Saints and Sinners-Sermon on John 8:31-36

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Doing all the right things doesn't mean squat if you treat your fellow human being with contempt. We all need to remember that most of us think we're doing the right thing, and want to do the right thing, even when we're not.

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

October 30 - Reformation Sunday  

"Saints and Sinners".  Text is from  John 8:31-36

Happy Reformation Sunday to you, brothers and sisters, children of God, people of LCC and beloved guests. Saints and sinners, each and every one of you. And I say that last, on Reformation Sunday there, deep at the heart of the Reformation, where we get our understanding of understanding of us being simultaneously saints and sinners, or simul justus et peccator. Because being human means we are bound to sin. Living means we are bound to sin. And although we strive to perfection, to being perfect human beings, there is no way we can be completely free from sin in our day to day lives. All of us. 

And yet, we are also simultaneously saints, because Christ has freed us from the bondage of sins. The wages of sin are death. Our escape from that fate is Christ. And we are made sanctified by his blood, and become simultaneously saints even in our constant imperfection. We, in our sinful state are made perfect human beings by the blood of the lamb and become worthy to be in God's kingdom. 

And that is good news to wake us up with. So what happens on Reformation Sunday is that we get the same texts each year, texts that define much of Luther's understanding of grace and faith. And so we step out from Jesus's journey to Jerusalem in Luke an step into John. Spoiler alert, next week, when our texts bring us back to Luke, he's finally in Jerusalem, and so this text from John comes in a timely manner, as Jesus is providing some grist for the mill to some of the people who were surrounding him. 

Indeed, even in the beginning of this text, we find a tension. That Judeans who were asking him questions *had* been followers of Jesus but by use of that term, does it mean that they were no longer? That some of the things Jesus had said, particularly with regards to the way in which they are to follow him, had turned them off of that path? 

chick tract - trust me - p 4-5.png

So these Judeans who for some reason had no longer had any interest in following the Way, when Jesus pressed them by asking them by telling them about the truth setting them free, understand the freedom as being freed from slavery. And therein lies the curious comment. Because naming themselves descendants of Abraham, while claiming that they have never been slaves to anyone, are forgetting some major aspects of Jewish history. That all important time that God had freed all the people of Israel from the bonds of slavery in Egypt. That even the descendants of Abraham had experienced slavery in one very important time. 

But Jesus, using their own words, tells them that anyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin. And one wonders about whether they understood that they too were people who committed sin. 

But what Jesus is talking about, what Jesus is offering is not freedom from the bonds of physical slavery, but freedom from the entirety of the 613 commandments in Torah or the entire subgenre of rules and regulations that stemmed out of those commandments. In order to live according to the strictest guidelines. And how does one do that? A life without consequence, without experimentation, without waver, without variety, without meaning. A life not in servitude to another human being, but bound by the covenant of the law in the strictest sense, day in, day out, until death do part one soul from body.

This freedom that Jesus offers is not the same kind of freedom that removes the shackles of a slave in human bondage but the bondage that each and every Jewish person had to the oppressive Laws of Torah. That these former followers of Jesus who were now grumbling against him were, in declaring themselves under the covenant of the Law were slave to the Law, bound to sin in no matter what they do or say. 

This Son of God, in declaring that he can make them free from that bondage is bringing them to understand he has the power to take their sin from them, to forgive them their sin. That is an amazing thing. He offers new life, new hope, a new salvation. 

Freedom from the damnation of the abyss. Freedom from the cold chill of death. Freedom to live in his promised kingdom. What those of us, people of faith, we all deep in our hearts long and hope for, when the end of our life here on earth comes. 

The end of life came last week to a man by the name of Jack Chick at the age of 92. If you haven't heard of him personally, he was an illustrator. Not the most famous illustrator. Not even a very good one. But if you are not familiar with him, you may be somewhat familiar with the comics he produced.  Little booklets commonly referred to as Chick Tracts. 

Jack Chick found his life meaning early on with the typically Calvinistic desire to save as many souls as possible finding salvation, but with a very base and uninformed understanding of scripture and conspiracy-laden understanding of the world. He called evolution a "Godless Lie". He believed gay people were possessed by demons. He believed the Catholic Church a Satanic world conspiracy. His incredibly juvenile and patently offensive tracts on Islam said it was a Moon Cult that was founded by the Catholic Church and said its followers were possessed by demons. 

You could find the tracts lying at bus stops, on the back of public toilets at the front counter of bowling alleys. People order them and bring them into prisons. And they are some of the most widely read comics in the United States. The people who distribute them come from the same strain of "live your life to convert as many souls as possible" that Chick himself believed, a fundamentalism that is rooted not in an understanding of the details and the environment in which the bible was written but a kind of idolatry, that the words of the King James Translation written down in God's hands and making their way to our bookshelves were somehow themselves holy. 

And yet the scripture texts don't always match up with the cartoon images, or take some stretch of logic to place them. To be fair, it may be possible to take any set of bible passages out of their contexts and rewrite them to make anything believable. But the absurd characters in his tracts always come to two ends, they refuse to hear the word of God and then freak accidents send them to untimely deaths, whereupon they wind up in judgement, only to be judged having not been written in the book of life and death and then suffer eternal torment, or they come to this singular Jesus moment and are therefore magically cured of death. 

As if faith and life and death were so clean and tidy. The tracts are simplistic and in many cases, outright wrong. They don't account for the love and grace of a creator who in his ultimate commandment, told us to love him with all our hearts and all our minds and all our strength and all our souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves and that all other scripture need be read in that light. That God loves his people, all of his people, which is evidenced time and time again not only in holy scripture, but in his work in our lives and in the world we live in. That God loves us and that he calls us. 

And so Jack Chick, the evangelist who would condemn some 98% of the world's population to the eternal fires of Hell, at last finds himself at his longed for end of life. And there is no doubt in my mind, that justice is merciful, and he finds himself surrounded by the very people he condemned, Roman Catholics, gay people, people who read Harry Potter and play Dungeons and Dragons, rock musicians, because God is merciful and loving and for all of the hurt that Jack Chick's tracts caused in people's lives, God is a forgiving, loving God and Jack deserves to be forgiven just like the rest of us too.

Because although Jack Chick's little tract tormented me as a teenager, I forgive him. He thought he was doing the right thing, and although he refused to believe that anything but the most narrowest of belief, thinking that any divergence was of the devil, Jack Chick, like the rest of us was simultaneously saint and sinner. 

And the good news, my sisters and brothers is that the tension we find in our lives of being sinners and saints is that it makes our faith stronger, because only a God who is all loving and all-forgiving would rid us all of the stench of sin and death from us. Only a God who loved creation so much that they were willing to die for it, suffering on a cross, could forgive us all of our guilt, would have the power to make us clean, sanctified, filled with Holy Spirit that is God, being God's witness in the world to a kingdom of love. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on November 1, 2016 9:35 AM.

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