Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Jesus Christ,
I want to tell the story this morning of Bill Blasiak. Bill Blasiak was born in a town not unlike Silver Bay. Bill’s parents were not unlike people we know. Bill’s Dad was a Miner, whereas Bill’s Mom stayed at Home working harder than anyone else in the family trying to raise Bill’s Brothers and Sisters. Bill’s parents didn’t have much money so they dreamed of a better life for their children. Bill did the church thing as a kid. Bill was baptized; Bill went to Sunday school, and eventually Confirmation Classes.
Bill viewed his Confirmation Sunday as a graduation of sorts. Bill was never going to have to listen to another one of the Preacher’s boring sermons, Bill was never going to have look silly wearing an Acolyte Gown, Bill’s Wednesdays were soon going to be free for Video Games, and Bill’s Sundays were going to be free to sleep in.
Bill went through High School as a good student and soon College was on the horizon. Bill had to begin to consider what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Bill’s Dad had instilled in him one goal. “Make as much as money as possible”.
Around this time, Bill heard of a lawyer that had won hundreds of Millions of Dollars in a Class Action Lawsuit. Bill realized that a career in the Law was what he should pursue then. Bill was an extremely motivated young man. Bill went to college, studied hard late into the night, and woke up early in the morning.
As soon as Bill graduated college he appeared to have his life on the fast track. Bill’s parents were so proud. Bill soon began Law School, yet the future soon began to crumble apart.
While Bill was in Law School, one of his Best Friends growing up named Alex had been out on the roads a bit later at night then he should have been, when a drunk driver end up hitting Alex taking his life. This event set Bill through a whole wide range of emotions.
Bill was angry! Alex’s sudden death considered Bill to consider a whole host of questions such as the role of God in it all, and what would happen to Bill if he didn’t make it through the night. Bill began to consider what he thought was at first a crazy idea that he was going to start attending Church again. Bill went in with an open mind that it might help him.
Yet what Bill heard added very little to the questions that he sought to answer. All Bill heard was of his need to do more: pray more, give more, read his Bible more, and in Bill’s mind have fun less.
Bill’s was about ready to give up on the Religion thing until one fateful afternoon. Bill had to journey back to School from his parents place. It was a drive of about three hours. Bill had driven in snow before. As Bill started driving he was confident that the drive would be no big deal. Yet the snow kept falling harder and harder. The wind kept gusting harder and harder. Bill hadn’t understood what the term zero visibility meant till that day.
After Bill had recently lost his friend Alex in an auto-accident, Bill started to get greatly nervous. Bill figured that if there was a God in control of the universe that now was the time to call out to him. Bill in a moment of temporary insanity yelled out that “If the Lord were to save his life on that snowy afternoon then Bill would give up big money as a lawyer to become a minister”.
Once Bill made it safe back to school, he figured that fate had intervened. Bill was going to go to Seminary. Bill’s Dad was upset at this all. Bill’s Dad thought he was throwing away all sorts of money, all sorts of opportunity to move to maybe end up at a small town in the middle of nowhere.
Once Bill enrolled in Seminary, he quickly began to consider that he had made the worst mistake of his life. Bill had no idea how he could issue words of comfort to other people, when he could not even comfort himself. Bill worked at his studies though as hard as ever.
Bill studied the scriptures. He came across all sorts of apparent contradictions. Bill came across all sorts of strange and goofy laws that didn’t make sense as he read Leviticus. Bill began to consider that no one throughout the scriptures really got him or thought like him.
Bill one day was talking to a Seminary classmate Hans who was tired of hearing all of Bill’s questions. Hans suggested that Bill just sit down one night and read through the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel was Hans’ favorite and figured it would make sense of Bill’s issues. Bill started reading John read until he came across Our Gospel Lesson for today from John the 8th Chapter whose words leapt off the page at him.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”- John 8:31-32
Bill began to consider the meaning of these words. Bill’s life had recently been defined by a lack of answers, a sense of personal bondage to the powers of this world to the powers of life and death since his friend’s death. As Bill kept reading Jesus response to the disciples about life and death would change the course of the rest of Bill Blasiak’s life.
“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”-John 8:34-36
These words shed new insight to Bill into God’s role in the world. That it wasn’t ultimately about Bill. Bill was incapable of setting himself free. Bill could only be set free by the acts of a gracious God poured out in Baptism and sustained in the Lord’s Supper. Bill came to realize that the only thing that he was to contribute to his salvation was his sin in need of saving.
Bill was at this moment no longer fearful of death or the wrath of God.
Bill in this moment came to understand the meaning of the words “Gospel” and “Good News”. Bill wasn’t going to be able to question surrounding his friend Alex’s death. Yet Bill knew that on the Cross the will of a gracious God for the whole world was revealed. Bill was going to dedicate the rest of his life to correcting the ways people had previously understood God and the Church with this treasure that he had discovered. Bill discovered in this moment that God’s love and mercy is given without cost.
