Not Really A Hero 10-30-16

In this Reformation Sunday sermon, based on John 8:31-36, I explore the notion of freedom through Christ, and how understanding this idea has led to all kinds of division throughout history.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Most of you know I’m a movie buff, and I watch a lot of movies. Some I hate, some are okay, and some I love. But most movies, once I’ve seen them, I don’t really go back and watch them again. That being said, there are exceptions. There are some movies that I can watch over and over again…the type of movie that if I’m channel surfing and I stumble across it, I’ll just stop and watch it, regardless of what I might have been planning on doing.

One of these movies is Tombstone, came out back in the 90’s…telling the story of the shootout at the OK Corral as well as the aftermath. Now if you’ve seen this movie…you know who the hero is…and honestly, even if you haven’t seen it, common knowledge of the OK Corral would probably lead you to say that the hero is Wyatt Earp…backup players…important, but not quite as cool…were his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and his friend Doc Holliday.  And the badguys…well that was the Clantons and the McClauries…who, of course…got what was coming to them.  Throughout the course of the movie, we route for Wyatt as he blazes a trail through the bad guys before finally getting the girl at the end of the movie and settling down for the rest of his life. (pause)
But that’s just a movie isn’t it? And even though its based on real events…its still just a story…and Wyatt Earp, probably wasn’t anywhere close to as heroic as the movie portrays him…in fact, just a little digging shows us that in all honesty…he was a pretty regular guy who had a lot of ups and down.  But history remembers him as the hero.

Its funny how that happens…how our opinions of someone are shaped over time, or perhaps by a specific instance or period in their lives and we forget that in reality, they were just a regular person, doing their best with the situation that they’ve found themselves in…and that this is pretty much the reality for everyone…even the individuals who were portrayed as the “bad guys” in the movies…I’m guessing that they didn’t consider themselves to be the bad guy…just like the one that history portrays as the hero, they were just trying to do the best they could with the situation they found themselves in.  I’ve heard an old saying that everyone is the hero in their own story…its just a question of who’s telling it.

This same notion applies throughout our church history as well…even going clear back into the period of the Old Testament. We are talking about this idea in the confirmation class this year, as we move through the overarching Biblical Narrative…that the big names in the Bible…none of them were perfect people…and even if God used them to accomplish some amazing things…they had their issues as well.

Think of a few examples…a few big names in the Bible…names like Paul…a former Jewish zealot who, if he didn’t commit murder, he at least condoned it.  Peter, the rock…the first pope…a loud mouth who often spoke without thinking, and denied Christ when things got tough.

Let’s back it up. King David, an adulterer who conspired to murder…Moses committed murder…Noah was a drunk…and even Abraham…the great father of faith…the father of a great nation…the key name that we hear in today’s gospel story…He had his moment as well, like trying to pass off his wife as his sister in order to save his own skin. (pause)
Now I can say for certain, because of course I wasn’t there…but I’m going to venture a guess that none of these individuals probably thought of themselves as the hero…but rather they just tried to do the best they could in the situation they were in…and the case of these specific individuals…the situation they were in corresponded with the action that God happened to be taking in our reality…and so, their names are found in the scriptures…and for the most part, they are remembered as heroes. (pause)
And likewise, there are the bad guys in the scriptures as well…sometimes individuals, sometimes groups of people…and when we find ourselves in Jesus’ time…within the narratives of the Gospels…well those bad guys were usually the Pharisees or the Sadducees…the religious elite…occasionally the Roman oppressors…or in John’s gospel, the group commonly referred to as “the Jews.” And that’s the case today.

Jesus is in Jerusalem…hanging out at one of the big Jewish festivals that he was known to frequent…and over the course of a couple of chapters here in John, he continually ends up in the temple…hanging out…teaching, debating…arguing, correcting…in short, he was there doing his thing…and rest assured between the beginning of Chapter 7 and the end of Chapter 8, there is a lot of arguing…and this short little tidbit that we hear today, barely scratches the surface. Rest assured that the mood within this particular little tidbit of scripture…is not peaceful by any means.

