Sunday, July 15, 2007

Luke 10: 25-35:Free from Fear?

WPC Santa Fe July 15, 2007

So at family camp a few weekends back, Trasie and I were teaching a few people one of our favorite games, a Mexican style of dominos. Before we could even get the dominoes out of the box the questions began: So how do you play? What’s the object of the game? What are the rules? (I am always accused of making up rules) How do I win?

When I was in college, without fail at the beginning of every class after the teacher hands out the syllabus, containing all the readings, assignments, process of evaluation, and dates due; indicating clearly: do this to get an A, this merits a B, and so on. Invariably one or more students needs more details, does the paper have to be that many pages, what if one of absences is because we were sick, etc, etc.

When you go for a job interview, you don’t only want to know what your going to get paid, but also, what exactly is required of you in the job. How many hours? How much responsibility? What kind of benefits? How much vacation?

The lawyer in the story we read from Luke, wants to know what he’s supposed to do, too. How the game is played? He’s concerned with existential matters—deep philosophical questions. We’ve all asked these same questions: What must we do to inherit eternal life? How can I get saved? Interestingly, Jesus didn’t respond to the lawyer: Accept me as your personal Lord and Savior. Instead, Jesus lets the lawyer answer his own question, and he does so with flying colors—Love God with everything you got, and love your neighbor as yourself. But that’s not enough. Love God, love your neighbor, love myself. Point of clarification: Just who is my neighbor? Just how much of my love am I supposed to be spreading?

It’s really a perfect scenario: a laywer, the kind of detailed person we need to find out the right answers: asking Jesus, the son of God, the kind of person we want the answers from. So Jesus’ answer is the parable of the good Samaritan. Everyone in here knows this story. A man walking down the road gets robbed, beaten, and stripped and left for dead. A couple of men, religious people, pass by him for whatever reason, and finally a third man, a good Samaritan, gives him first aid, and hauls him to an inn and pays his room and board. That’s being a neighbor. And we’re supposed to do the same, because Christ calls us to be neighborly.

It’s a great story!

But did the lawyer get it? And more importantly, do we get what Jesus wanted the lawyer to get? It’s hard to get it actually. The character, the Good Samaritan has become a secularized saint. There are hospitals, helping groups, and civic awards named after this guy. To be a good Samaritan means helping once a week at the local soup kitchen, going out of one’s way at the Christmas season to see that the food baskets get delivered to the neediest people, sacrificing a few consecutive Saturdays to build a house for Haibitat for Humanity. But do these actions, while good things to do, reflect the Samaritan in Jesus’ story?1 We forget that the Samaritan was not a saint, but was despised by the Jews. The word good is not in the parable.

So attempts are made to try and make the story more real, to get at the thrust of Jesus’ story about racial and social implications of the Samaritan, to bring it home using a modern day example: In the 1950s, Clarence Jordon preaching in Americus, Georgia (that’s south), told the story like this: a white business man was traveling from Ellaville to Albany. Jordon’s listeners would know there was one town between those two places—Americus. The businessman is robbed and beaten and left for dead on the outskirts of Americus. First a white traveling evangelist and then the white gospel choir director pass by the victim. Then a local black farmer hauling watermelons in an old beat-up pickup truck sees the white man lying half dead on the side of the road. He pulls his truck over, and gets out. He helps bandage the victim and takes him to the hospital. When Jordon asks his listeners, Who was the neighbor to that man? He would get, “Ooh, I don’t want to answer that question.” It was the…, it was the colored man…” Does that help capture the good Samaritan in the context of the 50s and 60s in the South?2

What about today? Who is a potential good Samaritan today here in Santa Fe, New Mexico? The young guy always hanging out at the tattoo parlor, wearing his ball-cap sideways, baggy pants, tattoos cover his body. He drives a low-rider with neon lights, fancy rims, and hydraulic shocks that help him bounce bounce bounce to the beat. The day laborer who doesn’t speak English who sees the poor person pathetically laying on the side of the road, as he’s walking to a bus stop after a long day’s work out in the hot sun. He has compassion and helps out with the $55 dollars cash he’d just gotten paid. Maybe the Samaritan is the Muslim who is coming from the mosque, dressed in traditional garb, his long beard adorning his face. But even these examples in many ways probably fall short.

