For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free
Topic: Living in Truth Scripture: Galatians 5:1–5:1, Galatians 5:13–5:14
On this Trinity Sunday we add the following verse to our readings: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”Juneteenth is the name of a holiday celebrating the word of freedom that came to enslaved people in Texas, a couple of months after the Civil War had ended. They had been freed, in theory, by the Emancipation Proclamation which took effect on Jan. 1, 1863. But slave owners kept this news from them as long as possible. On June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and announced liberty to the captives. This time, the word of freedom was backed up by 2,000 Federal troops.
The Juneteenth saga forms an analogy to our Christian freedom in Christ. It is an objective truth founded on the cross and resurrection, but it remains only a theory until we hear about it, embrace it, and live it. Slaves, of course, had no say in the matter. We do. Embedded in the Galatians passage, is the awful possibility that we may long to go backward, back to Egypt, back to the place of our oppression. Paul writes, don’t you do that; don’t go backward. Press on to the goal. Don’t submit again to the yoke of slavery.
When we embrace Christ’s freedom, we acknowledge the power of truth-telling. Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” Among many other things, this means: the truth will prevail. Lies - no matter how often and how relentlessly repeated - will not endure. Lies are a house of cards that will collapse in the breeze. No individual life, no human relationship, no nation, and certainly no democracy can last on a steady diet of stuff that is made up.
Heinrich Severlow was a young farm boy in Germany when he was drafted into the Army and sent to the Russian front. He became very ill with a respiratory condition and was sent back to recover. The illness proved to be a temporary salvation for him. When Heinrich got better, he was sent in the opposite direction, to France. There he defended what was called the Atlantic Wall, meant to stop any possible invasion by the Allies. Heinrich, now 20, was assigned to what came to be known as Omaha Beach. On June 6, 1944 - D Day - he manned a machine gun on the cliffs above the wide beach.
The Omaha Beach landing was a carnage for the Americans. Everything that could go wrong with the landing did go wrong. Heinrich Severloh estimated that he shot hundreds of Americans on the beach and in the water. Most of the Americans were also young, some as young as 17. Mr. Severloh, even then, recognized that the Nazi project was built on a mountain of lies, mainly racial lies. He said that he and the German people were fed a load of garbage (he used a stronger term). He spent the rest of his life anguished over the lives that he took. In 2004, Heinrich, aged 80, met an American survivor of Omaha Beach named David Silva. They met 60 years later to the day. There on the beach, they reconciled amid tears, and both wondered how they had survived D Day and the entire war.
On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember with gratitude those who gave all for the cause of freedom: soldiers, sailors, fliers, civil rights workers, peacemakers, and those who have shared the gospel at the cost of their own lives.
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” That passage is often lifted from its scriptural context and applied to worthy causes such as education, science, and journalism. Christ was speaking to people who were heavily invested in their own status, and their system of religion and economics. They strongly disputed the idea that they even needed to be set free. The first step for any of us in receiving God’s gift is to admit that we need the gift. His is a word for anyone who has ever struggled with addiction or temptation. It is for anyone who is stuck in dark thoughts of revenge and hatred. It is for all those drawn to what seems to be a growing global desire for authoritarianism - a strong man who will take control and relieve us of the hard work of having to think for ourselves. That is how freedom dribbles away, almost unnoticed. Suddenly, we find ourselves wounded with a thick rope of despair as if we had just signed a Verizon contract that we cannot get out of.
Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” By abundance, he doesn’t mean a pile of stuff that weighs us down. Some would define freedom as the ability to make money without hindrance or regulation. That is not freedom. It is a formula for massive wealth inequality, which is what we have today.
Rather, the spiritual abundance of Christ frees us to travel light. Sometimes when packing for a trip, we overdo it, too much stuff in the suitcase. Then we experience “unfreedom.” We may watch in wonder when boarding a plane, as people struggle with carry-on bags. What in the world do they have in those bags? Upon further reflection, we might realize we – ourselves, are going through life with a jammed carry-on, and it might be time to lighten our load.
To be free means to trust and believe in the strength of truth. This trust is expressed forcefully in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” - a song born of a war to end slavery and to liberate its victims. As African-Americans were set free, many joined the Union Army and were instrumental in the eventual victory. The familiar refrain at the end of the first verse declares, “God’s truth is marching on.” In the final verse, it finishes with the certainty, “Our God is marching on.” God and truth: the two always go forward together. This anthem is a summons: we are not to be mere observers. We are to be active participants in what God is doing. Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” If God is marching on, we must march too!