3":


The people of Texas are informed, that in accordance with a

proclamation of the Executive of the United States, all slaves are

free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights

of property between former masters an slaves, and the connection

heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and

hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their

present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not

be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be

supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

The slaves were free. Many continued to be in these new situations

which offered little if any difference between their former state of

slavery. In fact, in some instances, there conditions deteriorated

because, now working for wages, many soon became debtors to their

former "owners."

They were free but their conditions changed none. Even the concept

that they could leave and go where they pleased remain a distant, if

not impossible, fading hope for many who were no longer slaves.


Today is Reformation Day. It is a day to celebrate our freedom. We

are free from sin--its shame, its terror, the hatred toward God it may

produce; free from any necessity to please God in order to attain

freedom or anything else; free to live as children of God in our

Father's House-the kingdom of God.

As baptized Christians, we have always been free but for many years,

the church drifted into ways that contradicted that freedom. The church

may still and in some instances still does teach that getting on right

terms with God requires that we "do" something on our part.

Like the slaves in Texas, we can be free and not know it. We can be

free but in situations where we have none of the joys and perks of

being free. We can be free, but live as if we are still under the

hammer of God the Almighty's awful judgment.


Today is Reformation Day-a day when a man posted 95 statements in 1517

for debate among the learned citizens of Wittenberg, Germany about the

doctrine and practice of indulgences.

At the time Dr. Martin Luther posted those statements indulgences were

being sold to faithful parishioners. Indulgences were documents which

gave forgiveness of temporal punishment for sins that had already been

forgiven. People bought these indulgences to free loved ones from the

temporal punishment taking place in purgatory-the place between heaven

and hell where the faithful were being cleaned up for heaven.

This particular indulgence sale was taking place to raise money to

build what is now St. Peter's basilica in Rome (precursor to the fund

raising schemes in our churches today).

By 1520 Dr. Luther and his followers were excommunicated (condemned to

hell and eternal punishment unless they repented).

Dr. Luther basically said that if God in Christ forgave you your sins,

and the church pronounced this forgiveness, then you were free from all

necessity to "do" anything to gain salvation. "If the Son sets you

free, you will be free indeed!"

All of this resulted in the three great "sola's" (sola is Latin for

"alone") of the church. Grace alone! Faith alone! All based on

Scripture alone!


Today there are those who say this day should be eliminated from the

Protestant church calendar as being a "relic" of the past, no longer to

be venerated as something special. There is a belief that Roman

Catholics and Lutherans believe and teach the same thing. Well, yes,

to an extent.

What remains between these two churches is the question of having to do

or not do good works to gain eternal salvation. Are we free by Christ

alone or does God's goodness to us (including getting into heaven)

depend on something that we must do?

So it is good to see again on the basis of God's Word (Sola Scriptura)

just what Jesus had to say about all of this.

Again let me say it. You see you can be free and not know it! You can

be free and continue in patterns which don't reflect your freedom! You

can be free and still be enslaved and not know it!


Jesus speaks to people who had believed in him. Apparently they had

perhaps become disillusioned with Jesus and stopped believing in him.

He says, "If you abide in my words, you are really my disciples, then

you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

That statement is so loaded with meaning this day that it would take a

whole year of days to think through these words and that would not be


So let's just remember a couple of important items about these words.

"My words"-Jesus is God's Word to us. He is the Word become flesh for

us. There are all of his words spoken and all that they mean, but they

can never be divorced from the person, the God-man Jesus.

A few of his words:

John 3:16: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,

that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Words to Martha, John 11:25 I am the resurrection and the life He

who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and

believes in me will never die.

Words to Thomas, John 14:6 I am the way and the truth and the life.

No one comes to the Father except through me.

Hang on to my words, says Jesus. Live them, trust them, make them the

basis for your life and work and then you will be my disciples. You

will be following my path.

Then you will know the truth, the only truth that counts in life.

Real, genuine, absolute and only truth and this will make you free.

Free from what, we might ask.

Free from other "truths" which are not truths. Truths plus other


Free from becoming enslaved to anything other that the "grace alone"

of Jesus Christ-that he alone gives us forgiveness of sins,

reconciliation with he heavenly father, and he alone will preserve us

in that relationship for all times, seasons and ages, through the Holy

Spirit working through the Good News and the Blessed Sacraments,

bringing that wonderful Word, who is Jesus, to our hearts again and


Have you ever heard stuff like: a real Christian will ....? Good

Christians ....? Spiritual Christians do ...., while carnal Christians ....? That's the other "stuff."

This kind of stuff can have several effects in the lives of people who

are free in Christ.

It can make you afraid: am I doing the right stuff and enough of it?

Will I ever be able to find real "joy of salvation" if I'm not sure

that I will have done enough to please God?

It can make us into pious hypocrites: others can see that I am a real

believer while they are not even close to God.

It can make us into judges of others: Lord, I thank you that I am not

like those who have been married three times, whose kids are in trouble

with the law, who say they are Christians but never really support the


It can make you angry: how in the world does God expect me to perform

as he wants me to, then made it impossible for me to live that way, and

then condemn me. I cannot understand that kind of God, if he really is

the real God at all.

Fear that God might condemn us. Hypocritical actions which do not

reflect the inner man. Judgmental attitudes toward other Christians

and people in general. Anger because we cannot do, could never do what

God demands.


We cannot be free by ourselves, ever, because as Jesus says the person

who commits sin is a slave to sin. I do hope that none of us find

ourselves without knowing we have committed and will continue to commit

sins. If you think you are there, check and see if the coffin lid is

not a couple of inches from your nose.

We are slaves because of sin. We cannot free ourselves. We cannot stop

sinning. The result is that the only one who is truly free is related

to and living in the house of the owner of the house. Others are

subject to the results of slavery. So if the Son sets you free, you

are free indeed.


Have you heard the proclamation of sins forgiven through Jesus Christ?

Have you believed it? Have you trusted that Word who is Jesus when you

get angry on the way home from worship because of "those" drivers?

Have you trusted Jesus has set you free when you reflect on the day and

see some of the horror we often cause to others? Are you free and is

your life going to be lived as free or slave? Are you free from the

evils lived and caused when you were a youth?

A rather powerful man once asked in terror: "What must I do to be

saved?" Remember the answer? Is it your answer? Believe on the Lord

Jesus Christ and you will be saved!


Slaves in Texas found out late that they were free. You and I who

have been slaves to sin are free-free from the moment of our baptism,

free to live as God's children in his house, free to associate with the

Son in life, death and resurrection, free to know that whatever

condition and situation we find ourselves in we are free.

Because... if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.

Freedom from sin, freedom from needing to do anything to be free is


Today we celebrate Reformation Day. Every year we need to hear, at

least once, that we are free. Every year we need to check whether we

have heard and whether we believe our Emancipation Proclamation of our

Jesus, the one and only Savior of man ever.

Today is the day we can say and say again: free at last! Thank God,

free at last! Amen.






retired pastor Walter W. Harms
Austin, TX U. S. A.

E-Mail: waltpast@aol.com