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Live in the Truth

Sermon 1868 John 8.31-32 June 25, 2023

“You still here?”

“Yup! After all these years!”

“It’s like you live here!”

There are two responses I can give and both of them are correct!

“No. I have never pulled an all-nighter here. No cot up in the corner somewhere or a shower tucked in one of our restrooms (though the thought did cross my mind during one of our building projects).

“Yes, there is something here at Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church that has become such a part of me I never want to leave it.”

Let me explain.

Live the Truth

1. Make your home in Jesus’ words.

2. Enjoy the freedom it offers.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples (31).’”

Well, now I’ve made every mistake in the book right up to the end. Remember how I told you last week the Greek and Hebrew paint pictures for the preacher? The preacher doesn’t have to come up with his own ideas? In my haste, in picking a theme for my final sermon I looked only at my English translation. “If you hold to my teachings,” hit me like a ton of bricks. Hold to the Truth! What a wonderful picture. A spiritual tug of war. Grip that rope of Jesus tight, because the devil, the world and our sinful human nature are trying to pull it from our grasp. We’re a one-Gospel church so hold on to it with dear life! You can do it, Tiger! I could even have a tug of war for the Good News for Kids segment. Cute. Memorable. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said, “Remain, abide, live,” like living at the same address for 34 years. That’s a different idea than “hold tight.”

The sinful human nature would like us to think it is up to us to hold tight to the Word of God. What champions of the faith we are! The church would crumble without us. We built this church! What did God do before we came along? That sort of stuff. Peter thought he was pretty strong-- he would defend Jesus. After running away he denied he even knew the Savior when confronted by a little servant girl. Champion of the faith, indeed!

Jesus calls us to make our home in his words. God always did. To his Old Testament people, he told them to bind his words on their foreheads and write them on the doorframes of their houses. Today’s Jews have taken that literally. But it was picture language. God explained it. “Impress these words upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you get up (Deuteronomy 6.7-9).” These are not fighting words. These are not, “Hold on tight, Tiger!” These are words that reflect a people who intimately know God’s saving word. The picture here is we are at home with God’s Word. We have made our home in Jesus’ words.

Unless you are crazy and insist on building your own home with your bare hands, the home is built for us. We settle into it. Our spiritual home, Jesus’ words, have already been built for us. We don’t have to invent it. We don’t have to go to the furthest shore to discover it. Don’t try to reach the highest heavens or sink to the depths of the seas to uncover it. It is right there beside us. In our heart and in our minds, Jesus’ words, the words of truth. God built that house for us. God gave us his words. In the past God spoke in various ways at many times through his prophets. But in these days he has spoken most clearly to us through his Son. Make your home in Jesus’ words.

Funny thing, it has always been that way in the Lutheran Church.

On June 25, 1530, the Augsburg Confession was read to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The Roman papacy claimed the Lutherans had departed from the Christian faith for the past decade. It was time for them to settle down and put aside this nonsense. Charles had called an assembly of the German leaders. The Lutherans were to set forth their case. Although the Augsburg Confession was written by the theologian and Martin Luther’s right hand man, Philip Melanchthon, it was the property of all the Lutheran princes, dukes and rulers of Lutheran Germany, for they put their signatures to it, making it an official doctrine of their position. Over and over again the Lutheran confessors displayed a knowledge and ease of Scriptures in setting forth their case that the Romanists were the ones who had moved away from the clear words of Scripture and the apostolic faith. For example, they confessed, “We are sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10.10).” The daily Mass could not, by its mere outward act, take away the sins of the living and the dead. Faith was necessary to “do this in remembrance of me.” It was the difference between being clever with the Scriptures and living in the Scriptures. The Lutherans at Augsburg showed they were at home in the words of Jesus.