Another problem we have in our understanding of this parable is similar to the lawyer’s problem— Who is our neighbor? Everyone? While neighbor may be easily understood abstractly as universal brother and sisterhood—we are all neighbors part of a global village, connected by economic systems and the internet—the reality is that in this day and age it seems that there are few people we would really call our neighbors (unless you’re Fred Rogers). Who is your neighbor? The word in greek translated neighbor derives it’s meaning from the concept of nearness, in other words it has something to do with proximity. Certainly we can relate to this concept today. Trasie and I have just moved into the Casa Alegre neighborhood. We’ve met many of our neighbors, next door and across the street. We neighborly, saying hello when out on a walk? Ken next door waters our garden when we’re out of town. He ran out of charcoal the other day, like good neighbors we helped him out. Is this what Jesus was getting at with neighbor?

Another problem with the story is that things are different now than they were back in Jesus’ day? It can be dangerous to stop on the road to help someone out. I’ve heard stories of people attempting to enact this story of the Samaritan by stopping to help a seemingly fallen victim, but when they stop they are mugged by a mob beaten, robbed, and left for dead themselves. Or, maybe if you stop and help someone out today and you administer first aid you could be accused of practicing medicine illegally, maybe even a suspect in the authorities investigation of who dun it. Also, you’ve heard about two young people, down in Southern Arizona, who were out in the desert making sure water stations were adequately supplied. They came across some individuals lying in the sand suffering from severe dehydration and heat exhaustion. When they saw they could not treat them with the “wine” and “oil” they were offering they loaded them up in their car and headed toward the nearest hospital. On their way, they were stopped by border patrol, arrested for smuggling undocumented migrants, and spent time in jail and put on trial.

Maybe it’s not worth it to even try to be like the good Samaritan. So what are we supposed to do with this parable? How are we supposed to act in light of what Jesus says? Are we free from our burdens and fears; are we free for living our lives in such a way that we can love God, love neighbor and love ourselves?

We can give charity to the poor—clothes and food for homeless teens, money to any variety of special offerings—these are kind acts in an of themselves, but according to the definition Jesus gives of neighbor, something is missing.

In the story did you notice how Jesus twisted around the lawyer’s question? The lawyer asked: Who is my neighbor?

Jesus, after telling the parable asked the lawyer: who became the neighbor to the man who had been beaten by robbers? “For Jesus, neighbor is something that is made. Neighbor is made in an act of mercy with someone in need. The Samaritan acts toward the man who had been beaten and robbed. He made a decision to help out this person, and by helping he voluntarily and responsibly became a neighbor. Instead of asking who is my neighbor? Jesus’ answer makes us ask: Who should I become neighborly toward?

It is suggested by a Spanish speaking Christian that instead of translating the word traditionally rendered neighbor, to translate it “compañero”—companion. The Samaritan and the fallen man become compañeros.3 In order to be neighbors, we must be companions. The abstract concept of neighbor becomes very concrete, very real once we realize how needy this world is. As I was listening for examples of Samaritan stories, all I heard on the news were stories of war and violence.

As I see more and more needs—be they among the millions who do not have adequate access to health care, the millions who do not have access to nutritious meals or clean drinking water, the millions who suffer from abuse—I see greater opportunities for Samaritans to appear, to show up on the scene like Superwoman and save the day; but instead it seems that people become more cautious, build bigger fences or walls and say that’s what makes a good neighbor. They make stricter laws that seem to fly in the face of those most needy, rather than living by the greatest law: Love God, love neighbor, love self.

What is required of us? What must we do for life? With whom should we become neighborly?

How many of you looked at this story from Luke and identified with a certain character? Who identified with the lawyer? That’s feasible, we all want to know what we need to do for eternal life. Who with the priest or the Levite?

No one wants to be either of those two guys, but often times our apathy about or complicity in oppressive systems certainly would lump us in with those guys.

Anyone with the innkeeper? Or the robbers? Oh yeah, forgot about those guys?

Who identified with the Samaritan? That’s my man, that dude was really cool, and besides, that’s how Jesus said I should be so, I’m a Samaritan man. But don’t you remember, the Samaritan was the ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, heritic. Who does that describe? Finally, who identified with the man beaten by robbers? The one who had been beaten down and left for dead? Anyone…but do you see, do you see that it is necessary, absolutely necessary to have the person in need in order for neighbor to even exist?

