Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
Martin Luther writes that “a Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none,” and “a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” (Treatise on Christian Liberty) These two contradictory statements are both true, he claims, because our faith in God and God’s promise of life and salvation frees us from fear of punishment, from obligation to the law, from the need to earn God’s grace, and from guilt and shame for our failings. God has given us wings! Of course, those wings are no good to anyone unless we fly. God’s freedom allows us to fly, it gives us the power to continue in Christ’s word and truly be his disciples, to know the truth that God’s commandments are not an obligation, but instead are an invitation to take part in God’s continuing work of creation and participate in God’s redeeming of this broken world.
500 years ago, the Church obscured this truth. It held God’s promise ransom, used it to bribe and blackmail God’s free and justified people into good works and worship attendance and giving money. We observe Reformation Day in celebration of God’s work to liberate both the Church and God’s promise from that captivity through the work of servants like Martin Luther. But Reformation Day also serves as a reminder to us now that the Church is always in need of reformation. 500 years ago, the problem was the sale of indulgences; but now there are still ways that the Church can come between God and the people God loves. We are still in need of servants to spread the good news of God’s liberation.
Too often, people come to churches like ours looking for the very freedom we proclaim, but what they find is anything but freeing. The gospel we share is that God has moved heaven and earth to remove the power of sin from the world; yet so often the Church is either complacent in or even actively benefiting from the power of sin. Instead of working to bring justice, the Church is too quiet, too timid, too slow. Instead of being a voice for the oppressed, the Church at times becomes the podium for the oppressor, reinforcing a message of quietude, of double-standards, of exclusion. People see the preacher exhorting the ducks to fly, and they watch as the ducks go waddling home.
If we are ever to proclaim freedom in Christ to the world, if we are to have any hope of being able to show people that God is bigger than hunger and poverty, bigger than politics or war, then we will need to live it. If we are to convince the ducks that they, too, have wings, then we will have to fly. This is what it means to be a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. Free from any obligation or duty, God invites us to voluntarily and joyfully go out to share this good news so that the broken and hurting world might also experience God’s freeing promise.
In Christ, we are free from holding grudges, free from cynicism, free from suspicion of people asking for help, free from “what will the neighbors think.” God’s promise frees us to screw up, to give generously to thieves, to hang out with outcasts, to visit the lonely and depressed, to break bread with hookers and swindlers. God frees us to love dangerously. Poet Rabindranath Tagore writes: “I slept, I and dreamt that life was joy; I woke and I saw that life was service; I served, and I found that service is joy!” No matter what we do or don’t do, we can’t lose. Having given us wings, God now invites us to fly.
Martin Luther lost much to proclaim this good news. Though it meant excommunication from the Church, the criticism of his friends, the loss of liberty, even a death sentence hanging over his head, his faith in God and his Christian liberty compelled him to preach on. Where he could have sat back, rested on his knowledge of God’s promise and kept silent, instead he spoke and wrote and preached, boldly proclaiming, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise!”
If we really trust that God is in control, then we know that God can even redeem hardship and suffering and bend it to God’s will. We know this because of how God took the shame and failure of the cross and turned it into a God’s greatest victory. We seek joy and happiness in our own comfort and desires, but God can turn even our suffering into joy.
If we claim to believe that God has set us free, then let’s exercise that freedom and rely on God's goodness. If we claim to believe in God's goodness, then let’s exercise that goodness and rely on God's promise. If we claim to believe that we have wings, then let’s fly. I am here today to tell you, Ducks, that you have wings. You have wings, Ducks! Fly!