Reformation 25 October 2020
John 8:31-36 Rev. Brian W. Hiortdahl
Winston Churchill famously advised, "When you're going through hell, keep going."
It's good advice for 2020.
We've weathered seven months of pandemic, about seven years of political ads, more than seven generations of systemic evil academically named racism, and now nearly two full years of Pastor Brian.
You are almost as far along as Luke Helgager and Brendan Hillig.
They affirmed their baptism yesterday after two years of confirmation classes, which many Lutherans remember being a singularly excruciating ring of hell.
And now I have good news for them that they might not want to hear.
They're not done.
Once upon a time, I received an email from a confirmation family that hit my heart like a
Mom was inquiring about the schedule for "graduation."
So I assumed I would never see her son again.
Church was one more box to check, a developmental milestone, a photo op, a stepping
stone to something more important.
It was an honest and probably innocent mistake, and I don't blame her, I blame me.
I blame the church as a whole.
We set up confirmation to produce graduates instead of disciples.
Graduates finish and move on.
Disciples keep going.
Brendan and Luke, you're not done.
Confirmed members, including the ordained pastor: we're not done.
Lutheran church, legacy of the Reformation: we're not done.
We still need to be reformed.
Martin Luther in 1517 didn't fix everything, even though we sometimes sound and act like he did.
We need to keep going.
If you continue in my word, Jesus says, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the
truth, and the truth will make you free.
It is hard to continue in Jesus' word.
He makes this statement to a handful who have survived the last two chapters.
After feeding a huge crowd in chapter six, he named himself the bread of life and invited
everyone to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with
him, John writes.
So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" before noting that one of you
is a devil.
Now the movement that attracted thousands is down to eleven.
Like a foolish man in trouble with his wife, Jesus keeps talking.
People begin plotting to kill him.
Officers are sent to arrest him.
Authorities argue with him as his claims become more outlandish and hard to believe.
Then Jesus predicts his death, which will be gruesome, immediately before his
invitation to continue in my word...which leads to truth, which sets you free.
These days we know only too well that it can be a grueling quest to get to the truth.
What is the truth about coronavirus and a possible antidote?
What is the truth about justice?
What is the truth about political reality and the economy?
What sources, which voices are trustworthy?
Whose words can be believed?
How does one sort through today's vast garbage dump of information and noise to find the truth...and do we really want it?
The story of the exodus, which the people talking with Jesus found so forgettable,
includes multiple episodes of whining about freedom and nostalgia for the good
old days of back breaking, soul crushing slavery.
Church consultants say that most congregations also have a Back to Egypt Committee, a
chorus of voices that want to go back to the way things were, which are always
far better in memory now than they were in the moment then.
When you're going through hell, turn back.
I hear a lot of enthusiasm for getting back to normal and almost nothing about
going forward to new.
Jesus' words are hard.
When he's not talking about disgusting mysteries and messianic death, he's saying
things like love your enemies and do not judge and honor the poor and religion sucks and up is down and cleanliness is next to hypocrisy and don't worry about having stuff and woe to those cursed with having money and the heroes are the unjust steward and the foolish father and the nagging widow and the Samaritan and truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom
of God ahead of you.
It takes courage to stick with him and continue in his word, which doesn't fish us out of
hell until after it sends us in.
I will build my church, he promised, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Gates are defensive technology.
Hell is constructed to keep the church out.
Jesus is sending us in.
Jesus sends his disciples into hell, into pandemic, into the violent world, into the voting
booth and the public square, into poverty, into polarization, into hard work against
racism, into the streets, into human pain—into any and every place desperate for the peace and presence of God.
He sends us with the good news of grace which is the heartbeat of Reformation: God has
written a new deal on old hearts, Christ's righteousness over our shortcomings,
trust over law, faith over judgment, grace and peace that mend the broken world and heal creation.
That is the beautiful truth disciples come to know, not because we ever get there, but
because it gets here.
The truth turns out to be a person, a holy God born with a human face, the one who sets
us free from sin and death and guilt and pretense and addiction to money and
power and security other life-shackling illusion and lies.
The truth is a God who not only signed our hearts but also entered our skin and shared our story and died our death and descended into hell.
At which point, he kept going.