As I said, neighbor exists in relationship—compañeros—but so often, even though we may find ourselves terribly in need, we are reluctant to allow others to help us out, in both big and small ways. Even within this church community we can have so many opportunities to become neighbors to one another. But, we have to give each other a chance. Lisa was sick recently and she called on Barbara and Erik to come and be with her, neighbors were made that evening. Doug and Cat have asked for help taking Cat to the store once a week, and John Burnett has said he can be a neighbor. Opening ourselves up to the other, allowing someone else to come into neighborly relationship with us is wonderfully freeing, and deeply rewarding.

A friend I have made playing soccer, Kurt Shaw, works with street children all over Latin America. I asked him to help me out with some good “good Samaritan” stories he’d experienced. The thousands of street kids in every big city in Latin America are literally the man beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. I was sure he’d had plenty of opportunities to be a good Samaritan. Kurt tells this “story set along Avenida Insurgentes in Mexico City, at midnight on a Saturday night:

An anthropologist and I were visiting the ramshackle hut where some homeless teenagers had set up a squat, and they were passing the night as street kids often do: drugging themselves with booze and inhalants. We managed interesting conversation with some of the kids. One talked about his experience as an extra on the set of a famous movie about street life; another sang in a sweet voice, crying perhaps from the pain, his foot recently run over by a bus, or perhaps from the intensity of the lyrics he had composed.

One of the boys, a quiet kid who’d been hanging back most of the time, just looking at us, gave a shy smile. “Are you hungry?” he asked. Though we hadn’t eaten since [lunch], there was no way we were as hungry as the kids were, so we told him not to worry. “No, no, I’ll make you something,” he insisted, and began to cut a potato into thin strips, then heat a pan on an improvised stove. Few people in the world suffer like a street child. Yet this boy, himself hungry, offered us some of his scarce food. We can, of course, contend that he was looking for some kind of recognition or hoping for an exchange of favors, but this does not change the basic fact that he cared about our hunger. When exposed to the face of the other, the boy wanted to do something to make our lives better.4

Because of compassion, because of mercy, unlikely compañeros were formed. Christ sets us free to become neighbors. To not only look out and respond to others in times of need, but also to recognize our own needs and open ourselves up to acts of mercy. Ultimately, perhaps, opening ourselves up to Christ, the ideal good Samaritan, who rescues us in our most desperate time of need, may be the greatest neighborly relation we could have.

Christ sees our needs, our burdens, and beckons us to come to him. So freely we come to this table to be fed and nourished, to be made whole and healthy again. So that we may be free to act with mercy in the world. To become neighborly through acts of mercy.

1 Cousar, et al, Texts for Preaching, p. 427.
2 Adapted from, “Clarence Jordan, Koinonia, and The Open Door Community,” Hospitality.
3 Néstor O. Míguez, “La parabola del buen samaritano” pp 65-78.
4 Kurt Shaw, “Universal Foundations or Universal Rights?” (abstract), pp. 5-6.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Free for Missio Dei

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 WPC July 8, 2007

So did you see the fireworks? The bright colors—red, purple, green, and yellow—lining the dark night sky; explosions rattling ears. Did you cook out? Stuff yourself with hamburgers, hotdogs, brisket, ribs, beans, potato salad, homemade ice cream. On Wednesday, July 4 we celebrated independence day, and for most citizens at least, it meant, a day away from work to celebrate independence from British colonial rule; to celebrate our freedom of living in this republic.

Freedom, the illusive concept, yet what we all long to experience. Even we Christians recognize freedom as a foundational aspect of our Christian identity.

Last week we focused on the freedom from aspect of Christian Freedom. To sum up the message: Christ calls us to discipleship. In doing so, Christ sets us free from those things that would hold us back, restrict us, and keep us down. Do we get this? Do we realize what the significance of this is? It is my prayer that each of us can experience Freedom from our burdens, but certainly it is not something that happens overnight.

