Reformation Sunday 14—10/26/14
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
If you don’t commute to work every day you may not know it but traffic has gotten worse in recent years. In his Seattle Times column this past week, Danny Westneat wrote that “Seattle’s got the traffic of a big-time city, but the spirit of a small town when it comes to doing anything about it.” In another article he says we’re like Manhattan, but when it comes to traffic we act like Mayberry. “We’re still arguing about our bus system!”
You remember Mayberry, right? For any among us of a certain age, we recall that Mayberry is the setting for Andy Griffith and the lovable but goofy cast of characters that make up the fictional small town of Mayberry, North Carolina, on the old 1960s/1970s TV programs: The Andy Griffith Show, and, Mayberry RFD.
If you take pride in our Seattle metro area it’s no compliment to be called Mayberry. There’s nothing wrong with being a small town, of course, just as there’s nothing wrong with being a large city. But Westneat’s point is this: If a big city refuses to grow up and take responsibility for being a big city, we all suffer the consequences.
Five hundred years ago a man named Martin Luther saw that the church that had been founded 1500 years before was refusing to grow up, to be what it was intended to be. It had become distracted by concerns about wealth, power, and doctrine. It had forgotten its mission of service to the world. It had become preoccupied with human priorities, forgetting that human beings were created in what the Book of Genesis describes as the “image of God,” and are constantly in the process of being re-made into the image of Christ himself.
You might have heard there was another school shooting this past week. Our natural inclination is to ask who is at fault. We want to know the facts so we know who to blame. We want to know the so-called “truth” of the situation.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus says, “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” For disciples of Jesus Christ, the key to truth and freedom is our willingness to follow his word. There are plenty of alternatives to Christ’s word, of course. Many more children will die tragically in our land, for example, because many grown-ups allow their definition of freedom to be determined not by the word of God but by the Constitution of the United States.
The question is: Spiritually speaking, are we Christians “Manhattan,” or, are we “Mayberry”? Do we accept our astonishing, magnificent identity as creatures made in nothing less than the image of God, being re-made into the very image of Christ? Are the driving principles of our lives love, peace, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation? Or, do we settle for human priorities and human responses to the difficult questions we face in life? Do we allow the choices of our lives to be dictated by fear and self-interest?
When a big city acts like a small town its traffic situation becomes an impossible mess. When creatures created in the image of God rely on our animal instincts of fear and self-interest our society becomes a serious mess.
And yet, there is hope. Always, there is hope!
At the end of his column on Seattle traffic Danny Westneat writes, “Seattle is transforming into a truly big city, willingly or no, like it or not.” We could say something similar about ourselves. We, God’s beloved human creation, are being transformed, willingly or no, like it or not.
That doesn’t sound like freedom, does it? But God’s freedom is very different from most human definitions of freedom. The best example of God’s freedom that I can think of is something akin to what I observed a couple of days ago when I went salmon fishing with family members on the Olympic Peninsula. Every year at this time these magnificent creatures finish their epic journey, returning to their home where they spawn and die. But whether or not they spawn many are caught.
We might say that our God is the Great Fisherman, determined to hook us and bring us into the boat. The Great Fisherman wants for all of us not merely human freedom based on individual choice and personal autonomy, but true freedom based on eternal, self-giving principles of love and compassion.
The Great Fisherman’s hook is love. And like fish in a river, sometimes we don’t see it, sometimes we ignore it and sometimes we bite. But once hooked we also fight and resist and go our own way. We even shake the hook loose because we think freedom means doing what we want. But patiently, endlessly, the Great Fisherman casts again and again, without judgment, determined to hook us and bring us into the boat. And if it takes a hundred years, or a thousand years, or a million years, the Great Fisherman will never stop fishing until every single fish in the river is caught.
“If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The truth is, only love can set us free. Christian freedom is grounded in the love of a God who will never let us go, never give up until we embrace our astonishing, true identity as creatures who were made in nothing less than the image of God, and are being re-formed, re-made into the very likeness of Christ—-pure love, in human form.