Sunday 28 October – Reformation Sunday

Readings and sermon – Reformation Sunday

Psa 32:1  Of David. A maskil. Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

Psa 32:2  Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Psa 32:3  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

Psa 32:4  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah

Psa 32:5  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

Psa 32:6  Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.

Psa 32:7  You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah

Psa 32:8  I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.

Psa 32:9  Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

Psa 32:10  Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Psa 32:11  Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Joh 8:31  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

Joh 8:32  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Joh 8:33  They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Joh 8:34  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

Joh 8:35  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.

Joh 8:36  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Sermon

There were two things that struck me last week when our guest preacher shared with us. The one was his comment about Noah’s Ark – that we don’t believe in drowning our children when they fail, and the other was his passion and compassion for families, especially those where things go horribly wrong. It was hard not to notice the emotion in his voice when speaking about his work in counselling. Bringing love and hope to people defines his work which he has persisted with for 23 years. And that would be 23 years of sharing in peoples’ painful struggles and failures.

Failure in life is a certainty. It’s only in the movies that you get lines like that in the film  Apollo 13 when NASA’s Flight Director Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris), boldly declares, “Failure is not an option.”

Here’s a thought. If you could never fail – would you try things with the same courage and boldness? Would you do anything at all? And would it matter?

Martin Luther, whose courage we celebrate on this Reformation Sunday, ended his days in the town of his birth. We are told that at the end, only five people showed up for what was to be his last sermon. He wrote to a friend lamenting a “failed” reformation. He was probably mad (in the sense of fed-up) or depressed.  Mind you, he was in good company. One only has to think of Elijah, who was victorious against the prophets of Baal, but depressed and ready to give up and die when pursued by Jezebel. How quickly Luther seemed to forget what he taught and wrote – and how little it matters if only 5 people show up to hear your sermon. For some reason he forgot the last lines of his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” which go like this:

Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse,

Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.

The Kingdom’s ours forever!

When it comes to sin and failure, that’s us. And the words of Jesus challenge us today.

Joh 8:34  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

Joh 8:35  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.

Joh 8:36  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

“Everyone who sins is a slave to sin”.

How easily we look to others when we hear this. How often we hear a sermon convicting people of specific sins and we say to ourselves “if only so-and-so was here today! They needed to hear that”.

How quickly we forget Romans 3:23, a central scripture in the Reformation, which says quite categorically: “…  all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

How ironical that we see our own faults most clearly in others.

We think of the “slaves of sin” as addicts and drunks, those stuck in bad habits and horribly racist attitudes.

How slow we are to realise that all have sinned, and everyone who sins is a slave to sin. The sinful nature is our inheritance as human beings.

Small wonder that the Psalmist (David) writes:

Psa 32:3  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

Psa 32:4  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Psa 32:5  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

David knew it. And he knew he had to come clean before God. Often. Regularly. To good effect because of the liberating effect forgiveness has.

SIN IS MORE THAN INDIVIDUAL FAILURE

There are some key issues that we have to face when it comes to our sins.

At the heart of the freedom we attain as sons of God is forgiveness.

And it is forgiveness that we are the slowest to grant to others.

Two examples come to mind. Or two illustrations.

THE FIRST STORY

One – in a book I’ve been reading by Philip Yancey entitled “What’s so amazing about Grace”.

He tells the story of Simon Wiesenthal (recounted in his work “The Sunflower”). The Sunflower is about forgiveness.

Wiesenthal was a young Polish prisoner of the Nazis in 1944. He lost 89 of his Jewish relatives altogether to the Nazis. He watched his grandmother being killed on the steps of her house. He tried to commit suicide when first captured but failed.

In the prison camp he was called by a nurse who asked him “are you a Jew?” and took him to a room where a soldier lay dying, his face covered in gauze and bandages. He was left alone with this man, a wounded SS officer, for a deathbed confession. His name was Karl. Karl had been raised a Catholic – a faith which he lost when he joined the Hitler Youth.

Three times Simon Wiesenthal tried to leave – and Karl reached out to grab his arm – begging him to listen. In the Ukraine, some 30 of his colleagues were killed by booby traps left by the retreating Russians. The SS – as an act of revenge – rounded up three hundred Jews, herded them into a three-story house, doused it with petrol, and fired grenades at it. Karl and his men encircled the house and shot anyone who tried to escape. Burning people with their children leapt out the house and were shot – in a bizarre kind of target practice.

