Sunday, October 31, 2010

Homily for the Festival of the Reformation


John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Or, so reads the motto carved in granite inside the main lobby of the old CIA building in Langley, Virginia. That institution’s use of these words of our Lord is somewhat telling. It is telling in that it reveals how men feel about the truth. The truth is a means to an end. The truth is something that is to be discovered. It has to be discovered because there are men who desire to keep it hidden. But, of course, the men who desire to discover the truth themselves desire to keep certain truths hidden, to withhold certain truths, and to dispense as truth what are actually half-truths, and, sometimes, not truth at all.

Less than a century ago, men still believed that there was truth underlying all observable things and phenomena. That was the great Modern Age when science and human knowledge replaced the need for superstition and religion, for God. As men formulated and tested their theories, little by little, year after year, the space for God seemingly became smaller and smaller. It was believed that, ultimately, a single theory for everything would be formulated and that then men would finally know the truth of all things and would be truly free at last – free from the tyranny of God, and free from the unenlightened simpletons who believe in Him. Today, however, in these so-called Post-Modern times, it is popular to believe that there is no universal or absolute truth, but that there is no possible theory of all things, but, only personal truth or emotional truth, that is, subjective truth. Indeed, it appears that the truth did not set us free, but, rather, that we have set ourselves free from the truth.

For, the truth is this, men don’t care much for the truth. The truth is, the truth makes men uncomfortable, because their deeds are wicked. For, the truth is a rule, the truth is a measure, outside of one’s self, that judges men’s thoughts, words, and deeds and condemns them. So, wicked men flee from the truth, the way cockroaches flee from the light, for fear that their wicked deeds be exposed.

And, Jesus knows this about you. He knows how you fear the truth too, how you seek to hide from the truth, to bend the truth, to deny the truth. And, that is why He says to you “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus knows that you are not free, but, that you are in slavery to sin and death. And, Jesus knows how this truth terrifies you. But, Jesus speaks of another truth, a truth that sets you free from all that, a truth that is known by abiding in His word. And, Jesus is the Word, and Jesus is the Truth, and Jesus is the Truth that sets you free from slavery to sin and death. The Jews to whom Jesus spoke these words wouldn’t believe the truth standing right there before them in their very presence. They were afraid of the truth, so they told themselves half-truths and false-truths to comfort themselves. But, the truth is, they remained in slavery to sin and death, while Truth Incarnate, Jesus Christ was present to free them from all that.

Nearly fifteen hundred years later, men continued to fear the truth, to hide from the truth, to bend the truth, and to deny the truth because their deeds continued to be wicked. Some things never change. But, even worse, men also feared, hid, bent, and denied the Truth that had in truth set all men free from sin and death, Jesus Christ. For fear of losing power and influence to both foreign and regional political forces, and for a multitude of other social, cultural, and political reasons, the Church had covered over, had hidden and conditionalized, the Gospel Truth of men’s justification by faith in Jesus Christ. They exchanged the Truth for a lie and kept men in slavery to sin and death. It was this long social, cultural, and political process that set the stage for the Reformation in the 16th century.

There had been numerous reformers before Martin Luther including John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. Most of them and their efforts had been stamped out and some of the reformers were even executed. But, all of them were martyrs, that is, witnesses, for the Gospel Truth. They were sowers of the Gospel seed who would not live to see the fruits of their labors. But, when the time was right, God, and God alone, saw that His message would ring out to the ends of the world.

Again, the reasons for the Reformation were multitude. Politically, the Holy Roman Empire was in decline and was threatened by the Turks and barbarians from without and by territorial unrest from within. Socially, there was increasing strife between peasants and landowners. And, then there was spiritual strife within the Church as the forgiveness of sins was being sold as a commodity through the sale of indulgences and even the sale of the holy sacraments. Arguably, however, the greatest factor in the rapid spread and success of the Reformation was the invention of the movable type – Gutenberg’s printing press of the mid 15th century.

For, what did the printing press serve to do but to spread the Word of God? In all likelihood, were it not for the press, Martin Luther would be but another footnote in pre-Reformation history. Indeed, the Reformation was God’s doing, in His way, at His time, in the place of His choosing. And, as hard as men may strive in fear to hide, bend, and deny the truth, the Eternal Gospel of the Truth still stands and will continue to ring out to the ends of the earth. Again, Jesus said “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Ultimately, it was the truth of the word that was uncovered in the Reformation and, thanks to the press, rapidly spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Wycliffe had translated the entire Bible into English and Luther translated it into German. In addition, numerous commentaries and theological tracts were read by more and more people. The Word of the Truth was out of the bag, proclaimed, as it were, by one of God’s holy angels to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

“The hour of his judgment has come,” for, God has judged men to be righteous in Jesus Christ – and that is the truth. So, there is nothing to fear from the truth unless what you fear is losing your enslavement to sin and death. The truth is that you are set free from all your secret sins, from having to hide them and cover them up, from having to fear their being exposed, from having to bend the truth to make yourself look better in the eyes of men and of God. Therefore, confess your dark sins, expose them to the light of the Truth, and watch them disappear like vapor in the full light of the sun. Be free from sin and death and do not submit yourself again unto a yoke of slavery. For, the Son has set you free, and you are a son, not a slave. The righteousness of God has be shown in that He is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. So, you are free from performing works of the Law to merit salvation through the blood of God’s sacrificial Lamb. You are free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of your life to the glory of God the Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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