This is a transcript from the July 19, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore and don't submit again to a yoke of slavery. This is Galatians 5. You were called to freedom brothers and sisters only, do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Evidently back then, there were people who were misusing their freedom. If you can imagine that. Don't use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love, become slaves to one another.
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment you shall love your neighbor as yourself. If however, you bite and devour one another take care of that you are not consumed by one another. Evidently back then people were misusing their freedom. People were using it in ways to cause harm to one another, people were doing it in ways that just made them as slaves still again, isn't it amazing how as much as things change, some things just never change.
I was thinking about this passage a while back when I was at a store back when you could go to stores and people are around and there was a four-year-old on the aisle and his mom was somewhere else. The big sister was taking that role and was telling this little brother all the ways that he was doing things wrong and what he should be doing. Finally, at one point he just dug his heels in, and in that defiant stance lip was out and the set furrowed brow says, you're not the boss of me.
That's it right there. That's it. I was struck by it not because it was such a unique thing, but because it was so common, that's the human condition right there. That's that part. Whenever we feel like someone is pushing someone. You're not the boss of me.
Whether you're four years old and you're saying it to a sister or whether you're talking about masks or light bulbs or speed limits or curfews or regulations, there's that part of us that wants to dig our heels in from time to time. Your not the boss of me, there is something about self-determination. There is something about freedom that is just woven into our souls. This morning I wanted to talk about freedom. It's use and it's abuse.
I want to begin by just talking about two cheers for freedom.
There's some wonderful things about freedom and they need to be said first. The first, of course, is that freedom is absolutely essential. It is absolutely necessary for the flourishing of human life. The old testament word for salvation is closer to liberation.
It has to do with being able to walk around freely. It's part of what it means to be human to want to, and our greatest accomplishments take place when people are free to express themselves and to do great things, which leads to the second part, which is freedom is absolutely essential.
It's completely necessary for the development of the human soul. You can't be virtuous if you don't get to choose, you can't be heroic if you don't have the freedom to be a coward. It is absolutely essential that we have freedom if we are going to develop the human soul. Two cheers for freedom and why not three, that's where I want to land on this morning.
I want to land on it because now it's not that freedom isn't absolutely necessary for flourishing, it's just by itself it's not sufficient. It's not enough. There is something else that has to take place if we're going to be whole, if we're going to be liberated, if we're going to be the full people God has created us to be. Freedom is absolutely essential, but it's not sufficient. Something else is necessary. It gets to that heart of who we are as humans and how do we live and how do we express freedom? It has to do with this passage because on the one hand, we think of freedom as freedom from restraints, freedom from my big sister telling me what I have to do when I don't want to do it.
The passage here, and what is most consistent throughout the scripture story is its freedom for, and so while one focuses on the restraints that contain us and trying to get rid of those constraints, the other has to do with the purpose through which is emerging out of us. One has to do with what I don't have to do. The other freedom is the freedom of where I get to do what I was meant to do. What I long to do. Even if I don't know it, freedom by itself. When it gives itself to what Paul calls self-indulgence, then freedom just becomes synonymous with license. I get to go where I want to want to go do what I want to do.
Then freedom looks nothing so much like spring break or Lord of the flies, or maybe those are one and the same sometimes, but it is that anarchy that breaks out when all of us are doing what we want to do and go where we want to go, and no one's going to tell us we've become more fractured, more isolated. We begin to, as Paul says, we tear and we bite into one another and our freedom has made us less free and life isn't flourishing. Life is dying as we claim our rights against one another. More than that, when we take the restraints off, if I can do whatever I want to do, go where I want to go.
When I want to do it and how I want to do it, on the one hand that sounds lovely, but it is when the chains and the restraints around me are released that I begin to realize the captivity of my own soul, that the real issues that still have to be done, have to do with me. My own imprisonment of my own ego, my own fear, my own insecurity, my need for certainty, my need for control. That's why Paul, a little bit later on in a letter to the Romans talks about this inward battle of freedom. He says, "I don't do what I want to do, what I know is right, and then the very things that I know are wrong I do them," and he paints his picture. "Woe is me I'm a slave."
That's where the true freedom is. We can say, you're not the boss of me, but something is the boss of us. Something is pulling our chain. Something is directing us and we would be wise to understand what that or who that is. Frederick Buechner always has wise words in particularly around freedom. When we talk about freedom, in other words, know who your boss is.
You could only be as free as the boss that you have given yourself to allows you to. He goes on.
He says to obey the law of the land to let the law of the land be your ultimate boss is to leave us our constitutional freedoms, but not the freedom to follow your own conscience, to follow your conscious, to make that the ultimate boss.
Well, that gives us the freedom from a sense of moral guilt, but it doesn't give us the freedom to gratify our strongest appetites. If on the other hand, we give ourselves to our strongest appetites, appetite for drink, sex, power, revenge, whatever leaves us the freedom as an animal to go where we want to go, do what we want to do, take what we want to take.
That allows us the freedom of our primal urges, but it denies us the freedom of a human becoming truly human. Then these words, the prayer that's in the common book of prayer and whose service is perfect freedom. He says, it's not quite as opaque as that sounds. He says, it means that to obey love itself when love is the ultimate boss, which above all else wishes us well and leaves us the freedom to be the best and the gladdest that we have in us to become.
