Reformation Sunday/Pentecost 22 B: Freedom!

I’ve just one thing to say to you this week, Dear Partner. Just one thing. And that’s…that it’s about freedom.

The story about Bartimaeus, I mean. He won’t shut up. Even though people tell him to. And that’s hard. We are so quick to fall into silence in general, worried about offending or hurting feelings or being rejected or whatever. And so when folks tell us to shut up, we’re all too quick to oblige. But Bartimaeus won’t. He is free. Free to defy his neighbors. Free to call for help. Free to make his needs known to Jesus. Free. Perhaps he’s suffered enough, or feels like there’s nothing left to lose, or just doesn’t care anymore. Or perhaps he just senses — or, really, sees — that in the presence of Jesus all the rules change and he is no longer “Blind Bartimaeus” but instead “Bartimaeus, Child of God.” Whatever the reason, he knows he is free and seizes his faith and his courage to live into that freedom and Jesus says that’s what made him well.

It’s about freedom.

The John text for Reformation Sunday, too. Jesus says that we are no longer second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Which was a crazy thing to say in the first century, because there were totally second-class citizens everywhere. Except they weren’t called citizens at all, but slaves. Jesus knows this. He’s knows people are going to have a hard time believing that someone can move you from being a slave to being free. That can only be done by the king or the heir of the king. And that’s what Jesus does because that’s who Jesus is. He is the heir, the one who can pronounce freedom. The one who can invite people to leave their chains behind and claim the abundant life and freedom God offers. That is the truth that makes you free: that God has already made you free and called you a beloved child.

It’s about freedom.

Jeremiah 31 (also appointed for Reformation Sunday, although it would fit just as well with the Mark passage for Pentecost 22), as well. It is the past that traps us, you see. The past that reminds us of all our shortcomings and failures and disappointments. And God tells Israel through Jeremiah that even though Israel forgot their identity and fell short in a hundred different ways, yet God would not hold this against Israel. That God will – indeed, already has – willfully forgotten all their sin. And here’s the thing: no memory of the past, no memory of sin, and the future is open. You’re free.

It’s about freedom.

The whole Reformation, while we’re at it. From Paul’s declaration that we have all been justified by grace to Luther’s hammering his theses against the Wittenburg Church door to remind us that grace reigns supreme, the whole darn Reformation-thing was intended to tell us that, in the end, we don’t need to do anything, earn anything, say anything, accomplish anything, or buy anything to earn God’s love. That we already have it, and that most of the Church’s problems – and, indeed, the world’s problems – start when we forget we already have love and worth and dignity as a gift from God and try to earn it or take it from someone else.

It’s about freedom.

The Gospel. Yeah, the good news of what God has done in Christ for us and all the world. It’s about freedom, too. From time to time, we might wonder what the biblical readings have to do with our lives today, and we might wonder if the words and deeds of the Reformers 500 years ago matter, but it’s finally all about freedom. We are not trapped. No matter what we may have done, no matter what may have been done to us. None of these things define us. We are free and the future is open.

Look, I know that can be really, really hard to believe. Some of what’s happened to us seems so huge, so important, so all-encompassing, but it’s not. Not to say that these things don’t matter. They do. Illness, disappointment, hurt, whatever. They matter and they may, in fact, be descriptively true of us. But they do not define us. Nothing we have done or has been done to us captures who we are completely. Only one thing can do that: God, the creator and sustainer of all. And God has chosen to call us beloved children, holy and precious in God’s sight. That’s what defines us.

And so we are free. Free to risk and serve and help and care and try and struggle and laugh and all the rest. We are free, that is, to love, just as God loves us.

That’s what all these readings are about, Dear Partner. That’s what our whole ministry is about – freedom. So tell them they’re free this week. Free from their past, free from regret, free from fear, free from self-limitation, free from old hurts and mistakes. They’re free. And then tell them again. Because it’s hard to believe. And then tell them one more time, because it takes a while to get used to this truth. And then tell them once more yet, because freedom takes some practice. Tell them they’re free, and then tell them to come back next week to hear this same good news, because the world will often try to convince us otherwise and so the freedom that sets you free, well, it takes a little while to sink in.

This is what we do, Dear Partner. This is what you do. You set people free, free to be what God has called us to be. Thank you for that good word.

Yours in Christ,