In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
They caught the implication that if you are to be set free, you are currently in bondage. They realized this meant, “You are a slave.” And they hated the idea. Their pride took over. “We are seed of Abraham. We’ve never been slaves.” Really, what about that 400 year stint in Egypt? What about the 10 plagues, the Exodus, Mount Sinai? But more than that, in slavery to their sinful pride, they were claiming something for themselves which wasn’t theirs: we are the seed of Abraham. That’s the term God used when He condemned the snake and gave Adam and Eve hope promising: I will put hatred between your seed and her seed, He will crush your head, and you will crush His heal. And God the Father repeated that to Abraham, saying, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and Your seed...” This Seed is the Messiah who will crush the head of the Serpent, and in the process have His head crushing heal crushed. Well, it was with His own life that He crushed the Serpent and all His works and all His ways. So His own life had to be crushed to accomplish this. These foolish folks were unwittingly calling themselves the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour.
And we are no different. We hate the idea of slavery. We love the idea of being our own saviour. I’m not a slave. I am free. I live in Canada where we have human rights, freedom of choice, the ability to do what we want and fix problems ourselves.
Do you? Are you really free in all things? Do you actually have the ability to fix all your problems and do as you wish? We all know our own hearts. You know what you believe is right and wrong. But do you always do it? Or do you, by your own admission, fall short of your own expectations of yourself? Which of us has not done exactly what we said we wouldn't? Whether it be one of those big things in life, one of those lines you said you’d never cross, or whether its one of those little things, those things that its pretty easy to let ourselves off the hook for. Which of us has lived up to our own standards? Let alone God the Father’s flawless standards? Not a single one of us. There are always catch-22s, tricky situations, rocks and hard places. There is always somebody that you owe, some emotional attachment, some fear of rejection, some favour owed someone else that forces your hand and pushes you to do what you said you’d never do.
We blame our failures on others, on circumstances, but the truth is: we aren't actually free. We’re lying to ourselves. We've been lied to by Satan. Sold a bill of goods, the promise of freedom but only more slavery. You know what is right but have no power to do it because of that slavery to that inner force called sin. It's a cruel master that causes you to cross your own boundaries, that makes you less than you proclaim to be, that puts you at odds with your own conscience, at odds with God, making you a hypocrite . A slave. In chains to this inner force. It doesn't matter how many songs on the radio tell you you are innocent and free of blemish. It doesn't matter what you believe about the inalienable rights of all humans, or what our country’s bill of rights says. For you are in bondage within yourself, not even free to do what you yourself know you should do. It is pitiful. It is wretched. It is hopeless. For everyone doing sin is a slave to it. For we merely do what we truly are in our hearts. We can’t control our sin. It controls us. Slaves to the end.
Unless... unless the Son of the house should set you free and give you a place in that house. For the Son of God has full rights to the House of His Father. He is the eternal inheritor of all that is His Father’s. Moreover, having been crushed for sin, and rising in victory over it He is now His Father’s right hand man. Wielding all authority in heaven and on earth. Crushing the devil under His feet. If this One sets you free you are truly free! That means Baptized into Him you are no longer a slave. No longer a foreigner to the house. You are set free and made a member of this household. An heir of the Father. A brother of the Son. Inheriting through Him all that is the Father’s. You are not just a free agent on your own. Someone who is free, but in held in bondage by your financial straights. You are part of the family, with access to all that is the Father’s. For you are part of the Son. You abide in Him and He in you.
This abiding, this continuing to exist in the Son is the key. You can be born again, born from above in Holy Baptism, part of the Father’s family, but without this abiding what good does it do you? For we all know folks who have rejected their families, drifted away, become estranged, maybe even tossed out. They lose whatever rights they had as a member of that family. These days more often someone cuts themselves off from the family rather than a father actually saying, “you are dead to me.” But in essence, when someone who is born again in Holy Baptism does not have any contact with the Father and Brother who adopted them, are they not saying exactly that? Wouldn’t you and I gossiping about them say, “Nice way of showing their gratitude! Those good folks took that good for nothing in off the street. They set her free. She was a slave to her addictions. A slave to her former way of life. They paid all her debts, made her one of their own and she thanks them by running away from them and never coming to see them again. She broke their hearts wanting nothing to do with them.”
That’s not abiding in the family. Nor is that being thankful and loving toward the family. That’s being selfish, wanting to do your own thing. Forget about the family that set you free, the Brother who searched you out and found you, the Father who paid for all your debts, mistakes, and misdeeds. You want to be free. Free to return to your old life. Free to go back to your bondage.
And this abiding is not merely dwelling with the family, it is abiding in the Son’s Word. Continuing in it. Which is to say, it is continuing in Him. He in you, you in He. For He is the Word of God made flesh. Made flesh to pay your debts in His own body. Made flesh to be your Brother. Made flesh to give you His flesh to eat, so that He might truly abide in You. No doubts. No questions. Undeniably in you for you have eaten and digested His very blood and body. And He has washed you clean Himself. He has put His own life-giving Spirit into your soul. He abides in you. That means you abide in Him. That’s why there is a craving inside the Christian to be in His presence. That’s why there is a craving inside the Christian to come where His Sacrament is offered. For that is where He is and you want Him to abide in you. You want the reassurance of His presence. You want Him to purge you of the continuing desire you have to turn back to your old slavery. You want Him to cleanse you of the guilt of your misdeeds and sins, the shame of other’s abuse of you. You know that you need Him in you to rid you of all that. For apart from Him you are a slave to it. But in Him you are free indeed for He is the truth and He shall set you free.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON