Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36
Jeremiah, Paul, John, and even Martin Luther all realize the same thing: the truth cannot be proven, it cannot be taught, it cannot be learned or shared or even pointed out. This may seem nonsensical, but psychological studies are showing that even when faced with airtight evidence, people are remarkably resistant to changing their point of view; simply put, facts alone are not enough to persuade us to reexamine what we hold to be true. So how can truth be known? According to Jesus, truth can only be met; it is only known through relationship.
As we commemorate the Reformation this weekend, we are commemorating the concept that the truth of God cannot be reduced to observance of the law, to adherence to a set of beliefs, to a list of theological theses (not even 95 of them!), or to a 5-step program of asking Jesus into our heart. The idea that fueled the Reformation is the same idea that we find in Jeremiah’s prophecy, in Paul’s letters, and in the gospel of John—the idea that the truth of God is know fully and known only in the person of Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of his gospel, John writes, “No one has seen the Father; it is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.” (John 1.18) Jesus, the Word of God, becomes incarnate so that through him, we may experience the truth of the Father; a truth we can only know through relationship with him.
This brings us to the second interesting word in our gospel text: abide. The Greek word John uses is translated many ways: “continue,” “remain,” “dwell,” “have a place in”… I like the word “abide” because it’s not one we commonly use. Like the Greek word John uses, it has a very complex meaning with many different connotations depending on its context, yet they are all connected to a common theme of continuing presence.
Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you will be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free… A slave does not abide in the household forever, but the Son abides there forever.” Later, in chapter 15, Jesus expands on the meaning of this word: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15.4, 10) Whatever else it might mean, it first and foremost means to remain in relationship with. Jesus is the Truth of God who abides with us; we can only know the truth by knowing Jesus, and we can only know Jesus because he abides with us, and so we abide with him, remain in relationship with him.
This is fundamentally what our baptism is about. God invites and adopts us without our consent or decision, but the daily task of the baptized is to continually die with and be raised to new life with Christ. We are daily invited to choose to abide in the Truth of God who shares his life with us through baptism.
Today as our young people make public affirmation of their baptism, that is what they are doing. They are not declaring that they have discovered the full truth of God, or that they have learned all they need to learn, or even necessarily that they are ready to make an informed decision; they are publicly affirming that they wish to continue abiding in Christ, to continue having a relationship with the One who reveals God to us. What they do today publicly, each of us does every day privately. Some days we succeed, and some days we fail. Some days we choose to abide, and others we choose to forsake; but no matter what choice we make, the Truth of God continues to abide with us forever. In baptism he calls us by name and who has adopts us, freeing us forever from the slavery of sin.
This message of freedom and this invitation to abide is especially appropriate today because they are what the Reformation is all about. We do not celebrate Martin Luther today; Reformation Day is not a celebration of how he rediscovered the truth and attempted to reform the Church. Today, we celebrate Holy Spirit, which is why we wear red—the color of fire—because today we commemorate how the Holy Spirit found Luther and opened his eyes so that he could meet Christ again for the first time. In that relationship, God set him free from his guilt and his anxiety. Having been set free, he could have simply rejoiced in God’s grace and gone about his way; but instead, he chose to abide in the word of Christ and, in so doing, he forsook his own comfort, his own reputation, even his own safety, and he exercised his freedom by sharing the good news with everyone. Because he chose to abide in the Word of God, God was able to work through him to bring renewal to the whole Church.
It is especially appropriate that our young people should affirm their baptism today because the lives and decisions of Luther and all the reformers are examples of what Jesus’ freedom looks like. In Christ, we have been made perfectly free masters of all, subject to no one—we are free to live comfortably in God’s grace without the need to earn or prove or display God’s love for us because God’s grace is complete; and yet, in Christ we are also perfectly dutiful servants of all, subject to all. If we truly abide in Jesus’ word, we will follow in his footsteps, even as they lead to the cross. We will find ourselves compelled—not by fear or obligation, but by joy and excitement and enthusiasm and passion—to bring the good news of God’s saving grace to all the world.
The freedom Luther found in Christ was what enabled him to confidently and persistently proclaim the gospel, which is how Jesus continually frees the Church from captivity to sin and death. That is what the Reformation is all about—not something that Luther and a bunch of other people did 500 years ago, but the ongoing work of God to renew and reform us that has been going on since God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt. This is the freedom to which we are called in our baptism: the freedom to serve others so that they, too, may come to know and abide in the living Truth of God.
This morning, as Carrick and Autumn, Jamie and TK, Ben and Alex will come forward to affirm their baptism, reminding all of us of the promises of our own baptism—both the promise of salvation and eternal life that God makes to us, and the promises we make in return: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and come to the Lord’s Supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of Jesus, and to strive for peace and justice throughout the earth. Along with these young people who will proclaim their own intention to abide in the word of Jesus and take on these promises themselves, we are also invited to join them in embracing our own baptismal freedom to live out these promises.
And before we leave this place, we will all be refreshed with body and blood of the living Truth of God so that we might have the strength to fulfill these promises. As we partake of God’s Truth, God’s will and God’s law are written once more on our hearts. Because the Truth of God has come to us as a person with whom we can have a living relationship, we no longer teach one another or say to one another, “Know the LORD,” for we all know the Lord—we all know the Jesus who feeds us at this table, who washes us at this font, who abides among us in this community. As long as he abides in us and we in him, we know the Truth of God, and that Truth is what sets us free to be the people God has created us to be.