Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 28, 2018 – Reformation Sunday
[sermon begins after two Bible readings]
John 8:31-38 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Romans 3:19-28 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be…” So sang the choir last week with flute lifting voices into the air during communion. Their song landed during a hectic few weeks when I needed the simple reminder. Their song also came to mind during preacher’s text study on Tuesday, when we preachers get together and talk about the upcoming Bible readings for Sunday. We start by reading the Gospel in which Jesus talks about being made free by the truth. Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus calls himself the truth. If we’re talking about keeping things simple, then there is a simple way to think about Jesus as the truth. We tend to think this means that we need to get at the truth about Jesus. That we need to make a list and check the boxes as to whether we agree or not. Like a multiple choice test. Really though, Jesus as the truth doesn’t mean that we get together and agree. Jesus as the truth means that Jesus isn’t who we say Jesus is. It means that Jesus is who Jesus is without our input or interpretation. Keeping Jesus simple.
“Keeping Jesus simple” could have been one of the bumper stickers of the 16th century Reformation of the church…you know, if they had car bumpers. It was a complicated time in the church. The gospel was unrecognizable. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, felt crushed under the weight of the church’s corruption of the gospel. At that time, the church was charging for forgiveness to fund a building campaign. The list of corruptions numbered, oh, hmmm, somewhere around 95. As a faithful member of the church, Brother Martin couldn’t feel reassured that God loved him. He just couldn’t feel sure that he had done enough to deserve or earn God’s love. He was in an almost constant state of panic about whether or not he was in right relationship with God; whether or not he was justified before God. A lot of freaking out led to a lot of Bible reading for Brother Martin, especially in Romans. In Romans chapter three from our Bible reading today, the Apostle Paul argues that there is no distinction between people. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Everyone. All the people. The sameness is so deafening that “no one may boast” of having more faith or worry about not having enough. All the people. All human. Simple.
Over the last few weeks, Pastor Ann and I had the pleasure of meeting with the young people Affirming their Baptism in the rite of Confirmation today. The conversations and activities focused on the promises of baptism. Jonathan’s parents make theses promises to him today in his baptism just as these promises were made to these young people by their parents when they were baptized. The promises go like this:
As you bring your children to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities:
to live with them among God’s faithful people,
bring them to the word of God and the holy supper,
teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in their hands the holy scriptures,
and nurture them in faith and prayer,
so that your children may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.
Do you promise to help your children grow in the Christian faith and life?
The parents say, “I do.”
When we talked about these promises over the last few weeks. We broke them down into their parts. When we talked about living among God’s faithful people, we talked about worship and asked to hear their favorite part of worship. One answer was the Canticle of Praise that we sing on most Sundays early in the worship service. It begins, “This is the feast of victory for our God…” It’s a favorite because it’s most often sung with enthusiasm and everyone knows it so well that almost everyone sings. Its impact is significant because of these simple reasons.
Keeping Jesus simple is in evidence in your bulletin insert that lists the confirmation students. I should say here that simplicity focuses on what’s essential. The essence of the thing. The main thing. I encourage you to read their chosen Bible verses and why they picked them. We’re privy to the essence, the simplicity, of where the word of God encounters each of these young people at this moment in time. If I were to poll each of you, it’s likely that there’s been a verse or two that’s bubbling up over time that boils down the main thing for you too. In fact, I encourage you to a bit of study this week. Find a simple verse that speaks to you. Write it on a piece of paper or sticky note and pop it on your bathroom mirror. At times when the world seems so vast and complicated, it’s helpful to hang onto a good, simple word.
We complicate this stuff so quickly. We complicate Jesus so quickly. Again, another symptom of our shared humanity. When I preached a couple weeks ago at the women’s prison, I introduced myself at the beginning of worship like this:
“My name is Pastor Caitlin and I bring you greetings from the good people of Augustana Lutheran Church. Also by way of introduction, my first father was schizophrenic, he became homeless, and he died at a young age. I don’t tell you this to say that our lives are the same. I tell you this because I know that life is complicated. And as we worship together today, I invite us all into a sacred time of healing and good news.”
I said this to the women because our shared humanity before God, in that moment, was the main thing. In the complicated and often anxious moments of life, we so easily miss the main thing. We have a hard time keeping it simple.
When we’re young children, early school age-ish, our brains are set up to see a manageable view of the world. Somewhere towards middle school, the scope of the world that’s only this big [ ], expands into something more like this big [ ]. It takes our brains a long while to organize the expanded world view. Like a lifetime to organize it. So many options. So much more complicated. In the church world, this can end up looking like a lot of arguing about who Jesus is and what we think Jesus is doing for us humans and for the world. We have a big, chubby Bible that is actually a library of 66 books. From these 66 books of the Bible, the potential arguments are endless and many of us regularly engage those arguments in our own minds. Let’s try keeping Jesus simple. Shall we? What we end up saying ABOUT Jesus, is NOT Jesus. If my relationship with Jesus depends on what I say about him, I have taken faith and made it a work achievement yet one more time.
In the Gospel of John reading, Jesus says that we “set free.” Slaves to sin and set free. Thank the sweet baby Jesus that we do not free ourselves because we seem to complicate everything by way of our shared humanity. This seems like a good moment on the planet, a good moment in the week, just a good moment period, to keep Jesus simple and be set free. Set free from slavery to sin through the waters of baptism into new life. This is simple, good news, indeed.
Thanks be to God. And Amen.
 Yo-Yo Ma. Simple Gifts. https://genius.com/Yoyo-ma-simple-gifts-lyrics
 John 14:6a Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
 Romans 3:23
 Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Holy Baptism (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009).