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Reformation Sermon: Be Still! The Son Speaks

November 1, 2021

This sermon was preached on Reformation Sunday at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL. You can view the service here and the bulletin here. The image is Schmorsten in his church pajamas.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Reforming has not been easy for our family. I never experienced worshipping via livestream from a parishioner’s perspective, but I’ve heard about it. From what I can gather, for a large chunk of the pandemic, worship involved staying in pajamas while drinking coffee on comfy couches. Worship was accompanied by movement, by other activities. Our children worshipped while building LEGO sets. They worshipped while having Nerf gun fights. They worshipped, in short, while free ranging around the basement. To the best of my knowledge, they never hit the mute or fast forward buttons, for which I’m grateful. Especially considering that my sermons, according to one of my children – I don’t want to name names but it rhymes with “Schmorsten” – feel like they last thirty minutes or more. All of which is to say, reforming – coming back into form – has not been easy for our family. There was a fair amount of comfort and joy in worshipping online in our basement. Coming back to worship in person wasn’t easy, but so it goes in the lives of a pastor’s kids. The biggest problem? All of a sudden, just like that, worship meant sitting still again.
  2. Stillness is not a natural state of being for humans. We’re not good at stopping, resting. But this goes beyond the ever-increasing busyness of our lives, our exhaustion, our need to rest. A question lurks underneath: Why can’t we be still? The answer, I think, is our deep-seated need to justify ourselves. To prove that we are enough, that we can do it on our own. To put it theologically, to save ourselves. And we’re often successful at creating the illusion that we’re doing just fine. We can take care of ourselves. At least until a job is lost or unexpected expenses pile up. Our future is limitless and in our hands. At least until a diagnosis is declared as illness comes upon us. Everything is fine, so long as we keep our eyes shut to the systemic injustices that play out in our peripheral vision. Our forecast is sunny until the storms of life roll in. Life, which we think we control, has a way of bringing us to a standstill. Of forcing us to realize the truth of our situation.
  3. Jesus brings us up short today, giving the lie to the belief we share with some of his followers in John 8. In response to Jesus’ invitation to freedom, they reply that they are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves of anyone. Oh, the lies humans tell themselves! To be a descendant of Abraham was to be no nothing other than being part of a people whose story was one of constant slavery and release, exile and return, and ongoing oppression. Their freedom, like ours, is an illusion. This is not only due to external circumstances but to internal conditions. They are slaves because they have given themselves over to sin. Even their assertion of being children of Abraham is sinful; not because they aren’t, but because they think this identity can protect them. We drape ourselves in identities and claim the privileges they offer, but anything other than, less than, living faith in the living God will leave us wanting. Jesus names us for what we are: slaves to our sin.
  4. We are stopped in our tracks, silenced by God’s law. St. Paul drives home the point: No human being is justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. Try as we might, we can no longer pretend that we can save ourselves. We are trapped in chains of our own making. We have, in so many ways, created a world contrary to God’s creative purposes. We have turned from the truth and believed the serpent’s whispering from the garden that we shall be like gods. There is no way forward for us. Having been brought to a standstill, however, we are confronted not just with the reality of our situation but with the surprising reality of God. We look to Jesus, this One who brings us up short, and discover truth itself. The truth that is God’s presence. The truth that God loves us so much that God was willing to be born into this world as one of us; to not simply point out our sin but to suffer and die for it; to name our sin not to punish, but to forgive. The floodwaters that threatened are turned into a pleasing river that flows through God’s eternal city, baptismal waters the drown to bring new life.
  5. Today, on this Reformation Sunday, we give thanks for the witness of the reformers throughout the Church’s life. Martin Luther was keenly aware of the power of the law and his inability to keep it. He knew that life was a continual state of falling short of God’s glory. The Spirit, however, had deeper truths to tell, truths that are as needed today as they were in Wittenberg 500 years ago. That once we stop striving, reaching, all we need is given to us. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, life and forgiveness are given as gifts. We don’t have to do, cannot do, a single thing to earn them. Christ, crucified and raised, breaks the chains of our bondage, and makes us children with a place in the household forever, children not of Abraham or anyone else, but of God.
  6. Scholar and translator Robert Alter, in his rendering of Psalm 46, makes a surprising choice in verse ten. Instead of the familiar, “Be still,” his version reads, “Let go.” It’s a choice grounded in the Hebrew, one that calls to mind a vision of a warrior being forced to loosen his grip on sword or bow. To stop, and let peace come. Let go, we hear today. Let go of your need to make it on your own. Let go of your sinful idolatry of the self and your too-easy oppression of others. Let go of the chains you have fashioned for yourselves. Let go. Stop. Be still.
  7. Brought to a standstill, we get to ask the question of freedom: Now that we don’t have to do anything, what are we going to do? Luther writes, “Although Christians are thus free from all works, they ought in this liberty to empty themselves, take upon themselves the form of a servant, be made in human likeness, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with their neighbor as they see that God through Christ has deal and still deals with them.” Freed from sin and death, we are free to love and serve God and neighbor.
  8. God continues to move, live, breathe. God’s Spirit is at play in church and world, not so much doing something novel as simply doing the always new thing that is Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is this truth that confronts us. Trapped in our sin, we are set free by Christ. Free to do what God calls us to do, be who God calls us to be. As this pandemic loosens its grip on us, as we emerge from our basements, so to speak, we find ourselves caught up anew in Christ. Neither the church nor the world is as they once were, but Christ remains. Into our stillness, our silence, his Word still speaks, casting out evil, conquering oppression, comforting the weary, calling us to freedom. By God’s grace, and nothing else, we continue in this Word and claim the freedom to be daughters and sons of God Most High. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

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