The only freedom that love denies us is the freedom to destroy ourselves and others. How are you doing with freedom? How free are you? How free are you on how are we as a people doing with that freedom thing? Before we go any further, I want you to take just a moment to reflect on how free are we? We who are in the land of the free? How's that working for us these days? It's necessary, may not be sufficient. How are you doing? How free are you this day and who really is your boss?
Freedom is necessary but by itself is not sufficient.
What is it that is needed for freedom to bring the happiness, the joy, the completeness, the purpose, the meaning, the dignity that we long for? What is it that's still lacking? What Paul would say is that we take that freedom and we offer it back. We offer it back in service to one another, in the name of Christ.
Through love we become slaves to one another, that's how Paul says it. It is literally to give our freedom back and put ourselves at the disposal of others for the sake of Christ, in Christ's love. If it was just Paul, we could dismiss this as his own crazy idea. Notice how closely this reflects to what Jesus was saying too. Not only what Jesus was saying, but what Jesus did.
When the one who is the greatest comes and becomes the least. When the one who is the guest of honor is the one who's washing feet. When the one who is the ruler of all becomes the servant of all. When the one who is to be the judge of the living and the dead submits in order to be judged by dishonest and corrupt courts. When the one who is life itself submits to become death. He says, "Now, follow me."
There is a part of us that still wants to believe that some of us have been told that that phrase and all that,
I am the way the truth and the life is a way of talking about how we assent to certain ideas about God.
We become a Christian in the sense of the concepts that we carry around according to somebody else. It is so clear that that's not what it's talking about. That in the context of that passage that, the way and the truth and the life that aligns us with the Father. The way and the truth and the life of Christ is a life of self-sacrificing service in the pursuit of love.
Anything else is just noise. Anything else just leaves us, prisoners, anything else leaves us captive to our own ego, our own pride, and our own fear. If that sounds impossible to you, then it just speaks to how captive we truly are. It also speaks to how upside-down our world is, maybe it's not Christ, and it's not Paul who are crazy. Maybe it's we who live in a crazy world. It's just as we are exposed to the truth of what life is about through Christ that makes us feel upside down.
It begins with Paul and begins with Christ always, with the following. It begins with the yield, it begins with the call when we say that, Jesus is My Lord and my Savior, it is at the core, a way of asking Christ, "Please be my boss. You be the boss of me. I need you and I need as Lord and Savior to one, how do I be liberated? How do I live this kind of life? I need to know how to do this differently. Show me. Let me pattern my life after you."
That's not easy. It takes practice. It takes training because what we're doing is we are trying to change this upside-down heart, this insight out logic that we have, and it's not easy. How do we do that? I do hope we have a couple of different ways and one of them is with these practices, the way of hope. The challenge that I have for us is that it usually has something to do with the number five. Every day five, five acts of loving-kindness and of gratitude.
That doesn't sound hard but try it. Five times that you put yourself out a little further than you normally would go and only you'll know where that is to be kind, to be of service, to be grateful, or to do what you normally would do but with a different heart and a different attitude. Try that and you'll find pretty quickly, it won't take too many days before you start bumping into those places where it's not so easy.
This is where we need grace. This is where we need to grow.
Add to that five hours of service every month.
Again, it doesn't sound like much and so many people do much more, but start there.
Five hours where you turn your agenda, your resources, your money, your time, your ego over to the service of other people, and other needs for the sake of something greater.
Again, it won't take long before you begin to buckle. You'll find those places of resentment. You'll find those places of fear. You'll find those places where you want to be defensive. We all do. It needs to be said that this isn't about God's love for us. I know it gets portrayed that way and it gets loaded up with guilt but this has nothing to do with us changing God's heart about us. This has everything to do with changing our hearts towards God because that's what this is about.
I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that, "At the end of the day, when it all comes down to it, there's only really two prayers. One is, thy will be done. The other is my will be done." At the end of the day, God answers both. At the end of the day, if our prayer of our life is to say that's too hard. I just want what I want. I want to go where I want to go. I want to do what I want to do. Oh, God help me do that. The result is a life that is more fractured, it is more isolated. It is more and more people standing further and further apart demanding their own rights, giving nothing and becoming lonelier and it becomes deadly. We tear and we fight as Paul says.
When is the first prayer? Thy will be done. Be my boss, show me what to do. Mold my heart, change me. That becomes the hope of the world, doesn't it? It is as we give of ourselves to one another. As we offer ourselves in service to one another, in self-sacrificing love, when we do that, then not just our heart, but others have a chance to be saved. So many times we think this stuff is just for church stuff but isn't this the stuff that's the hope for the whole world? Isn't this the salvation of humankind right here? It's in this pattern. If we were to do that, wouldn't that be worth cheering? Not only that, the one who's leading the cheers would be the one who's inviting us to follow. It would be Christ. who invites us to come and truly find freedom, liberation.
To become the people that God has created us to be in the first place. Then find their fulfillment in the one who's cheering the loudest. Amen. We do that when we go out and we say, "This week, go and love God with everything you've got. This week go and love your neighbor as yourself." In all the different ways that you do that, do that. Then as you go this week, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you abound with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit, now and forever Amen.
As you go this week, go with peace. Go in the peace of Christ. May the peace of Christ go with you. Go in peace.