Reformation Day – October 31, 2021 Sermon – John 8:31-35

At the beginning of the service:

My sermon today is in two parts.  The second part will be, as usual, following the reading of the Gospel.  The first part – well, this is the first part.

When Evangelical Lutheran Worship (the red or “cranberry” hymnal that we are using today) was published in 2006, a new liturgical rite was offered as part of the gathering time of the liturgy:  the thanksgiving for baptism.  It is an opportunity, as we begin our worship, to ground ourselves in the grace of God, offered to us through holy baptism.  Although it does not proclaim God’s forgiveness quite as directly as Confession and Absolution do, nevertheless, standing at the opening of worship, the Thanksgiving for Baptism does remind us that we approach the throne of grace as forgiven people.  By remembering our baptism, we are renewed in hope by the promise of eternal life.

For the next several Sundays, we’re going to be beginning our worship with a Thanksgiving for Baptism.  November, while it’s not its own liturgical season does have a distinct flavor . . . and I know it’s not November yet, but we’re only hours away!  The feel of November is a little more somber – not unlike the feel we get from the natural world as the daylight becomes shorter and the landscape barer.  Next Sunday is All Saints Sunday – a very somber day.  And then, as we inch closer to Advent each year, the lectionary gives us readings about judgment and the end of time.  It feels like the perfect time to refresh our spirits with the promises of grace and forgiveness and eternal life.

Today, Reformation Day, also feels like an ideal time for this congregation to begin with the Thanksgiving for Baptism – and not because it is a Lutheran contribution to the liturgy.  As I promised you in my October newsletter article, this day will not be a celebration or glorification of all things Lutheran.  But instead, I believe that Reformation is the perfect time to begin with the Thanksgiving for Baptism because we remember that it is our baptism into Christ which makes of us a community.  A united community.  I believe I have said it before, but I will say it again:  this congregation, and the way you have come together from two similar and yet distinct denominational traditions, is an inspiration to me – a sign of hope of what the Christian church can, and in my opinion, must be in the changing world in which we live.  And that you have come together with relatively little conflict . . . well, I thank God.  But we must never take our oneness in Christ for granted.  We must continue to work, carefully and with compassion, to merge our histories and traditions in such a way that the past is honored, yes, but the future is anticipated and planned for with hope and joy.

So let us begin by thanking God for the gifts and grace that make us one:  let us begin with the Thanksgiving for Baptism.

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After the reading of the Gospel:

A heavily-booked commercial flight out of Denver was canceled, and a single agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travelers.  Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the front and slapped his ticket down on the counter.  “I have to be on this flight and it has to be first class!” he insisted.  “I’m sorry, sir,” the agent replied.  “I’ll be happy to help you, but I have to take care of these folks first.”  The passenger was unimpressed.  “Do you have any idea who I am?” he demanded in a voice loud enough for the passengers behind him to hear.  Without hesitating, the gate agent smiled and picked up her public-address microphone.  “May I have your attention, please?” she broadcast throughout the terminal.  “We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is.  If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate.”  As the man retreated, the people in the terminal burst into applause.

It seems that the Jewish people who had believed in Jesus had also forgotten who they were.  Upon hearing Jesus say, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” they countered that, as descendants of Abraham, they had never been slaves.  Really?  They had never been slaves to anyone?  Had they forgotten that a HUGE part of their identity as a people was the fact that the Lord rescued them, the descendants of Abraham, from slavery in Egypt?  It’s called the exodus, and it is what they celebrated every year at the Passover.  I suspect that those protesting Jesus’ words in today’s lesson, just like the man at the airport gate, didn’t really forget who they were.  Just like the guy trying to jump the line, they were trying to assert themselves as privileged.

But it doesn’t work that way in the kingdom.  Jesus patiently responded, redefining freedom.  Freedom, he told them, came, not from their history or heritage as God’s chosen people.  It came from continuing – moving forward into the future – trusting in Jesus’ word.  Freedom came from being a disciple.  And it came from the promise that Jesus secures:  a permanent place in the household.  This is what would now identify them, said Jesus.

And this is what identifies us:  not our history or heritage as Lutherans or Episcopalians or even Lutherpalians!  Who we are is a people living into the future by continuing to trust in Jesus’ word.  Who we are is a community of disciples, following in Jesus’ footsteps by forgiving one another and giving up our lives in service to the most vulnerable in our midst.  Who we are is a people made one by our baptism into Christ, gathered together here by the Holy Spirit, and joyfully, gratefully taking our place at this table – this table, which is a foretaste of the great banquet feast of heaven, where there are no first-class seats, no reserved tables according to denomination, but only unity and light and love forever in the family of God.


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