God’s truth for us, that we are loved and forgiven and called to new life is freedom for us. We are free in God’s love to reject it, to make no room in our hearts, but there is always room in God’s heart for us.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Reformation Sunday; texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 8:31-36
Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We’re all powerfully tired of the election by now, I’m sure. And one of the things I’m tired of is the abuse and misuse of the concept of freedom. Americans have a convenient way of trumpeting the words of our founders and shaping the tune to mean whatever they want it to mean. So we find ourselves each election year struggling with this peculiar American sin of people wanting freedom to do what they want, but who don’t want others to have the same freedoms. Or people who want to be free of the government’s influence and control, but who wish the government to control others. People who fail to realize that denying freedom to others always restricts and abridges their own freedom. Freedom is a wonderful thing. But we’ve become so used to having it that we barely recognize when we misuse it, or deny it to others.
Which makes Jesus’ words so compelling as they arrive in our lives near the end of this election cycle. Jesus promises freedom to those who live in his word. It’s a good thing, we think, to be free. But if that means we have responsibility for our own lives, and for the lives of others, that’s also a very frightening thing if you think about it. So when Jesus tells us today that when we live, abide, dwell in his word we find the truth that frees us, we need to be careful to ask ourselves if we know what that means, and once we know, if we want that freedom after all.
In one sense, we’ve never lived without this promise of freedom, for most of us have lived most of our lives hearing the promise of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus brings up the idea of slavery versus freedom, concepts easily understood in his day, but perhaps less clear to us who live in a relatively free society. Those who do not face the reality of their sin, who simply act and live without thought, who continue trapped in their broken human nature without recognizing it, live as slaves to sin, Jesus says, even though they might think they are free.
Those who always know it’s someone else’s fault when they do wrong, live as slaves to sin. Those who judge others while justifying their own wrong, live as slaves to sin. Those who don’t resist their own tendencies to do wrong, but go with “it’s the way I’ve always been,” live as slaves to sin.
And it’s attractive, that’s why we do it. You never have to face the hard questions, make the hard decisions. Just act as you want, and justify it on that basis. Go with the flow, and you don’t have to work to be different.
And so God’s love for us in Jesus is a word of life: we can be free from that bondage. We need not be controlled by our instincts, unable to choose. Forgiven and loved by God in Jesus, we are free.
We’re free to make decisions about our lives, to do what we choose to do. To take responsibility for our lives and for the world. And that’s God’s real problem. Once we’re free, we can still choose wrongly as easily as well as when we were unaware of our enslavement. And that we certainly do.
God takes a great risk in freeing us: what if we don’t choose well with the responsibility we’re given?
We don’t often think of God’s faith in us, but that’s the reality of our lives. Think of a parent’s faith in a child. At each stage of a child’s life there are things a parent needs to learn to trust the child to do.
And for that child, the trust is the key: When I think of times my children have wanted to know if I trusted them, the worst thing I could do was voice my doubts. I needed simply to give them the message, the concrete sense, that I did trust them.
And of course parents have doubts. They don’t know at any of the stages of their child’s life if they can handle that new level of trust. And children often have very high opinions of their own ability to be worthy of that trust. But at some point if any are going to be effective and good parents, they take a leap of faith and trust their children. They are there if they fall; they pray that they can fix things if they go seriously wrong; but they must learn to trust.
And this is God’s reality: freeing us from slavery to sin, giving us freedom to choose right from wrong, to choose to love God and neighbor or choose not to, all lead God to a leap of faith.
There is no guarantee that we will live in love with God and each other. In fact, human history suggests that it’s a good bet we won’t. Yet Jesus reveals to us that the Triune God has decided to take that risk. To risk faith in us.
And the image our readings today use to show this is the image of our hearts. God makes a new covenant, a new promise, in Jeremiah. Where God’s law, the way of God for us in the world, is written on our hearts, so we know it intimately. And God promises to forgive our failings, even to forget them.
But the risk is that we won’t allow this to be written on our hearts, to change our hearts and lives. And powerfully, that’s just what Jesus says in today’s Gospel has happened.
“You look for an opportunity to kill me,” he says, “because there is no place in you for my word.” That’s incredibly chilling, hearing these two words from God together. “I will write this on your heart – but there is no place in you for my word.”
Our freedom means this: we can make room for God in our hearts. Or we can close them.
We can open our hearts to see all we have is gift from God, entrusted to us, and give back joyously and generously. Or we can close our hearts and see all that we have is ours to keep.
We can open our hearts to look at others and see Jesus, and so reach out to them in love, offer them grace and forgiveness, be God’s love for them. Or we can close our hearts and judge others and treat them as less than we are, unworthy of our love and attention.
We can open our hearts and see our brokenness and sin, and confess it to God, trusting in God’s love and forgiveness. Or we can close our hearts and pretend we are righteous, needing no forgiveness or correction or grace from God because we know what is right even more than God.
“You look for an opportunity to kill me,” Jesus says, “because there is no place in you for my word.” Is there room in our hearts for God’s love, God’s direction, God’s guidance? Or in our freedom are we keeping it closed, lest by coming in God might change us, redirect us, make each of us into a different person?
We’ve been hearing this from the Scriptures now for most of the summer and fall, that God wishes to change us from within, make us new people, free us that we might become like the children of God we were meant to be. But are we still seeking to kill Jesus’ influence in our lives, in our hearts, if it means we’re going to be someone different, as if we have no room for him in our hearts?
This is a hard word to think on. But as we do, we remember this: no matter whether or not we have room for God in our hearts, what we know absolutely is that there is always room in God’s heart for us.
“If you continue in my Word,” says Jesus, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And this promise is never taken back. This gift is never withdrawn due to rejection. Even after the disciples’ betrayal and failure on Thursday and Friday, the risen Jesus returns to them in love Sunday, and after. Offering them forgiveness, even breakfast, and loving them. That love is not withdrawn. There is always room in God’s heart for you. And that is our hope.
And the miracle is, no matter how often we’ve closed our hearts to God, not only is there always room in God’s heart for us, God always takes the chance that this next time, this once, we’ll make room in our hearts, too. Again, the risen Jesus comes to the disciples and not only forgives and loves them. He calls them to love, invites them to follow once again, charges them with a commission to spread God’s love to the world.
Jesus takes the leap of faith once more. And so Jesus continues to do with us each day.
Freedom is a frightening thing. It’s easier to be a slave to sin, to shun responsibility for our actions and our lives.
But freedom as God gives us is life. Freedom in the love of God is life. Freedom to be the love of God is life.
Do we have any room for this in our hearts? Our good news is that God’s heart has room for us, for you, and always will. God has taken a leap of faith in you, in all of us, hoping we’ll respond with our love for God and for the world. This is the truth that is Jesus. Once we know it, then we’ll really know what it is to be free.
In the name of Jesus. Amen