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October 31, 2004 (Reformation Day)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

Romans 3.19-28, John 8.31-36

Grace and peace to you from God our creator, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior. Amen.

Some of you may have heard the exciting news out of Wittenberg, Germany. About 5 days ago, it was announced that archeologists have discovered--on the site of Martin Luther's home--a bathroom. Archeologists are not willing to state that it is, without a doubt, Luther's bathroom, but it is indeed from the 16th century. We know from the Table Talk writings, that Luther apparently did a lot of his thinking in the bathroom, due to intestinal troubles, so some are speculating that the bathroom that has been discovered was where the Reformation was born. For those of you planning a trip to Germany in the near future, they plan to have the bathroom open to the public beginning in May, 2005.

In the Gospel today, Jesus tells his disciples, "The truth will set you free." They have an immediate reaction of incredulity. "WHAT?!" they say to Jesus, "we have never been enslaved; in fact, we, are descendants of Abraham, a long, proud line. What do you mean set you free?" The disciples fall into a trap that many today experience--they are trapped in literalism of the Bible. In our Wednesday night book study, we are discussing The Heart of Christianity, by Marcus Borg. Borg begins the book with a discussion of metaphors, and he offers up a definition of a metaphor as "the more than literal meaning of language." Borg goes on to say that even when the Biblical language and stories have a literal meaning, there is a metaphorical meaning behind the words on the page.

Martin Luther also lived in a time where literalism was taken to extremes. Many of you know the story that one of the practices of the church that Luther railed against was the selling of indulgences. It is a lesson also that those who interpret the words get to determine what those words "literally" mean.

Many of you know Martin Luther's story. He was training for a career in law, when he was walking in the countryside and a violent storm descended. In fear for his life, Luther prayed to Saint Anne, "Spare my life, and I will become a monk." Now, as my Luther professor told us, it is unlikely that he grabbed that profession from nowhere, and he probably had been thinking about entering a religious order before being caught in the storm. Luther did indeed survive the storm, and being a man of his word, entered the monastery.

As many of you know, Luther's life in the monastery was not pleasant for him, or probably for people around him. His religious life was a life dominated by fear as he struggled to earn God's approval and God's love.

Fear is something that most of us can relate to. In addition to it being Reformation Sunday, as the children reminded us during the children's time, it is also Halloween--a day dedicated to fear. The movies on TV--in the theater--are horror movies. Haunted houses spring up during the month of October. Personally, I'm not one for haunted houses, as I scream and run when frightened, but Saturday I heard a report on NPR about a special kind of haunted house--called Hell House.

Hell House was the creation of Rev. Keenan Roberts of Abundant Life Christian Center Arvada, Colorado. Hell House has been around since the mid to late 90s, and people can buy a kit from Rev. Roberts to reproduce Hell House in their own communities. I read an 2000 interview with the Rev. Ballard, from Warren County Ohio. Rev. Ballard told the Associated Press that his "Hell House" is "meant to show teens the effects of sin. It involves a tour through hell, where people encounter the funeral of a gay man who has died of AIDS, a young woman who had an abortion, a teen who committed suicide, a drug overdose at a party, and a car crash involving a drunken father and his children." Rev. Ballard takes pains to explain, "We are not saying all homosexuals with AIDS die in hell. We are showing the effects of sin--what happens when, in a hypothetical situation, a homosexual has AIDS and dies and has not repented their sins." I am certain that the teenagers in Warren County, Ohio, readily pick up on the subtlety of the presentation.

Hell House is designed to scare people to Jesus. To scare teenagers to "accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior" or else. And the or else usually has to do with ending up in hell.

Religion isn't the only part of our lives dominated by fear. For most of us, Sept. 11, 2001, ushered in a new era--an era of fear. Our insulated North American world was brutally attacked and ripped open, and we soon became a nation at war--and a nation dominated by fear.

Martha Stortz, a Lutheran ethicist, in her article "The Politics of Fear in a Season of Campaigning" writes, "On November 2nd, we won't vote our party or our values; we won't even vote our head or our heart. We'll vote our fears, and whichever candidate manipulates them most cleverly will have won." And we all are fearful of something this political season--even if it is a fear of change or no change.

Marcus Borg in The Heart of Christianity writes, "the Biblical picture of the human condition is bleak. Separated and self-concerned, the self becomes blind, self-preoccupied, prideful; worry-filled, grasping, miserable; insensitive, angry, violent. In the dark, we are blind and don't see. We live in bondage in Egypt, in exile in Babylon, and sometimes we become Egypt and Babylon."

What is the word of hope in the midst of all of this fear and bleak picture of the human condition? I believe that we can find hope where Luther did--in the book of Romans where Paul writes, we are justified by grace, through faith in Christ. There is nothing that we can do to make God love us any more, or any less. He also writes that there is no distinction. All have sinned and fall short--and all are given the gift of God's grace. And therefore it is not up to us to decide who is in and who is out--or even if there is an "in" or "out." God loves us, period. That also means, that God also loves the person who votes differently that we do on Tuesday; God loves the person who has different views; God loves the person that we just can't seem to manage to love.

The Truth will make you free, Jesus tells his disciples. Their reaction "We're descendants of Abraham!" is not without irony. The descendants of Abraham had indeed been enslaved in Egypt, exiled to Babylon and scattered throughout the Mediterranean.

The Truth will make you free, Jesus says. This truth is that Jesus is Lord and that though Jesus we are justified by grace. The truth that set Luther free from his fear of "never being good enough" can set us free from our fears. Of course, we will still be afraid, but knowing a greater truth, and we are able to look beyond the fear and proclaim The Truth. We are able to be free from the enslavement to fear.

The truth will make you free--the truth is that Jesus is Lord. He meets you in the water of baptism, the bread and wine of communion and in community of believers and in people you meet in your daily life. You have come today to celebrate your freedom--know the truth and the truth will make you free--Jesus is Lord!

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