Free at Last                                       John 8:31-36

Reformation/Stewardship                   October 30, 2022                         St. John, New Orleans

Friday night we hosted families from our community and our school at Trick or Trunk. 

The amount of candy we handed out was enormous. 

And the kids just kept coming back for more. It was free candy after all. 

And it was a joy to see their faces light up 

and to see the families socializing together with our church family. 

When something is free people want to be sure to take advantage of the opportunity. 

Maybe it's free pancakes on national pancake day. 

Or that free donut at the donut shop on national donut day. 

My kids always appreciated Free Stuff Sunday on the day before classes started in the fall at the university. 

And last spring during our first Mardi Gras 

we came home from each parade loaded down with beads 

and all the other free stuff that was thrown from the floats. 

And then when you get home you realize some free stuff has more value than other free stuff.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar?

someone offered you a steak dinner to listen to a sales pitch for financial services. 

Maybe you know someone who got a free weekend at a resort in exchange for listening to a presentation about timeshares? 

And, as it usually goes, you never truly get something for nothing. 

The doughnut and the pancakes need a cup of coffee or orange juice to go with it. 

The financial advisor will make a Commission on the investments you send their way. 

The timeshare deal will be irresistible to pass up and you buy in. 

The e-mail or phone number you gave out to get a trinket on campus means your inbox is flooded with spam. 

So, is it any wonder, then, that people have forever thought that God's grace is not really free?

But, yet that is our message today. 

Jesus pleaded with the Jews in his day to place their trust in him so that they could be freed from their sin. 

Paul still had to explain it to the Romans in our epistle. 

And it is a gospel which will be proclaimed even after the world is judged as we hear in Revelation. 

It is a gospel which invites us to receive complete and total forgiveness of our sins 

without any cost or requirements to ourselves. 

Now, or at any time later.

So, what's the catch? What does God get out of this? 

Even the most generous philanthropist gets free publicity from their gifts. 

And you and I get a nice feeling in our heart when we are able to help someone. 

But God receives nothing out of this arrangement. 

He merely receives back that which was lost to him, 

and it cost him his very own son to accomplish our freedom. 

And more than that, most of those for whom he died don't even know it and will not be returned to Him.

That's right. To save some Jesus had to die for all. 

There could be no quibbling, doubt, or uncertainty.

 His atonement had to be universal if it was going to be free. 

And so while we are indeed precious for being among those who have received the gift, 

we are still the same poor, miserable, sinners, as our neighbors. And all the other people. 

Because we did nothing to deserve our salvation. 

We simply received it by faith. 

Therefore, we are truly blessed and fortunate 

to be among those who will know the glory of God's Kingdom firsthand. 

For now, it is just a foreshadowing.

but on the last day, it will be an unfathomable glory.

So, how should we respond to such a blessing? 

If it were a financial windfall like winning the lottery 

I suppose we would find an expert to help us not squander it away 

Or take measures to be sure we weren’t tricked into it being stolen from us. 

If it were a talent like a beautiful singing voice or the ability to paint, 

we would want to be sure to protect our faculties in those areas 

so that we could enjoy them throughout our life. 

But the payoff for our faith yet been realized. 

Judgment day is not yet here. 

The resurrection of the dead is not yet upon us. 

On the outside, it would seem there is nothing to preserve protect, or procure. 

Yet, it is the most precious gift one can receive because it gives hope. 

And with the sure and certain hope in the resurrection to come, 

we are free to live a resurrected life now 

by the promise of Jesus and by his first fruits resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.

It's been said that the Christian who is living out that resurrected life is living a life of worship. 

And so, when we look at our actual worship service, it models our life of faith. 

We begin hearing the name of God at some point, and shortly thereafter, know of our sin and seek his forgiveness. 

Having been absolved we seek to learn about him and study his word and listen to his voice as it speaks to us. 

Having heard his word we are moved to show our thanks and praise 

and to show we are serious, we give him significant things that mean so much to us 

and which reflect the love we have for him. 

This life of worship we live is intentionally focused on and reflective of the God we worship. 

We are after all created in His image. 

And as we have been drowned in his baptism, 

so too do we share in the new life of our resurrected savior. 

And so, our worship is the counterpoint of God's interaction with us. 

Instead of calling his name at the beginning of the service, he calls us by name in baptism. 

Where we confess our sins, he absolves them. 

Where we listen, he speaks. 

Where we sacrifice, and give thanks, he demonstrates love, and fellowship. 