But what I find interesting here, is that by the point where we start off today…Jesus’ teaching actually seems to be working for a portion of the audience…for we hear just prior that many believed in him…and so as we pick up today with verse 31, that is who Jesus is addressing.

You believe in me…Good…now here is what that means…this isn’t a one time deal…abide in me…remain in my teaching…if you do so then you are my disciples…you are my followers and you will know the truth…and the truth will set you free.

Now here’s the weird part…we hear that…and it sounds pretty good…almost a no brainer…freedom in Christ…remain in the word, hold onto the teachings of Jesus…okay.

But for those individuals there that day…this notion that they would receive freedom…well this is something that they just can’t get over. WAIT A SECOND JESUS…WE ARE DESCENDENTS OF ABRAHAM…WE HAVE NEVER BEEN SLAVES TO ANYONE. (pause)
Now that’s a laugh isn’t it? Apparently these guys have a really short memory for history, because their very culture, became a culture in the midst of slavery in Egypt…and there are several other examples of servitude within their history as well…but regardless of all that…regardless of any further debate on the nature of sin, and belief and faith…regardless of all that stuff…these guys are clinging to their heritage as the literal end all be all. We are descendants of Abraham…and for us, that’s all we need.

God gave Abraham the promise…and since we are his descendants, we automatically get it too. (pause) But that’s not how this works.

The promise of God is an amazing thing. The notion of salvation…of eternal life…of being included in the kingdom of God, both in the here and now as well as in the age to come…this is a really big deal…even if it goes far beyond our comprehension…

But the amazing thing about this promise…the amazing thing revealed in this short tidbit of scripture…this short tidbit of Jesus teaching…it reminds us that this freedom that he is describing…it is not some physical freedom…its something more…something that honestly goes so far beyond our ability to wrap our heads around, that all we can do is trust that whatever its going to look like…it will be wonderful…it will be beyond comprehension…and that since God has promised it, God will make good on that promise and nothing will stand in God’s way of giving it to us.  For if the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed…free to receive this gift of the heavenly inheritance…whatever that means….Jesus makes it possible for us to enter into the house of God and be in God’s presence. (pause)
Now once again…for us, here, 2000 odd years after this conversation took place…perhaps this seems almost second nature…maybe it seems like a no brainer…but we’ve got more in common with Jesus’ opponents on that day than we like to admit.

They held onto to their cultural heritage as the end all be all…that being Jewish was all they needed…and we do the same don’t we…we have all sorts of traps that we fall into…cultural…racial…financial…political, just to name a few…we fall into the notion that this is right and that is wrong…and even here within the church we fall in this same trap.

Today is Reformation Sunday…a day when we recognize and celebrate the work of the reformers that all started when a random German priest decided to try and reform the Catholic church and nailed a poster on the church door…and depending on which side of history we fall on, Luther was either a big hero…or he was the chief bad guy.

And in the nearly 500 years that have passed since that day…we have organized ourselves into countless different groups…groups based on tradition…and culture…and interpretation and understanding…we’ve rallied ourselves around different themes and ideas…often times demonizing those who take a different stance…and I fear, all too often we place all of our stock in that basket, along with the false notion that God thinks the same way we do…that we’re right and they’re wrong.

But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t think the same way we do…which is probably good because if God thinks like me then we’re all in trouble. (pause) But the wonderful thing about all this…is a simple promise of Jesus…abide in my word…remember my teachings…even in times when they don’t make sense…even in times when you might disagree with one another on just what I was talking about…even when you’re trying your best to hold on to truth that goes beyond your human ability to understand…in all of this…I have chose you.

That’s the glory of the gospel…we don’t have to get it right…we don’t have know some magic words…we don’t have some cosmic checklist that we need to complete in order to receive it…the glory of the gospels tells us that in the midst of our flaws….in the midst of our brokenness, God has chosen us, simply because he loves us…and he will not be separated from us.

That’s the truth…that God has chosen you…you don’t have to be a hero…you just have to be…God’s already done the rest. Amen.

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