Sunday, October 31, 2010,

Reformation Day or Lectionary 31
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36
Isaiah 1:1-10
Psalm 32:1-8
2 Thessalonians 1:1-14, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Since Sunday is actually Reformation Day, I'm going to stick with the Reformation texts in today's devotional. You can check out Midweek Oasis from previous years at 2007 or 2004.

My brother loves to fix cars. For as long as I can remember, he's had grease up to his elbows and car parts strewn around the garage. My first few cars were vehicles that he picked out of the junkyard and fixed for me. One of my favorites was a red Volkswagen Rabbit that he found that had been totaled by the insurance company. I paid $50 plus $600 for parts, and I had a great car.

My brother has a real passion for auto mechanics, so much so he was thrilled when he got a job teaching shop class at the local Vo-Tech school. He was excited to be able to share his knowledge with the next generation of mechanics, to mentor young people in the job he loves. He's old enough to know it is time to pass the baton, and he was looking forward to taking his passion into the classroom.

Then he got into the classroom. Now, the Vo-Tech school is a wonderful opportunity for those students who want to pursue careers in technical and skilled professions. Not everyone is cut out to go to college, and many have much more successful careers by pursuing the training needed for professions like automobile mechanic. When I was in high school, I considered taking the commercial advertising program that was offered. Unfortunately, the Vo-Tech has (or at least had, when I was in school) a reputation of being a place where the unmanageable students are sent. They aren't succeeding in regular classes, and the teachers are tired of dealing with them, so the kids are sent off to Vo-Tech to get them out of their hair. So, my guidance counselor recommended that I stay in college prep classes and plan to go on to higher education. If I still wanted to pursue commercial advertising, I could do it at college. I've often wondered if we made the right choice.

Things are not much better at the Vo-Tech. The slackers are still sent there to pass the time, and though there are a few students who really want to learn, most of them are just passing the time until they are set free into the world, unprepared and expecting little more than that minimum wage job and a trailer park lifestyle. Ok, that might be a little extreme, but my brother has discovered that there are few students who really even want to learn how to turn a screwdriver. They want to get out of school as fast as possible with as little work as is necessary. He's finding that his job is not one of mentoring the next generation, but of babysitting.

The first nine weeks of school are spent in temporary classrooms, as each student is given the opportunity to try three different programs. They get to experience each for just three weeks, and at the end of the time they school a direction of study that they want to continue. A majority of students have no desire to be mechanics, so they barely even listen to him during those first nine weeks. Even when they do choose the class, most of them are motivated by reasons other than a passion for the job. Some of the girls choose it because it is a great place to meet guys, but they don't want to get their hands dirty or break their nails, so they refuse to do much in the class. The guys think it will be an easy class.

Have you ever tried to teach a kid who doesn't want to learn? My own kids, who are terrific, are absolutely stubborn about doing things they donít want to do. If I ask them to do something, like clean their room, they avoid it like the plague. It takes threats or bribes to eventually get the job done, but even then it is not really complete. When I check on their work, I'm bound to find a pile of garbage that they think they've hidden in the corner or a closet overflowing with junk.

But, when they want to do something, it becomes an all consuming passion. I have a friend who is an art teacher. She runs into much the same trouble as my brother: there are always students in her class that are there because they have to be, not because they want to be. There is no heart in the work; it takes all her energy just to drag something out of them with each project. But she is renewed when she finds a student with passion. They do the work with enthusiasm. That's the difference between outward and inward calling. When an outside being is forcing the commitment, it is half hearted and they are likely to disobey. When the calling is from the inside, from the heart, a herd of wild buffaloes wouldn't keep them away.

That's the difference between the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant was attached to a list of laws that were required for righteousness. Leaders demanded obedience, and they made threats or bribes to keep the people in line. The leaders laid heavy burdens on the people, so the people failed. They couldn't do it, and they didn't have the heart to do it. The trouble with commands is that people tend to disobey. But when the there is desire in the heart, the commands are easy. That's why God made a New Covenant, one that does not require you to do something, but instead gives the believer the faith to do something.

The New Covenant gives us a new attitude, changes how we look at God's Law and God's Word. Faith makes us respond to the will and call of God. That's the promise we hear in the lesson from Jeremiah, that the Old Covenant, which comes from outside, will be replaced with a covenant that comes from inside. God's Word is placed in the heart; faith is given so that the believer can respond out of love rather than fear or greed. The Law still has a purpose, in that it helps us to see that we are in need of a Savior. We are no longer burdened by that Law, but we are set free by faith to live out God's Word in the world.

Jesus told those listening that the truth would set them free, but the Jewish leaders didn't understand what he was talking about. "We are Abraham's seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, ye shall be made free?" Ever since the days of Moses, the Jews have not had to live as slaves. Yet, they are not truly free because they are bound by their attachment to this world. They rely on their heritage; they rely on Abraham and Moses for their salvation. But since they can not keep the Law perfectly, they will always fail to live up to the expectations of that Law.

