I just ate a donut that was growing stale in the workroom. I planned to begin my new day with some yoga, walking, and a time of prayer. I went for the snooze button and instead turned the alarm off. Falling back into a pleasant slumber, I awakened with just enough time to get out the door for my first appointment of the day. It is only January 3rd. My resolutions and my resolve lie in shambles all around. I am, once again, a failure. I have fallen into sin, and I cannot free myself – again.
Martin Luther’s words from The Small Catechism grab me by the chin and make me look up from the best of intentions and donut crumbs. “(Christ) has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed 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.” I cannot free myself, and that is exactly the point. I am free because of Christ’s work not because I can make my own choices. Me making my own choices is precisely my problem, it seems.
Luther taught that “A Christian is lord of all, completely free of everything. A Christian is a servant, completely attentive to the needs of all.” (The Freedom of a Christian, Mark D. Tranvik, trans.) This seems to be (like so many things Luther said) an oxymoron – both cannot be true. Yet, he is pointing us deeper into the truth with this paradox.
To begin with, our identity is not determined by how well we diet or the successes and failures of life, no matter what your parent, coach, teacher, or boss might tell you. God’s grace – apart from my actions or deeds – establishes my identity, purpose, and being. I am a child of God because God says so through the proclamation of Christ’s people and the power of the Spirit. No one can change that fact. You are freed from every other attempt to define you as a failure, a loser, a worker bee, an outsider, a wannabe or whatever by God’s abiding grace. You are set free from the failings and fallings of life by the grace and forgiveness of God.
Not only that but you are set free from the only thing common to every human being – death. Death has no claim on you because you have already died to this world in Christ, and you will be raised with him in his resurrection. You are set free from the power of death because grace has granted you the promise and reality of resurrection.
You have been set free from the powers of this world that are always selling us something, sopping up your time, and telling you who you are and what the purpose of your life is to be. Trusting (having faith) that you are set free from everything by love, you are then free to love the source of your freedom back with an open heart, mind, and spirit. You are free to love God and your neighbor instead of only doing good to make yourself a success – whatever that means.
As this New Year begins to unfold, I pray that each of you knows the freedom Christ has given you from everything that would try and define you as less than a beloved child of God. I pray that this freedom will open your hands, hearts, eyes, and ears, to love others and the world God has so abundantly given you.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor