Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras
John 8:31-36 Reformat Sunday
October 25, 2020
“In 1510, Luther was sent to Rome, where he witnessed the corruption of the Roman church. He climbed the Scala Sancta (“The Holy Stairs”), supposedly the same stairs Jesus ascended when He appeared before Pilate. According to fables, the steps had been moved from Jerusalem to Rome, and the priests claimed that God forgave sins for those who climbed the stairs on their knees. Luther did so, repeating the Lord’s Prayer, kissing each step, and seeking peace with God. But when he reached the top step, he looked back and thought, “Who knows whether this is true?.” He felt no closer to God.”
“Who knows whether this is true?” All of us want to know the truth. Daily we receive lots and lots of misleading information about politics, health, history; you name it. “Some people appeal to reason and logic to adjudicate competing truth claims. Others appeal to sense experience. Still, others refer to themselves and their own subjective sense of things.”
Martin Luther struggled to find the truth. In the 16th century, the Catholic Church was dominant in Western Europe and indoctrinated Christians with misleading information about their faith and salvation. Selling indulgences that offered forgiveness was a single example of the church manipulation. The relationship between people and church was essentially based on money, which increased the wealth of the Catholic Church.” Wealthy families secured their salvation by buying positions for their sons in the church. The church, not Christ, was the gate to heaven. In other words, if you want God be happy with you, make your priest happy. These examples show you that the Catholic Church of the 16th century fed illiterate Christians fake news about their salvation taking advantage of their ignorance. As a result of the church practices, the essential biblical truths muted for centuries.
Jesus tells the” Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (31-32). In ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word (alḗtheia), truth, “was synonymous for "reality" as the opposite of illusion, i.e., fact].” Based on these two verses, we know the truth or the fact/reality if we know the word of God. If we dwell and study the word of God, then we will know the truth, and the truth will liberate us from misleading information that clouds our judgment about who we are in Jesus Christ and about our salvation.
Martin Luther based his reformation on one question, “How can I be made right with God?” In other words, how can I be justified in the eyes of God? The answer is not through following the church practices. Luther summarizes his response with two phrases: sola fide, faith alone, and sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. That said, our Christian life should be based on what the Bible says and not on what the culture teaches us. We are not justified by our good works but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who set us free from sin and Satan tyranny to become children of God.
The Catholic Church of the 16th century argued that Scripture did not have the final authority, but the pope did. As a result, Pope Leo X persecuted Luther and excommunicated him, but Luther stood his ground in God's word and refused to change his position. In the Leipzig Debate between Martin Luther and Johann Eck, who defended the Pope, Luther responded that “… A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it.… [N]either the Church nor the pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture. For the sake of Scripture we should reject pope and councils.”
The word of God has freed people from all kinds of oppression and delusion. I will give you a few examples:
God's word that tells us facts about our freedom and dignity as people created according to God’s image has liberated slaves and demolished slavery. Martin Luther King depended on God's word to challenge the apartheid system in the United States, and the ELCA continues to challenge systemic racism.
The word of God inspired the liberation theologians in Latin America and Palestine to challenge the unjust socioeconomic structures and the Israeli military occupation of West Bank-Palestine. Through the word of God, liberation theologians are advocating for the poor and underprivileged. Scripture stands on the side of the oppressed and demonstrates that God wants to transform their lives.
The word of God has lots to say about discrimination against women and has led to emerge of Feminist theologians. These theologians depend on Scripture to explain the quality of men and women morally, socially, spiritually, and in leadership and that God does not discriminate based on a person's gender.
The reformation of the church and society has no end. We are called to continue this reformation that our Lord Jesus Christ has started. We need to continue to rely on the facts that Scripture proclaims about the relationship between God and us and one another to continue to reform our world and advance God's kingdom on earth. When we are rooted in the word of God as Martin Luther did, then we will be true disciples of Christ, and you will know the truth/facts, and the truth will make us free.