Bill Blasiak had truly been set free. Set free from his own bondage to sin and inability to free himself. Bill Blasiak came to realize that in this moment that Christianity is not a series of what ifs that define the relationship between God and his people. Christianity is rather about proclaiming the God that loves us and will stop at nothing to bring us into his presence on the Cross. For Forgiveness is granted, not earned.
What can we make of the story of Bill Blasiak? Bill’s story is ultimately Luther’s story as told in 21st Century America. Luther’s story is ultimately our story, a story of personal brokenness leading to the road to our redemption.
Today we celebrate Reformation Sunday. October 31st, 1517 the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Door at Wittenberg, this event would lead to the birth of the Evangelical Church quickly called the Lutheran Church as a way of making fun of its founder and his adherents within a few short years. The Evangelicals eventually claimed the Lutheran name as their own.
Last summer I taught a class on the Life of Martin Luther. During that class someone made the remark that they had heard that Lutherans worship Martin Luther?
We worship no man Luther included. Luther had plenty of faults. Luther was Stubborn. Luther was a man of quick-temper almost to the point of his life. Luther made plenty of comments about his opponents such as the Pope that were ultimately not helpful. Luther was crass, often seeking to use Bathroom humor as a way to articulate his points. Luther often spoke of God’s mercy on one hand, while displaying very little to his opponents on the other hand. Luther towards the end of his life made many unfortunate comments about the Jews that no one would defend today. Luther made a huge error in public leadership in agreeing to the secret marriage of a 2nd Wife for Phillip of Hesse for political reasons.
I don’t wish for my life to look like Luther’s. Luther’s life from his earliest days was marked by an almost paralyzing depression and anxiety. Luther had plenty of attributes that didn’t make him a great hero of faith.
Yet why do we celebrate Luther’s life today?
About Twenty Some Years Ago, a movie came out called Leap of Faith. Leap of Faith starred Steve Martin who played a traveling evangelist named Jonas Nightengale who had aroused the suspicions of the Local Sheriff that he had no real purpose in town other than bilking the townsfolk out of money.
When the Sheriff shows up to one of Nightengale’s revivals to confront him about his criminal past, Nightengale- (Steve Martin’s character) gives a beautiful answer about sin from the falsest of preachers.
When Nightengale chimes to Sheriff-,
“Everything you said is true, absolutely true. Yes, I was born to lowly circumstances. Yes, I ran with a bad crowd that taught me to smoke weed and steal. I hung out in bars, and I hot wired cars. I grew up mistreated, so I lied and I cheated. I learned hard crime, and I served hard time. I have walked that crooked road and I have danced with the demon Satan. I’ve been face down in the gutter and looked up into the face of God. And I say to you tonight, if you wanna give up the bottle, who you gonna talk to? Someone who’s never touched a drop? And if you wanna give up womanizing, who you gonna talk to? Some pale skinned virgin priest? If you wanna give up sin, and I believe everyone here tonight wants to give up sin, who can lead you off that crooked road? You need a real sinner people. A sinner of such monumental proportions that all your sins wrapped up in one couldn’t possibly equal the sins of this king of sin. Because you know, if he can walk that straight and righteous path, if he can go from grit to grace, from sin to sanctity, from lowliness to holiness… then you, with all your everyday sin, can rise up like an angel and ride that golden elevator to God’s own penthouse in the sky.”- Jonas Nightengale- Leap of Faith (1992)
Steve Martin beautifully summed up the life of Martin Luther and the Reformation of Christianity without knowing it. Luther found the Gospel because he came to grips with the human condition. You needed someone as broken as Luther to proclaim to people how far God’s Grace and Mercy could extend.
Luther is the Church’s greatest thinker and influence since the Apostle Paul for one simple reason. Luther was politically incorrect. Luther rejected the I’m Ok, You’re OK, It’s All OK mindset that dominates our culture. Luther was one of the most honest people to ever walk the face of the Earth. Luther rejected the fakeness that people claim when discussing God and Man. This is what makes Luther’s proclaiming the Gospel hit each and every one of us so directly.
Leap of Faith eventually ends with the Con-Artist Preacher seeing the value of faith in not his life, but the lives of others in spite of our imperfect intentions. As the movie ends with Jonas going from being convinced that he’s a fraud to shouting out “Thank You Jesus”.
Jonas realizes that Christianity went way beyond how his preaching matched his life, but rather how Christianity wasn’t about Jonas at all. Jonas had been viewing God like a sinner always putting himself at the center of his existence, yet it wasn’t ultimately all about him, Christianity is all about a Cross.
The Reformation that we celebrate is a testimony to the life of Bill Blasiak, Martin Luther, Jonas Nightengale, You and Me. The Reformation is ultimately our story. It’s the story of our brokenness, the depth of our sin, and how our God will stop at nothing to set us free.