Anyone come here this morning without a burden, without feeling some kind of guilt or pressure or worry? For the rest of us, this takes a life-time as we seek to become holy as God is holy. A life-time to discover the ways in which Christ sets us free, free to be you and me. Experiencing this kind of freedom must be like soaring with eagle’s wings, like running without growing weary. Redeemed, and invigorated, like being ready for a long bike ride with David Ytuarte, or a carefree game at the ball-park with Cat and Doug, or a long hike with Bob Horning. You may even say, “Hey, this freedom stuff is alright, now what?

Now we look at the flip side of the coin; the second part of the equation. Freedom from would naturally lead to freedom for. Paul assures us the freedom from our burdens is not a license for doing whatever we want because inevitably doing whatever we want leads to hurting others, broken relationships, robbing us of our very freedom. Nor does freedom from mean complete autonomy, because this would lead to isolation and loneliness. Instead, freedom from our burdens sets us free for a new form of subjection—to Christ and to one another. As Calvin put it: freedom from means freedom for joyous obedience of God’s will summed up in the commandment to love God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.” As Paul puts it, freedom from our own burdens means freedom for lovingly bearing one another’s burdens and working for the good of all. Uff.

Freedom for obedience…freedom for loving God…freedom for loving our neighbors…freedom for loving ourselves…freedom for bearing one another’s burdens…freedom for working for the good of all. This is a purpose driven life. IS there anything else to add to this list?

You may have noticed I haven’t yet talked about the strange passage we read in Luke: seventy disciples sent out as missionaries, laborers for the harvest, lambs midst wolves. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I come across passages that I would prefer to just leave for the first century Christians; not let it sneak into our understanding of the world. We are free in Christ, but does this entail walking on snakes and scorpions; traveling with only the clothes on your back?

Is that the message about freedom for? But as I studied it, it became clear that this was an interesting passage about mission, about early mission work. The disciples go from town to town, door to door to proclaim the reign of God. So maybe there is freedom for mission. Okay, that’s it…let’s go, off to the fields!

Or would you rather leave it in the 1st century? Who here considers themselves a missionary?

As many of you know, after finishing college, I worked for more than 3 years for a missionary organization in a foreign country; I was even given the title: missionary. But in all honesty, I rejected the title missionary because it’s a loaded term. I mean, what do you think about when you think of missionary? “Missionaries,” such strange people, wouldn’t you say Libby? Let’s face it, while there are many positive role models found in many missionaries, because of traditional missionary practices, missionary carries negative connotations like paternalism, cultural imperialism, and colonialism. It was something done by people who felt they possessed some kind of truth, who set off for some far away land to a people who did not know truth and were in need of conversion.

A prime example of where this took place: New Mexico. This was a hot spot for missionaries, especially Presbyterian missionaries, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not to mention the catholic missionaries who had come a few centuries earlier. Without missionaries, this church, nor any other, might not be here. True, we can be proud of our heritage, yet much of the mission work we read about might make us cringe….yikes, students in missionary schools were punished for speaking Spanish? Yikes, traditional practices and lifestyles were deemed uncivilized, even barbaric? Yikes, the native people were not AMERICAN.

So who’s ready to go be a missionary!!!?? Our problem as Christians is that Christ sets us free for mission. Seriously. Does not Christ commission disciples to go: to labor in the fields, to heal the sick, to announce the coming reign of God? Christianity is a missional religion. We are compelled to share the GOOD news of the gospel! While we don’t know what historians will say about us in 100 years, in the very least we can learn from the past and consider new ways of understanding Christian mission.

And I think this strange passage from Luke and the disjointed passage we read from Paul can provide insight to this new understanding. First, if you notice the disciples are told by Christ to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers. In other words there is a subtle but critical call for prayer.1 Before we engage in mission we pray; we seek to discover what God is calling us to do.

We pray out of recognition of who’s in charge, not us. TO put it another way, the disciples were to recognize that they were to participate not in their own mission, in which they had some kind of power over others, but rather in Missio Dei.

That’s not Spanish, but a fancy latin phrase that I love. Missio Dei: God’s mission. When the seventy recognize that it is not their mission but God’s mission they are able to consider the possibility that God is at work everywhere, and that they are able to cooperate with God in bringing about God’s reign of Peace. (I’ll say a bit more about this in the congregational meeting)

Second, what are the missionaries told to do when they encounter someone else? To dine with those who welcomed them in. TO sit around the table and eat and drink whatever was provided. Twice Jesus says this. This was a big deal for this time because of certain dietary restrictions of the day… kosher food only, no shellfish, no food from animals with split hooves, no food sacrificed to idols,

these things were not found on the menus back in those days in their community. It’s harder than being a vegan. But now Jesus is saying it’s okay.

