by Pastor Marissa Sotos
Today instead of preaching a sermon straight through I have four reflections on parts of the text we just heard, and each part ends with a discussion question for you to form a small group of a couple people and talk about. So it’s kind of a sermon discussion hybrid. I’m going to start by reading the whole text again so we have the context…
31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
This is a pretty famous quote that has a couple different meanings. Jesus is referring to himself here as The Truth who will free his listeners from sin and death. But he’s also talking about truth in the broader sense which makes this a kind of saying for all the ways naming something out loud changes its power over us. We all know that telling the truth can be scary and also liberating, whether it’s truth about our own stories that we’re afraid to share, or truth we see someone else distorting and want to call out.
“We have never been slaves to anyone.”
This is untrue. Jesus is talking to his fellow Jewish people, and one of their main stories, if not THE main story that would have told them who they were was the Exodus: God freeing them from slavery in Egypt. The people here are being either forgetful or dishonest about their own deep communal identity and Jesus uses this denial to talk about all of our denial of sin.
We are all bound by sin, Jesus would say enslaved to it, and it impacts our thoughts and actions in ways we’re not always aware of. Sometimes sin is only individual, but often it’s systemic: big ways the world functions that cause suffering to people and the planet and that we participate in as individuals. And if you start thinking of all the ways that happens in our political, social, economic and even moral systems then it’s impossible not to feel bound by participating in things we know are harming our neighbors and therefore part of our own and the world’s sin.
An example: Something as simple as buying a shirt becomes overwhelming in moral complexity if you start to break it down: how much money is good to spend and where will that money go? Are the workers paid sufficiently? Are the materials safe and sustainable? How much water was used? How far and how was the product transported? Who will profit the most from this? Etc. etc. I’m not saying this to pick on new shirts, but just as a simple example of how much we are bound to the broken systems around us. Even beyond material things we are bound to family pain and trauma, to societal elevation of some people over others, to even a certain tolerance for cruelty or brokenness as “just the way things are.” It’s the water we swim in.
So, with all that background,
“If the Son makes you free…”
Sitting around talking about freedom can make it sound like a heady concept or a nice luxury, or maybe even something you should want but don’t really feel much desire for. But is there freedom you truly long for in your life or our world? Something that makes your stomach swoop a little because you’re scared to even hope it could happen? Desiring freedom is a real, tangible, visceral thing when you get down to thinking about walking away from something that binding and harming you.
This week with this text I kept getting Beyonce’s song “Freedom” with Kendrick Lamar from her Lemonade album stuck in my head. If you’ve heard it, that is a desire for freedom that is tangible and real, and if you haven’t heard it I encourage you to look it up and also read the lyrics. Now she’s primarily singing about Black liberation so I don’t want to co-opt that, but that type of drive for freedom, something that would make you sing and make your heart skip a beat if only the world could change that way, that’s what I’m talking about.
“…You will be free indeed.”
Jesus’ promise is that it won’t always be this way, that we really can have those hopes for the freedom and change we’ve been discussing. Christians talk about this kind of “now and not yet” of Jesus’ promises. The now promise is that in Jesus’ death and resurrection he’s already broken the strangle-hold of all these forces that bind us. Killing an innocent man didn’t work, death didn’t work; and the “not yet” promise is that someday cruelty against innocence and death itself won’t work at all.
The not yet promise is what we see at the end of Revelation, for those of us who have been studying that, where there is no more pain or sorrow but what there is an abundance of people, culture, food, water and creative and natural wonder all organized around God at the center. And in order to get there Revelation goes on the wild ride of naming the truth about the evil systems of its day and how all of them will be destroyed. So if we take that as our model, and we’ve practiced naming those things that bind us and the importance of telling the truth, and the longing we have for freedom, the question is:
Blessing: May you find the truth and may the truth make you free.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.