On the campus of the greatest university in the land, Northwest Missouri State University, sits its administration building. In 1979, a year after I was born, it was almost lost in a devastating fire. My parents still talk about it. But in 2010, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of my favorite buildings that stands on one of my favorite places on earth. As you walk up to the doors and the building starts to impose her enormous height on you, if you were to look up, you would see etched in stone between two turrets, “and the truth shall set you free.” Now not being a Bible expert in college (I know, some of you may be surprised) I honestly thought it was more of like a honor code situation. Like the building was reminding us not to lie and cheat our way through college. Which also was good. Had I known the real truth, perhaps the stress of college might have been a little less.
What is the truth?That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? We live in a time when it seems to be harder and harder to tell truth from fiction. A lie seems to spread faster than the truth on social media these days. And I try, believe it or not, I really try to not talk politics from the pulpit. But our administration makes it challenging to believe truth from fiction as well. Should we dare criticize the administration, even if it is fair, even if it is true, there is a risk it will be called “fake news.” So what is the truth? At the risk of sounding like a basic children’s sermon answer, the truth is Jesus. Jesus even tells us that himself later in the gospel of John. He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6)
Jesus is reminding all who believe in him, including us, that as long as we abide in him, as long as we are in relationship with him, we will know freedom. Knowing Jesus is knowing the truth. This is such a hard concept for us to grasp in western culture because we already live in a free society. Now, no matter what party you side with, you may not think that country is perfect, but we do have our freedoms which is what makes our country amazing and targeted. At the same time, it can be hard for Christians to understand the concept of freedom if we are already governmentally free people.
But the freedom that Jesus spoke of wasn’t the freedom many of us think about when we pledge allegiance to the flag, stand for the national anthem, or honor our veterans. The freedom that Jesus was speaking of was the freedom that only he can bring: the freedom from sin and the freedom for relationship. The freedom for relationships with one another and the freedom for relationship with God. The freedoms that most of us know as United States citizens are wonderful and glorious and they are what allow us to gather in this place week after week and worship the way we do. We should not take them for granted. But at the same time, these freedoms cannot save us. It is only the cross and the actions of Jesus on the cross that can save us. If God forbid all of our constitutional freedoms were taken away tomorrow, we would still be free citizens of God’s kingdom because of the cross.
We also shouldn’t miss the importance of this day. It is, after all, the day we mark the Reformation. We shouldn’t just think about this as a day in history but an invitation to constantly be re-forming. After all, scripture reminds us this day once again that we are justified by faith apart from works. Meaning, we are justified by our faith in God and by God’s saving actions on the cross and not by anything we ourselves can do. Because as amazing as we are (and let’s be honest, we’re all pretty amazing) we cannot save ourselves. We also cannot do anything to save ourselves. We cannot work ourselves into salvation. We cannot earn our way into salvation. We cannot even hope or love our way into salvation. Salvation is a gift. Knowing this alone is freedom. We are justified by God’s grace as a gift. A gift.
God’s grace is a gift that will mess you up, like I said last week. Because really, God’s grace is the only thing that frees you really. Grace is what frees you from sin. God’s grace is what frees you from death. God’s grace is what frees you from yourself. God’s grace is that ladder that pulls you out from the pit. Grace is what picks you up, brushes you off, and dares you to start all over again. At the same time, grace is what gives us the freedom to serve our neighbor. We serve our neighbor not because we need to. We don’t need to earn points with God.That’s not how it works. No, we serve our neighbor because we are freed from our sin. Our burdens have been lifted. Our joy in the Lord is so great we just can’t help ourselves. This is the good news that our world is hungering for. This is the truth.
I believe the world is longing for another reformation, my beloveds. History tells us that is happens around every 500 years or so and that means we’re overdue. In a time where people are having trouble understanding what is truth and what isn’t, wouldn’t be refreshing to know for certain, without a doubt that truth is as simple as Jesus. And he meets us here in bread and wine. The truth is as simple as Jesus and grace is for you too and you don’t need to do anything to earn it. We could be the new reformers the world is looking for. We could be the Martin Luthers the world is waiting on. We don’t need need doors or 95 thesis or even the dark of night to do our work. We just need to be brave enough, bold enough, grace filled enough to proclaim what really is the truth and that THAT truth, Jesus, can set us all free.