David Delaney, Salem, VA
- In the United States, what day of the year do we most associate with freedom? It’s probably the Fourth of July. With election day coming up, some may also think about that. Does anyone think of Easter Day or even Good Friday? It’s nice to celebrate national freedom, but what about freedom from sin, or freedom from death? And Reformation Day is all about those!
- It has been 499 years since the event that we remember as the symbolic beginning of the Reformation. What’s a good way to visualize that many years? Compare it to the age of your house or of your town or city, or of the United States, or anything else that feels like it has been around a long time.
- On Oct. 31, 1517, Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in order to get the attention of professional theologians and start a conversation about salvation. What would you do today to get people’s attention and start a conversation about salvation?
You Will Be Free
Two different stories about freedom:
In late September, billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, announced a 3-billion dollar initiative for research aimed at eradicating chronic diseases, especially things like infectious disease, heart disease, cancer and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and autism. It may sound like a wildly irrational idea, but some influential scientists think that it’s not as unrealistic as it sounds at first, given how far the science of medicine has come in the last century. The goal would be to make the human species “disease-free” by the end of the current century.
Around the same time, the new president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duerte, announced that one of the major foreign policy goals for his administration was going to free the country from a “shackling dependency” on the United States for military aid, which some say brings with it a similar dependence on American business and political interests for southeast Asia.
- Freedom is a tricky idea. What are some differences between these two kinds of freedom represented in these stories – freedom from disease and freedom from outside influence and control ?
- In yet another recent news story, Microsoft announced that its xbox360 subscribers would be getting two new games “for free” in October. Which of all of these do you think is the most powerful version of the word “free”?
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Recall that in Jesus’ day, the Jewish people in Israel’s ancient homeland were living under political and military occupation by the Roman Empire, so “freedom” was a disputed concept for them. For some, it had to mean ejecting the Romans from their country and reestablishing their own government, and for others it meant a defiant worship and religious behavior in spite of the Roman presence. Either way, God’s people there thought often about freedom.
Here in John 8, Jesus is deep into an argument with Pharisees (a group committed to strict religious observance) and the official religious leaders (called “The Jews” in John’s gospel). We get the impression that they are people who are really very anxious to have someone who is honestly sent from God and can lead them not only into deeper faith in God but also possibly answer this question about what makes for true freedom. If one reads all of John 8 starting at verse 12, it becomes clear that they have difficulty understanding him. And yet the bottom line that we have here in 8:36 is that the most important freedom one can experience is the kind of freedom from sin that only Jesus gives.
On every Reformation Sunday, we read this lesson along with a set of parallel lessons from Jeremiah 31 and Romans 3. The readings help us recall that the ministry of Martin Luther had at its core the goal of getting the church back to its job of proclaiming God’s grace that sets us free from servitude to our sinful desires and enables us to stand against the large forces of sin that lead to the brokenness and injustice of this world.
- What is your definition of freedom? Do you personally feel free? Where in your life are you under some kind of unavoidable obligation or relationship? Are there invisible or secret things in your life that have a kind of control over you so much that you don’t feel free? What would it take for you to feel “free indeed”?
- Do you know young people who live with so few boundaries and restrictions that it seems like literally no one can tell them what to do? Do they seem free? What are some ways in which people who seem to have an outward freedom are still not free on the inside or whose habits and addictions are so powerful that they clearly have to obey them?
- How does Jesus grant true freedom? One answer is to recall that his death and resurrection overcomes the first most powerful motivator in human life – fear of death. Another is to note that his call to follow his word and orient our lives toward the will of God the Father overcomes the second most powerful motivator in human life – the fear of being meaningless and the fear of being left out or missing out – and replaces that fear with a promise of a life filled with possibilities for serving others and inviting them to also share in the goodness of God’s will for us.
- Illustrate how crippling the power of bondage can be with a game where students wrap a rubber band (not too tight!) around their fingers and thumbs and then try to unwrap a piece of candy. They may eventually get to it, but it will be difficult. To make it harder, tie plastic shopping bags over their hands. They may *think* their hands are free, but when it comes to trying to unwrap a piece of candy again, it is very difficult with the slippery bags on their hands. Where else in life are we fooled into thinking we are free when really we are tied up?
- Luther’s 95 theses are easily found by doing a Google search. Many of them require explanation based on the historical context, and if your group is interested in that, there are also many easy-access internet sites that can summarize their purpose. Have the group read through those and identify any that still seem to make sense even without needing a lot of historical explanation.
- If the group were going to write “theses” to call the church to faithfulness today, what would they say? You will probably not have time to get to 95, but maybe 9!
- In this anniversary year prior to October 1517, there are many resources available from the ELCA, from church publishing houses, and from synods and congregations that help us to explore the ongoing significance of the Reformation for ourselves. Help your students locate some of those and consider undertaking a year of study together on one of Luther’s important writings (like the Large Catechism).
God of freedom, we are thankful that you have sent your Son Jesus to bring us freedom and salvation. Make us good stewards of that freedom, not using it for our own self-indulgence, but embracing the opportunity to serve and support others, even while we enjoy the freedom to look at ourselves with true and honest eyes and experience the forgiveness of sin that comes from repentance.
In Jesus’ name we pray.