Jesus says that whenever you sin, no matter how small or insignificant, you are a slave to sin. When you rely on your own righteousness, you will fail. You will never really be free. Freedom comes from God, faith is the gift that is planted in our hearts and that changes our attitude. Faith distinguishes the slaves from the children of God. By faith you become a son or daughter of the Most High.

We are burdened by the social, political and religious structures in our world. The Jews were burdened by their reliance on their heritage and works righteousness. In Martin Luther's day, the people were burdened by the indulgences that were determined by the Church to be the way to freedom.

He saw that the Church, which was meant to be a place of refuge and strength, had become no different than the religious faith of those Jews in Jesus' day. The Church was laying heavy burdens on the shoulders of the people, making it impossible for them to be faithful. Martin Luther realized that something was wrong. It was too much for Luther to bear, so he sought Godís word in the Bible. He found the answer in this passage. ďWe reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.Ē Freedom in Christ comes from the knowledge that we are not able to justify ourselves. We do not have to work for Godís love, but we receive it in faith so that we might live it in the world.

He wrote today's Psalm as a song of praise and confidence in God's presence. The strength and refuge is not found in the Church, but is found in God. Throughout history, God's people have allowed a few to stand in the way of their relationship with Him. In Moses' day, the people were afraid to hear God's voice for themselves and so they relied on Moses to speak for Him. In one story, some men in the camp received the Holy Spirit and prophesied apart from Moses. Joshua was jealous for Moses, but Moses was not upset by this. "I would prefer that all God's people were prophets!" He wanted everyone to have the same intimate, son-like relationship with God that he had.

In Jesus' day, the people relied on the priests and the temple leaders to do the work of the temple, having them make offerings and prayers for their sake. Those leaders did not think the people were worthy of standing in God's presence, they were not righteous enough. Jesus encouraged the people to renew their relationship with God, to call on Him personally, to call Him Father. He showed the people that they could live in faith, free to do what is right not required to do what is right to be free.

I don't think things are much different today. The Church often still burdens her people with unrealistic expectations and makes them slaves to ideology and works. I once listened as a church leader, who was giving a message about stewardship, told the congregation about loyalty. He demanded that every member should be loyal to that church, to the building and to the ministry within. He missed the mark in that speech, and in doing so laid a heavy burden on the congregation. Our loyalty is not now, nor should it ever be, to a building or a pastor or even a particular group of people. Our loyalty is meant to be for God. When we give our offerings, do our good works, provide the resources for ministry, we are not doing it for anything earthbound, but for God. When our loyalty gets turned around, we have lost touch with God and we are once again a slave to sin.

The churches we attend, the pastors we follow, the congregations we love will fail. The church is not indestructible. But God is. When we turn our attitude and live in that faith He has given, not relying on anything human, we'll find that the work we do will not be a burden and it will not fail, for God will make it succeed.

Martin Luther lived in uncertain times. It must have been dreadfully disappointing to see the church he loved to be so misguided. He was not perfect himself, but he understood what it meant to be forgiven. He knew that his future was not dependent on doing what the church said he had to do. His future, his salvation, was dependent on what Christ had already done. He believed God's word above the word of the Church, and he spoke that word to God's people. He simply wanted God's people to be free to know Him, to live in faith and to serve one another.

Unfortunately, the church is still that imperfect institution that makes demands on her people that God does not require. Our issues may be different today, but we are still burdened by the expectations of people. Is it any wonder that we have a difficult time getting people to do the work necessary to keep a church vital? After all, though we might be older and more mature, we aren't much different than those teenagers in my brother and my friend's classes. We don't want to do the things we are forced to do any more than they do. The churches that are most successful are those that encourage the people to trust in God and to live out that faith that they have been given.

When we receive that faith and are transformed into a son or daughter of God, we also receive gifts to be used along side that new attitude. We will be drawn into the worship and service of God by the Spirit that dwells within, urging us into the work that will glorify God in the world. We'll never be able to serve God if we are forced to do so. That's why God looks to the hearts of His servants, searching out those who have the passion and drive to do what needs to be done. The church that realizes this, that teaches that we aren't justified by any act of our own but by the grace of God, will find that the people will be free to do what God is calling them to do. And they will see God in the midst of it all.

The turning point for Lutherís faith was a discovery in scripture that was seemingly lost in the teaching of the church of that day. He realized that there was nothing he could do to make himself right with God. He was a sinner in need of a Savior, and only Jesus Christ could bring justification and sanctification to his life. This knowledge made Luther free. It makes us free, too, to live and love and work according to God's righteousness, following the passions of our heart which by faith will be in line with God's will in this world. He calls us from the inside, through the gift of faith we receive as we believe in Jesus. The new attitude we have in the New Covenant will make us long to be actively involved in God's creative and redemptive work. We need not be forced to do anything to be righteous, for God has made us righteous and in that righteousness we'll do what is right. He has set us free.

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