Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
Greetings from the Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA. I need, first of all, to express appreciation for the partnership we share, not only with the other 164 congregations of the RMS and the more than 10,000 other congregations of the ELCA, but additionally for the special witness you bring around what it is to be Lutheran Christians, saved by grace through faith. You articulate better than anyone in this synod those key pieces that define us as ELCA Lutherans: grace, priesthood of all believers, unconditional love and mercy, the presence of God when God seems furthest away—what we call the theology of the cross, a radical welcoming of all people. I hope you can teach the rest of the church how to do that.
And thank you for the support you provide to our partners in the Rocky Mountain Synod and in the ELCA. By your generosity others are able to be fed, housed, treated, comforted, educated, and have good news proclaimed to them. You are a reminder than none of us are in this alone. We share this ministry, led by the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus.
This congregation is special to me. I walked by the old building on 2nd and Gramercy every day on my way to Highland Jr. High School. I grew up here in Ogden. I went to Hillcrest Elementary off Harrison Blvd just north of 2nd St. I graduated from Ben Lomond High School. Ogden is my home. This church was part of my neighborhood. If I had been Lutheran in those days, this would have been my church home. I’ve always felt a connection here, because we are from the same neighborhood.
It’s really good to be here on Reformation Sunday; this day of renewing. The neighborhood in which I grew up here is no longer the neighborhood in which you minister. Things have changed since I lived here. So it’s a good thing that we are a reforming church. We are a church of imagination, creativity, and newness. Reformation Sunday is our theme day!
And yet in the midst of all this reforming, I’ve discovered that far too often the things that make for reformation—our renewing creativity and imagination—are stifled by our fear and our worry.
And I’ve discovered something else. Every person and every congregation has fears and worries. We worry about stumbling because of all the things we aren’t doing well. We’re concerned about failing because of all the aspects of our ministry that are weak. We’re frightened at the prospect of being ineffective because of all the people who are missing.
I assume that Ascension probably has some of those anxieties too. Maybe because of a debt load that’s hard to get ahead of; maybe because of some folks who’ve left; maybe because of some pain in our history. Those are real things and cause real worries. But you know what? If you weren’t anxious about those things, you’d be anxious about something else. There is always something—we’re never free from concerns or problems or weaknesses. We have more than enough of those. You deal with one and three more come in its place.
So when Jesus talks about setting us free, he’s not talking about eliminating our problems or weaknesses or brokenness. He’s talking about being free right in the middle of them.
How can that be? How can we be in debt but free from worrying about it? How can we experience pain in our history, but be free from re-living it? How can we miss some people who are no longer here, but be free to wish them God’s peace and grace? That’s the freedom he’s talking about. Freedom from fear and anxiety. That’s the freedom where we are renewed, able to try things, and where our imaginations open up. This is the freedom where we are reformed! If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.
Jesus says it’s truth that gives us freedom. Truth that is revealed when we spend time with him. When you spend time with Jesus, the Living Word, do you know what liberating truth is revealed to us? That in the midst of fear, you are loved more than you know; that while you’re worried, God is desperately in love with this congregation. That you make God happy—right here and right now. That God delights in hanging out with you. That forgiveness isn’t a chore, it’s God’s pleasure to give to you.
I know the difficulties of the ministry to which you’ve been called in this time and in this place. I know this work isn’t always easy. But I also know how valuable you are. And what a difference you are making here. I know how important you are to me, to our partners in the Utah Conference, and the entire Rocky Mountain Synod.
If you are visiting here today, let me tell you the truth—Ascension Lutheran Church is an amazing community of faith. It doesn’t try to pretend it’s perfect, but it is an important one, an authentic one. This is a congregation that has struggled and has been met by Jesus in the struggle. This is a congregation that has been set free to love one another, and to love you. Even if you don’t return here, know this truth—you have been deeply loved today. I pray that the love you experience here will set you free. Not free from problems, but freedom right in the midst of them. Not free from brokenness, but freedom right in the midst of it. Because of Christ’s love for you, which has no conditions and no strings, you have been made free. And you are free indeed.