And so, as we look at our offerings in light of that reflection, 

we can never see our gifts as payment, or even a duty to fulfill. 

Because their counterpoint is the very life of Jesus. 

God offered up his beloved as proof of his undying love. 

And we offer our gifts as our unending praise.

So, if God's love for us knew no bounds, as the death and resurrection of Jesus demonstrated, 

then our Thanksgiving should also be limitless and unending. 

From our prayers, as Paul tells the Thessalonians to, “pray without ceasing,” 

to our first fruits gifts as Malachi says, “bring the full tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.”

 and just as God gave entirely of himself upon the cross out of love, 

so too do we give entirely of ourselves out of thankfulness. 

Heart, soul, and mind, are his 

because we have been freed from sin to do so. 

And anything we give to him he will return again in love until there is no need. (Mal 3: 6-12). 

And if we are giving totally of ourselves in every way in Thanksgiving 

we are not only casting aside the temptation to claim our salvation as our own doing, 

but we are open to the Holy Spirit moving in our hearts to do his will. 

And on top of all that, the church which is full of Christians living fully in thankfulness of the father's complete love for them, is never lacking in anything. 

Workers are plentiful. 

Programs are impactful. 

Preaching is transformative. 

Resources are plentiful.

We are in a season of the life of the church we called demonstrate faith through Thanksgiving. 

Yes this is fall which is when we talk of financial stewardship, 

and, certainly, there are many financial needs for our continuing ministry. 

But also for the much needed repairs of our campus. 

We really require at least a couple $1000 a week more to do the minimum ministry that is expected of us, 

and several $100,000 to repair the water and storm damage our buildings have suffered. 

And next week you'll have the opportunity to give thanks 

by pledging to both these efforts as well as our school. 

But it is also an election year at our church and we are in need of new faces to lead our boards and ministries. 

Maybe you don't think of yourself as leadership material? 

Or, perhaps you don't think you have time.

but I hope that if someone from the nominating committee calls, 

you will give serious consideration to serving as they have seen potential in you to lead us. 

And that by serving, you will give thanks to God in your joyful lending of your talent. 

But we are also in a season in which our world, your family, friends, and neighbors, need you to bring the light of Christ to bear in their life. 

To bring the word of God and his commands where it is absent.

To bring the forgiveness and love of Christ where there is hate and condemnation.

To bring the good news of salvation to places where the world is dark and without hope. 

in short, there is no place or no time in which you are not free to be the body of Christ, the mouth of Christ, the heart of Christ to the world around you.

you are free to do that or not do that. 

But the extent to which you allow yourself to be free 

will determine the freedom you experience and share with those around you.

The reason the gospel and forgiveness is free is that you can't reject it. 

In fact, that is the only action in faith you control; rejecting the Holy Spirit and his gifts. 

We say his gifts are persistent but resistible. 

That is, they always come at us through the means of grace, namely word and sacrament, 

but the Old Adam, the world, and the devil himself work to get us to resist receiving these gifts. 

But perhaps if we were to daily remind ourselves of these free gifts, which grant us freedom from sin, we might resist them less and less! 

Perhaps if we ask for the forgiveness of our sins daily, live our lives as though they really are eternal, and with the confidence that we have been saved from eternal punishment and separation from God, we might be inclined to not only be more thankful, but free?

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciple and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” 

Every time I hear that passage, I can't help but recall Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he ended his, “I have a dream,” speech. 

Perhaps he had this verse in mind,

as he spoke of the freedom which comes when we drop our focus from what separates us from God 

and turn to Jesus who unites us with God. 

When he said, “free at last,” it wasn't just from the oppression of inequality, 

but the oppression from our sins, both individualized, and societal, 

which were paid for and forgiven by our Lord and savior Jesus.

Lastly, today is reformation Sunday, which is the day we celebrate the churches liberation from the tyranny of works righteousness. 

It is not a celebration of German, or even Lutheran heritage and culture. 

Rather, it is a celebration of the freedom that all Christians have 

to be thankful for God’s grace 

and to worship in ways that are meaningful to the individual Christian. 

And chief among that worship, for Luther, 

was that every Christian was to go about their lives as a living sacrifice 

or act of worship through what he called, their vocation. 

That's what we've been talking about here this morning.

Let us pray that each of us will not only have faith but live out that faith. 

That we might experience it vocationally.

That his church may benefit from our thankful service, 

and that our offerings may enable the ministries of his church to flourish and grow. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.