Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.
This doesn’t happen very often that the actual day of the Reformation falls on that Sunday. Usually we always have to move to the Sunday nearest to it and celebrate it on that day. Today we celebrate it on that day. This day is not just about being Lutheran. It’s not about being Germanic or Scandinavian in your descent. It’s not about being from Europe. It’s not about even being from the western hemisphere.
For these truths we confess and that were brought to light again 493 years ago are the truths that were with the apostles when they walked the earth. The Truth who became incarnate in the arms of Mary, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is about that truth that sets us free, free not from things of this world like crying babies, like a perfect marriage, financial security, job security, or any of those other kinds of earthly things, but from spiritual oppression, from the guilt and shame that wishes to drown us regularly. That is what God has proclaimed in Christ Jesus, which is Truth in the flesh and which shall set us free indeed.
Looking at how the gospel lesson begins, there are Jews who did believe in Jesus, but that implies they no longer believe in Jesus. A lot like the parable of the seed and the sower where some fell among shallow soil sprang up, which was like those who hear and receive the Word of God with joy. Then trials and testing causes them to fall away. The text says, “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him.” They no longer do.
Because of the things Jesus is saying about their sin, they say, “Whoa! Whoa! This is way over the top. Too religious. Almost fanatical. We can’t abide by this, and we shall not abide by this!” These are the same ones who just a few chapters prior to this eighth chapter does Jesus talk about these same kind of people who believe for a time and then fall away. He says in the sixth chapter, “You believe in Me, not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
The ones who were fed at the feeding of the 5,000, the ones who were fed and had their earthly bellies filled for the earthly time, they said, “Yes, I will follow this Jesus!” Not for long, because they built their foundation not upon the Rock but upon sand, shifting sand. Jesus said everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin. This did cause them to choke. That is, the Jews who had believed in Him.
Jesus said to the ones who believed in Him because their bellies were full, “I am the true bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” That stuck in their throats as well. You would think Jesus being a loving God would be so concerned about making sure He would not lose those who fell among the shallow soil. I don’t know why, but they don’t have freedom.
He even says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever because they’re slaves still to this world and not to God.” He acknowledges their presence in the house but denies them eternally to dwell in that house and then reminds them that, “I and I alone must be the One who sets you free.” One of the great statements Luther said before he died was, “We are beggars: this is true.”
Now living in this great town of Austin, you don’t have to go very far to the nearest corner to find someone who begs. Regardless of what you think or what I think about that beggar, what we need to think about ourselves as beggars is if we are God’s beggars, then He and He alone is the One who feeds us. We wait every day with our hands out to be fed by the One who alone feeds us and sustains us, not with earthly food, not with earthly pleasures, not with joys and securities in this life, but who feeds us things that are eternal…freedom from guilt, freedom from shame, freedom from that which loves to bind us.
We are willingly bound at times by guilt and shame. We are beggars because He alone is from whom we are sustained, even if it’s crumbs from the table. He still is the One who sustains us, and we are sustained by no one else. We are beggars because beggars can only be served. They cannot do any serving when it comes in the presence of their God. They serve one another, but they do not serve their God. God serves them, which is why we proudly proclaim this is the divine service where God comes and serves us. We are but beggars: this is true.
Now the Jews could not stomach that because that implied they would be bound to something other than what they thought they ought to be bound. There are many people in this world, many Christians in this world, who allow themselves to be bound to something other than what God has proclaimed in His holy gospel. They wish to bind babies from having faith. They wish to bind bread and wine to be symbolic and not truly the bread and wine of our Lord Jesus Christ, His body and blood.
They wish to be bound by not allowing God to speak words of forgiveness to us, which are God’s words of forgiveness and not man’s. It’s very difficult to remain a beggar because the world looks at beggars with disdain. Ought they not to be more humble and less proud? Should they not realize that is an atrocious sight to be so dependent, so completely and utterly dependent, upon God? No, that’s religious fervorism. No, that’s faith.
That’s what Luther brought back to the forefront…faith in Christ and Christ alone who makes us free from ourselves and this world that loves to bind us. The world looks upon this with disdain and says it invites arguments. It invites ridicule. It invites sects and differences and splittings. No, it invites confidence in something other than ourselves. That’s what it invites, for that’s where true hope is found.
You see, the life of a Christian as a beggar is not a life of glee. You know that! Your stories and your professions of faith about the struggles of your life say it so clearly. This life in Christ is not a life walking down the primrose path. Yet it is that faith that God has wrought in your heart as a beggar. It is in that faith you can say in the midst of utter despair, “God is my fortress. God is my Lord and fortress.” In the midst of utter despair when every pore of your body is oozing oppression and depression, your faith cries out, “God is in control.”
As you and I endure things in this life, as you and I remain beggars, steadfast in this truth, steadfast in that truth that became incarnate for us, and the freedom that truly makes us free, in the midst of complete sadness and sorrow is there joy. Not because we feel it, not because we think it. Because our faith proclaims it to us by that Holy Spirit, working through the crumbs that fall from His table and the words which flow from the lips of our Lord upon our heart like beautiful spring rain on a dry, winter ground awakening it again, bringing life again not from within but from outside of us.
One of the great gifts Luther gave to the church is his catechism. Open your hymnal to page 322. These are short, summarial statements about our Lord and about His work in us. As we read them, you will hear again as you read these words, “We are but beggars.” He is the One who serves us. The right hand column of page 322, the meaning to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed. We confess it together.
“What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
We are the one being acted upon. We are the one having it done for us outside of us. There is freedom there, brothers and sisters. In the midst of great sorrow, there is hope, joy. In the midst of chaos, there is peace to be found. On page 323, the meaning to the third article brings the rest of the story. “What does this mean?” We confess together.
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; in the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers, and on the last day, He will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
This is the church, the one holy Christian and apostolic church into which you have been baptized. This is what this church family professes and confesses around this altar. No matter what moniker may be on the sign outside, this is what this church professes and proclaims and shall do no other. For this is the truth that sets beggars free.
Shackled and chained and bound and imprisoned was Paul numerous times in his life, and he always…even in the midst of sitting in a stinking jail cell…could say, “I am free!” because this is a worldly being bound, which is nothing. My soul has been freed from that which takes it to hell. So many people want that freedom…Pilate, the one who judged Jesus, the one who questioned Jesus. Jesus spoke to him about truth. Pilate wanted freedom, but he could not believe Jesus was truth in the flesh before him and threw his hands up and said, “What is truth?”
The Pharisee about whom we spoke last Sunday, he wanted freedom, but he left that temple more of a slave of Satan than he came in because he continued to rely not upon the freedom given to him by Christ but that which he could promote himself. Finally, one of the Twelve, Judas, the one who followed Jesus for three years, the one who was entrusted with the moneybag, wanted freedom but could not accept that freedom applied to him and hung himself.
Brothers and sisters, whether you grew up in this confession of faith or whether you joined as an adult, this confession of faith is what frees you. You’ve been given a great gift. You’re a beggar who has been given such a gift, who receives everything from the One who alone gives everything. You know what kind of beggar you are? You’re a free beggar, and a free beggar indeed. This is most certainly true. In the name of the One who freed you, Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.