When about 3,000 Americans died on 9-11, we said, "Never forget."
When about 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, not to mention countless others,
surviving voices begged the world, "Never forget."
We have to keep saying "Never forget" because we always do.
Imagine the look on the rabbi's face when his Jewish brothers and sisters say to him, "We
are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone."
How do you say that after celebrating Passover every year?
How do you say that while watching Rome manhandle your nation?
How is it that we can so quickly and so completely forget?
But Jesus doesn't reach back into history.
Jesus reaches deep into the present moment.
Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin, he says, using their strong language that
makes those of us who remember squirm.
This year is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in North
America, a grim milestone of injustice and institutionalized inhumanity that
continues to be a stage four cancer in our national body.
It would be more pleasant and convenient to forget, but it would also be dishonest.
Jesus invites us on the different, harder road named remember.
Continue in my word, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
"But we're already free," we protest, just like the ones standing around Jesus did.
"We Americans have never been slaves to anyone."
Not true: many generations of Americans were slaves.
"But that was a long time ago.
"We don't identify ourselves with our dead ancestors; we're a culture of individuals and of right now.
"We have never been slaves to anyone."
If that's true, you can leave your cell phone here because you don't need it.
If that's true, you can also relinquish your car and your social media and your bank accounts and anything else you rely upon and worry about, because you're free.
If that's true, you can pick up a rock and cast the first stone at the preacher, because he is
a sinner but you're not.
Jesus continues in his hard word, hoping we stay with him: everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin, which is why we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free
The truth hurts, which is why we so quickly forget it and replace it with more palatable,
partial truths like self-reliance, self-help, self-determination, and other half-baked ideas that keep self in the God position.
Sin is happy to let us keep believing them; if the slave likes his shackles, he or she will
cause less trouble.
This is how addiction works: I believe I enjoy the thing that is running and ruining my
life, so when the desire grows and the satisfaction shrivels, when the need goes
up and the pleasure goes down, the loyal addict doubles down and chases harder.
Sin works the same way.
Very truly, Jesus tells us, we're trapped, we're enslaved, we're not nearly as free as
we make believe and tell ourselves we are.
The way out, Jesus says and Luther discovered, is continuing in his word.
If you do continue in his word according to John, you'll hear him use the same
verb later, although for us with a different translation:
Abide in me as I abide in you.
Remain, stay, dwell, abide, continue.
Stick with it.
When Jesus insists on the dignity of those we and society dismiss, stick with it.
When Jesus focuses on freeing captives, including setting people free both from wealth and from poverty, stick with it.
When Jesus says love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, stick with it.
When Jesus says take up your cross and follow me, stick with it.
When Luther stuck with it, of course, he realized that God's grace is a free gift, no strings
attached, and that all we have to do is trust it, and that God also gives us the Holy
Spirit because even achieving that trust is more than we can manage on our own.
We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We are free because the crucified and risen Son of God says so.
So his word, sometimes comforting, sometimes confusing, sometimes bitterly clear,
sometimes haunting, always true, is the word we must never forget.