Now it is time for a confession. It has been a long time coming, though some of you have suspected it for years. By my training at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, I was not trained to be an educator. We had but one year of Catechetics which also included teaching Bible classes. I was not trained to be a counselor. In undergrad we had but one semester of Psychology. What bedside manner we picked up we learned from the pastor who supervised us our vicar years. No accounting training. No real estate or construction certificates. Couldn’t read a blueprint from a blood test. What did they do with me for four years? They taught us the Bible so that we would never stray from it. They taught us the Bible so we would never lead our congregations away from it. I think that is why I and my classmates display a knowledge and ease with the Scriptures. God planted the seed. God made it grow. But my professors, in God’s hands they were the plowshares that turned over the soil and kept down the weeds. I and you are the beneficiaries of their work. Sorry I am not a Rogerian therapist or familiar with constructivist pedagogy. Not sorry that I am at home with the Bible. Compare what you know about Jesus and his words with your other “church going” neighbors and you will find you are at home with the Bible, too.

Live the truth. Enjoy the freedom it offers.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (32).”

I speak not a peep of how these words of Jesus have been misused. People have always tried to wrap their worldly causes, no matter how worthy they may be, in the flag of Christianity. Would that they were honest and simply say, “Hey, here’s an idea of mine I think will help everyone!” and then spend their efforts convincing people on the merit of their arguments.

Jesus is talking about the greatest freedom there is. Know the truth and we will be free from sin, death and the power of the devil. Over all these years, this has been my opening pitch to the Catechism class. “You are going to be the most free young men and women in Henderson. No man will be able to tell you what to believe. That is a slavery too bitter to bear. Only God can tell you what to believe and through a study of the Small Catechism you are going to know what you believe and why you believe it. When the rest of your friends go to this or that church because that’s where their parents or friends go, even though they have not a clue what that church teaches, you will know what and why you believe. That’s why you will become a member of Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church.”

And it’s true! So many confirmands or their parents get back to me amazed at how well they know the faith and can confess the truth, even in the face of the world’s false views. We’ve even had students correct their high school teachers and college professors in European history!

Being able to confess our faith is wonderful. It is certainly part of the freedom Jesus was talking about. “What you have heard, shout it from the rooftops.”

But there is a greater freedom. It is the freedom from thinking you have to earn your own way to heaven, that you have to be deserving of God’s love. That is the greatest freedom being at home in the word offers.

Why do people have homes, be it single-family residences or apartments? It is a pain to be a nomad. It is troublesome to always be packing up and moving. A settled home gives us the chance to rest, refresh and regroup. We make ourselves at home with the creature comforts we desire. Aaah! There’s no place like home.

When we live the truth, making our home in Jesus’ words, we enjoy the freedom it offers. If we had to work off our sins, that would be a full-time job! Two jobs! We’d be doing nothing else. Martin Luther tried that. Had to become a monk with no outside responsibilities. With night-long vigils and prayers, fasting and mortification of his body, he almost killed himself trying to make God love him. In the end he found himself hating a God who never could be satisfied. Then he discovered the Gospel. “The righteous will live by faith.” By faith our sins are forgiven. By faith we enjoy God’s love and acceptance.

“My yoke is easy and my burden light,” Jesus promised. So it was. “Who is he who condemns us?” Paul crows! “Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God, interceding for us.” Shame? The Lord has lifted his countenance upon us. He is beaming at us, his dear, dear children.

Work is where you have to be. Home is where you want to be. Work is where you must do what others want. Home is where you do what you want. That freedom we have at home in Jesus’ word shows in a life of faith. Why are we kind to other people? Why do we make sacrifices for others? Why have we put up with Pieper for so long? The love we have for Jesus shows itself in love for others, first for the family of faith and then for all mankind. We do what has to be done, plain and simple. We do it because we can and maybe no one else can or will do it. We do it without a thought for reward or recognition. Sleepless nights holding sick children, seeming to bang our heads against the wall in calling time and time again to have a pastor serve us, we don’t consider these items on our heavenly resume so we get more jewels on our crown of glory than the next guy. “When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you sick or in need and help you?” We just did it. It’s what Jesus has made us.

And in exercising that freedom, we have found a joy that escapes every unbeliever. We have found true friends. We have found true and lasting accomplishments. We have found a full life. And we never were bored. And we are never afraid of what comes next.

Live the Truth

1. Make your home in Jesus’ words.

2. Enjoy the freedom it offers.

“You still here?”

“Yup. As long as I have breath in my body I will remain here, living the truth, at home in Jesus’ words, enjoying all the freedom it offers. Why would I go anywhere else?”

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