July 2, 2017
Topic: Freedom Scripture: Exodus 14:10–14:14, Galatians 5:13–13:15
Paul’s revolutionary idea burst upon the world centuries before our own American revolution. In Christ, he declared, every person is a person of value, loved by God, and empowered to live fully in liberty. “You are called to freedom:” this remarkable, unprecedented message set in motion an unstoppable force in human history. Hope awakened in the hearts of millions who otherwise had no possibility of achieving their true purpose. The desperately poor, slaves, the sick, the discriminated-against—all discovered that they too are children of God. Once you have that truth in your mind, it never leaves. Though multitudes never lived to see it in its fullness, the promise of it has continued to inspire heroes and dreamers and people willing to sacrifice everything if only they could have this one thing.
Mingled in with the declaration of this divinely-ordained reality is a warning: don’t lose it. It’s a precious gift: don’t let it slip away. Don’t go back to Egypt, the scene of your servitude. Don’t imagine that the “good old days” were really all that good. It’s a struggle to hold on to your liberation when sin tempts and addiction draws you back in. Stand fast, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
In addition, whenever we start to live out our freedom, there will be pushback from forces opposed to our independence. Whenever people begin to breathe the rarified air of new life in Christ, there will be pushback. Sometimes it comes from inside us. We all have an inner critic. For some of us, that critical voice is loud and insistent, for others, it’s barely audible but still there. It whispers, or shouts, “You don’t measure up.” “Can’t you do anything right?” “You’re selfish: stop enjoying yourself so much.” A friend of mine grew up with his mother’s message repeating in his mind: “You’re just plain dumb.” He’s had to deal with that all his life.
Notice your inner critic, if you have one. Most of us do. Don’t be harsh back to that voice, be gentle. Gently explain to the voice, the critic, “I’m a child of God. God made me to be in fellowship, and to have purpose. I’m valuable. I choose not to be controlled by you. The Spirit gives me a spirit of power and love and self-control, not a mind full of fear and cowardice.”
Outward circumstances can also crush our inner liberty. Slave owners would tell their slaves, “You don’t own your body—I do.” Too many white preachers were complicit by pointing slaves to texts that demanded unquestioning obedience. “See—it says so right there!” The slaves’ deplorable captivity rendered their spiritual freedom all but meaningless. Slavery still exists in many forms. Some find themselves in relationships that are not life-enhancing, where one spouse or parent or child is constantly under threat from someone who wants to be the master. It’s a form of psychological terror. Work places can reflect this oppression, too. We don’t always know what to do about it. We can pray for the Spirit’s light to lift the darkness. It is a prayer ministry. The Holy Spirit working through willing partners can bring transformation.
Financial stress can rob our joy too. People under staggering debt can’t fully experience newness of life. Often it’s from medical bills or student loans or other reasons beyond their control. Some work two or three jobs to try to manage. The good news is that for some, steps can be taken and a plan can be developed to dig out of the hole. Sometimes—often—the deck is stacked against people, and that is a moral imperative for the nation.
Democracy is a rare blessing, and a fragile flower needing constant care and vigilance against predators. I’m worried about our democracy. It’s being hacked internally as well as externally. Those who want to mess with the vote, and to impede people’s ability to vote, are traitors to the foundational principles. The vigilance that St. Paul urged in his long-ago context is equally vital today. There are signs of hope. People are stepping up and participating in our life as a nation. Members of our church are among the leaders in this change. We can call our legislators and talk with them or their staff about matters of concern to us. The teachings of Jesus apply to the issues of our day. Our faith must find expression in the public forum. Paul’s message is, “Use it or lose it.” It is a message for our time.
At the end of the passage, Paul makes a transition. In Christ we are perfectly free, yes. But he wonders, how then will we use that freedom? Elsewhere he wrote, “Everything is permissible to the Christian. Not everything is helpful.” The crucial demonstration of God’s activity among people is the faith community—a community of love and respect. Its members use their freedom to love and serve. People who are seeking to follow Jesus don’t tear each other down—they build each other up. The opposite of a loving group is not mere indifference. It’s a group, in Paul’s words, that bites and devours each other. Sounds like a pack of hyenas—although that might be an insult to hyenas, who don’t generally eat each other. Liberty might mean we can do whatever we want. Scripture views it instead as a call to sacrificial love for one another.
Friends in Christ, the call concerns how we treat each other, rally around each other in time of crisis, uphold each other in prayer, and encourage each other in service. A number of our members are going through trials right now. They need our love and good will. Matt and I always need and appreciate your loving encouragement, as do all the members of our fine staff. I love you, congregation. We don’t say it often enough. Matt loves you, all of our staff do. When you share a word or deed of kindness with any other member or worshiping friend, you are fulfilling our primary purpose. Christian liberty leads to extraordinary love.
As we prepare to share communion, and as we celebrate the birth of our dear country, let us remember the life-giving words of scripture: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”