First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
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.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our reading from Jeremiah prophesies the new covenant in Christ Jesus. One of the descriptions of that new covenant tells of a time when people will no longer need to tell one another, “Know the Lord,” because it’ll be a done deal.
Today, we’re witnessing three students ready to proclaim their faith in front of the congregation. We’ve spent some time with them, in the faith that this time together will assist them in knowing the Lord, that it will encourage them to make a habit of worshiping with the congregation, that their lives will be instruments of God’s blessings in this world.
Last Friday, as we gathered for the luncheon preceding the burial of Jim Swenson, we were able to review various ways Jim used his gifts of intelligence, dedication, and generosity to support a multitude of ministries in this world, from education to congregations and hospitals, to name just three.
While these three confirmands have been preparing for this day, and while families live through changes of losses and gains, unrelated dire events have occurred in our country and in this world.
A man was killed within the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Packages of explosive materials were mailed to several people active in politics. Thousands of Central Americans have begun a journey seeking acceptance in the United States. 13-year-old Jayme Closs went missing, and remains so. A man was arrested in connection with those packages… and it seems everyone who’s saying anything about it is blaming either the Republicans or the Democrats, depending on the affiliation of the one who’s speaking. Many assume at least some portion of mental illness. Just yesterday, many were murdered during Sabbath worship at Tree of Life in Pittsburg.
Something needs to change. The prophet proclaimed, “No more! … because they shall all know God already… but it appears as if we’re not quite there yet.
It’s Reformation Sunday, and we celebrate the needed reformation undergone by the church some 500 years ago. This world is much different than it was 500 years ago. Reform was needed then in part because the church was holding people for ransom, promising relief from what was proclaimed as tormenting agony that all must endure after death while being purified for entrance into heaven… only for a price.
Reform taught the freedom of Christ’s gift of salvation, thanks to many brave scholars.
Where does that bring us today?
We live in a world where some people who claim to be Christian believe it’s okay to enter a synagogue during Sabbath worship and kill people. … or a southern Baptist church during Bible Study. … or to rain bullets down on a crowed concert venue from a blockaded hotel room. … or to post explosives through the mail. … or to violently accost someone who’s weaker. … or take advantage of someone who’s trusting.
How long, O Lord, will it be until we really know you, and stop lashing out at other people? How long, O Lord, until your “No more” takes effect, and people will act out of love for one another, knowing your love for creation, instead of brandishing hatred out of arrogance or fear?
I was conversing with someone who appeared to be a young man the other day, who stands in awe of this worship space. His words were, “We can’t lose this.”
As beautiful and as inspiring as this place can be, if we cease to proclaim salvation by grace through faith, it’s superfluous.
Quiz time. Other than in the Bible, where can you find some form of “he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them”? In the Bible it’s 2nd Corinthians 5:15. Anybody?
Those words are carved into the wood over the three sets of double doors as you leave through the west end of this room. And what does it mean to live for Jesus who died and was raised for us?
In today’s gospel reading, 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.”
What does this mean? It’s more than warming the pews now and then. It’s more than sharing out of your generosity in the offering plate. It’s more than adding your voice to the singing, volunteering as an usher, working with the congregational council. It’s more than participating in every single special event we host here in this building.
It’s your whole life… your whole life.
Continuing in the word of Jesus is living your whole life knowing that God walks with you. When you find you’ve messed up, it’s God giving you a bath, and then starting again, fresh.
No more will we need to say, “Know the Lord,” because people will know the Lord by observing our lives, and by hearing God’s love and mercy when they accept our invitations to worship with us.
No more let us tolerate the wrong that seems to saturate this world. No more ’splaining away our sins and the sins of others. Instead, let us proclaim reform, and live according to it, confident in God’s forgiveness as we fail, and God’s encouragement to get at it once again… always with Jesus.
In Jesus’ name. Amen