Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Free to Be Yourself” based on Luke 8:31-36 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, November 3, 2019

If I say “4th of July” you’d probably start thinking about Independence Day…fireworks…red, white and blue…parades.  Other countries have their own versions of Independence Day too.  I’m going to show you some pictures.  See if you can guess what country is celebrating its freedom.

India celebrates their freedom on August 15 – commemorating the day Parliament shifted sovereignty away from the United Kingdom to India.  They celebrate with parades and songs and waving flags and flying kites.

This is Mexico. They have parades too…and bullfights and rodeos…commemorating their freedom from Spain.

This is Indonesia.  And this is unique.  They climb greased-up poles in an attempt to reach the prizes on top.  They also have eating contests.  AND…they celebrate their independence by painting old building and cleaning up the rundown parts of town.

We want to talk about another Independence Day, but we won’t be talking about kites or fireworks or bullfights.  This Independence Day began with a hammer…some nails…and a wooden door.  Back in 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 theses on his church’s front door.  That was a normal place to post things – he wasn’t being disrespectful.  He wanted to have a conversation…a healthy debate about some teachings in the church and how they stacked up against the words in the Bible.

Martin Luther was on a journey toward freedom.  And if anyone needed freedom it was him.  Prior to this he had felt captive, jailed-up…not in a prison cell but in his own heart.  He didn’t feel worthy to be a monk (he was right about that!) or even to be called a child of God (he was right about that too!).  But here’s where he was wrong – he tried to make himself worthy – he starved himself, whipped himself, secluded himself from others.  None of that worked.  Finally, after a long journey, he started to see glimpses of freedom the more he studied God’s Word.  And I guess you could say October 31, 1517 was his Independence Day.  You know it as the Reformation.  In John chapter 8 Jesus talked about that freedom that can be found in his Word:   If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Of course the initial response from the Jews at that time was this:  “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.”  Had they forgotten about the 430 years of slavery in Egypt?  Had the forgotten about the Assyrians and Babylonians and the Romans?

I think people forget about captivity today too.  I read an article recently.  I want to share a few phrases.  It was written by a former addict.

  • I was a slave to addiction
  • My life revolved around alcohol and prescription painkillers
  • I lived in fear
  • I was afraid of what people thought of me, afraid of being lonely and inadequate
  • I didn’t like who I was

You may know someone who has battled with addiction or is battling with addiction.  That someone may be pretty close to home.  Statistically they say about 10% of Americans deal with some form of substance addiction.  On top of that, they estimate that nearly 46% of Americans have some kind of addiction – either behavioral or substance.  So nearly half of all people might look in the mirror and say, “I’m a slave to my addiction.  I don’t like who I am.”  But Jesus broadens the scope.  He wants to make sure everyone is looking into that mirror.  He says, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

That’s me.  That’s you.  It couldn’t get closer to home than that.  That’s me.  That’s you.

  • Trapped in bad behaviors and habits.
  • Knowing the good we ought to do, but we just can’t carry it out.
  • Afraid of what people might think of us if they really saw the real me and the real you…if they really saw what really goes on in my head and heart.
  • That’s me. That’s you.  We look into the mirror…do we like what we see?  I see shackles and chains.
  • I see how quickly I resort to impatience.
  • I see how big my eyes get when I think of worldly things.
  • I see how willing I am to manipulate others and how unwilling I am to put the needs and wants of others ahead of my own.

I see the habits I can’t break and the sin I can’t shake.  I’m trapped.  I’m caged.  And I can’t get out.  I need an Independence Day.  If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Freedom.  Independence Day.

And it began with a hammer…some nails…and a wooden cross.  You see, our freedom…our independence came at a high cost.  Jesus was nailed to a cross.  This was a normal place to hang criminals, but this man was no criminal – he was the perfect Son of God.  His friends had left him.  His strength was wasting away.  His own Father was turning away. And all Jesus had left were three words: “It is finished.”  You may recall the temple curtain was torn in two.  That’s not all.  Our shackles…our chains – they were broken to pieces.  “It is finished.”  Our sins had been paid for.

That’s the truth.  And the truth will set you free.  Of course, we shouldn’t misunderstand what Jesus means by freedom.  Because the world offers some freedom and independence too.  The voices are loud and many which say:  You are free to be yourself and that means…

  • You can do what you want
  • And trample on who you want
  • And get what you want
  • And say what you want
  • And no one can stop you…and if they try, just shout louder and hit harder and fight dirtier.

But that is captivity.  True freedom is being yourself…being your broken, weak, vulnerable self.  True freedom is knowing you have failed your God in every possible way but listening to him when he says, “I love you any way.”  True freedom is bringing your sins to Jesus and hearing him say, “I forgive you.”  True freedom is being surrounded by a bunch of others who are just like us – vulnerable, weak and broken – and saying, “Let us encourage one another…let us forgive one another…let us look out for one another.”  True freedom is delivered to us every time we run to the Word of God and sit at the communion table and revisit our baptismal waters.  True freedom is looking in the mirror and seeing a child of God – and that is what we are!  Amen.