Simon Wiesenthal sat listen to this account and other atrocities. “I am left here with my guilt” said Karl.

“In the last hours of my life you are with me. I do not know who you are. I only know that you are a Jew, and that is enough.

I know that what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and time again I have longed to talk about it to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. Only I didn’t know whether there are any Jews left… I know that what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace”.

Yancey writes:

Simon Wiesenthal, an architect in his early twenties, now a prisoner dressed in a shabby uniform marked with the yellow Star of David, felt the immense crushing burden of his race bear down on him. He stared out the window at the sunlit courtyard. He looked at the eyeless heap of bandages lying in the bed. He watched a bluebottle fly buzzing the dying man’s body, attracted by the smell.

“At last I made up my mind,” Wiesenthal writes, “and without a word I left the room.”

The SS office died. Wiesenthal lived and later visited the man’s mother, trying to deal with his own guilt. He struggled with this for years, and 20 years on told the story and wrote to the brightest ethical minds of the day. “What would you have done in my place?” was the question he asked them.

Thirty-two men and women responded. Only six of them said that Wiesenthal had erred in not forgiving the German. Two Christians said that forgiveness would end his struggle of conscience. One was a black man.

Some Jewish writers said the sins of the Nazis were too big for forgiveness to be possible. One Christian writer confessed: “I think I would strangle him in his bed”.

Question:

So what would you have advised? Who knows what we would have done or said.

Behind Karl’s request and Simon’s quest is the deep desire for freedom. In the words of Jesus himself: “… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

ARE YOU FREE?

THE SECOND STORY

This story is one for you to figure out yourselves. You have to be tough and a movie lover. Mind you the movie is tame compares to some of the violence on the circuit at the moment.

Go and watch the movie “Taken 2”. It is a thriller. There is one moment where I jumped so high I gave my son a fright. Mind you I am old.

It’s the last few minutes of the film that speaks. It’s fascinating.

Of course – it’s all about revenge, justice and forgiveness. And no, I don’t have shares in Event Cinemas here in Albany. But it’s a good movie. I think it illustrates the point today.

WHAT ABOUT OUR STORIES?

We could carry on telling stories today about our families and our churches. About people who have not forgiven. About people who have deliberately chosen to blame, to lie, to malign others – fellow Christians – family members – and amazingly they still show up on Sundays and seem to have no conscience at all. Of course, some stop going to worship, because their hearts become hardened. Better that they come!

Being a slave to sin is not much fun. Living in hell (cut off from God in this life) can’t be fun either.

I doesn’t take being an SS officer to need to confess sins. All it takes is being a human being.

So many of the world’s conflicts are a cycle of revenge between groups of people. It’s not just about individuals. And it’s always about revenge, or vengeance.

There is only one way to end conflicts – from those between ethnic groups to family feuds. It’s forgiveness. Vengeance ties both the injured and the injurer, in the words of Lewis Smedes, to an “escalator of pain”. You never get off as long as parity is required.

Or as Gandhi noted – if everyone followed the “eye for an eye” principle of justice the whole world would eventually go blind.

SO WHAT ABOUT OUR CONFESSIONS

You can’t celebrate forgiveness until you confess your sins!

You can’t understand the freedom of being a child of God – unless you understand the tyranny of slavery – to sin and evil – and deal with it.

The moment you say “I wish so-and-so would hear this” you are no different from Jesus’ opposition who cried out: “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Really?

Never been slaves of anyone? Hmm they seemed to have missed the reason why the Passover was necessary back in Egypt – apart from missing their slavery to pride.

So on this reformation Sunday – we remember that sin was so serious that it took God himself to take it away through Jesus. For in the words of Paul:

(NLT)  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.

Or in these words:

Rom 5:6  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Rom 5:7  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.

Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

HOW ON EARTH CAN WE NOT FORGIVE?

As we celebrate what God has done for us, there is one question that remains:

How on earth can we not forgive others? Is there someone you have not forgiven?

There’s at least one parable – the parable of the unforgiving servant – that is a steady and stark reminder of what grace received does not mean.

Don’t leave the building today until you resolve to go down that track – the forgiveness trail in your life – no matter what the cost.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!

Amen.

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on October 27, 2012, in Sunday Morning Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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