When I was in the role of a traditional missionary, it was easy for me most of the time to go by this suggestion of Jesus. I love Mexican food, and I can eat just about anything, I was served cow tongue tacos, pig feet tostadas, and I ate it up!

By eating food others prepare, you accept a gift given to you. Plus, what does it mean to sit at table and share a meal with someone else? First, if you are a guest, you are usually the one served. The setting and the pace of the evening is decided by the one providing the food: just about all terms are set by the host. Whenever I dine in someone else’s home, it is customary for me to submit to them; to learn about them by looking at pictures on the walls; to listen to their stories as I seek to discover who they are. I am the guest. This happens whenever we dine in someone else’s house. So it would seem that missionaries are to enjoy a good meal with someone, and instead of teaching them a thing or two, they are to learn, to discover, and be open to the ways in which God is working in the host’s life.

Early protestant missionaries to New Mexico had little success in winning converts, particularly the male missionaries who came to start churches and to teach people the truth. They were usually viewed suspiciously and kept at arms length by the people. Interestingly, the early women missionaries, who were not allowed to be preachers but instead were to work in schools or in health clinics (women’s work), had the greatest success in getting to know those indigenous to the land; these women were invited into homes to share meals and to know the families. Much of the reason for this, as some historians and sociologists point out, was not because these women were better at converting than the men, but rather because they were actually the one’s who were converted by the native people. Many women came to realize that the people were not inferior as they once had thought, but that they had a different but valid way of living in the world. They came to discover that even practices of faith, while different, were not necessarily contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The women healed the sick, provided education, and they ate with the people and shared in their lives,

and in doing so pronounced peace and the coming kingdom of God.

Christ sets us free to participate in God’s mission in the world. And this mission is critical, for it is one which demands works of peace, justice, and mercy.

At the end of this month Barbara Medina is taking a huge step as she responds to God’s call for her to be a witness for peace in Colombia, a place where Christians’ very lives are at risk on a daily basis as they stand up to injustices. Barbara has prayed a ton about taking this trip, just as I’m sure she has a ton of concerns about going down there. But she, empowered by the Holy Spirit, has been set free from these anxieties and freely she responds boldly to God’s call. Surely she will be invited to eat with others, speak in a foreign tongue, and have opportunities to learn, even as she pronounces a message of Peace, and witnesses to the coming of God’s reign.

But I want to make clear that mission, Missio Dei, participation in God’s mission is not something that just takes place in far off lands among a foreign people. I am convinced that God frees us for mission, for pronouncing peace and God’s reign of love and justice, whenever and wherever we work for the good of anyone. Whenever and wherever we are given an opportunity to encounter someone, anyone, a co-worker down the hall, a neighbor down the street, a tourist lost in town, and experience a glimpse of their lives and bear some of their burdens.

This is the work God would have us participate in. We do mission at home, when instead of loosing our temper or our patience, we are empowered to patiently love and forgive an energetic child or a hard-headed spouse. We participate in mission as we give care to the elderly who may be incapacitated, or ill; how hard it can be to constantly maintain a patient loving attitude. Teachers must not only be educators but moral guides, counselors, disciplinarians, and protectors for youth who wonder what their lives mean; is this not missio dei?

As we follow Christ, we are set free from our burdens so that we might be you and me, and in this freedom we are free to be missionaries, who bear witness to the good news of the gospel, by bearing one another’s burdens. By enjoy a good meal with other’s, both friends and strangers, sharing our lives and our love to discovery of what God is doing in the world. This is something we may participate in every time we sit at table for a meal; every time we get together for a cookout on the forth of July; every time we gather around this table for a the great memorial feast; the ultimate sign that God’s compassionate love will sustain us in this good work. Thanks be to God. Amen.

1 Cousar, et. al. Texts for Preaching, p.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Free to Be You and Me, Luke 9:51-62

Luke 9:51-62 Free to be you and me, WPC July 1, 2007

Let’s play a game. I’m thinking of an abstract concept that is highly sought after by everyone around the world in different ways. I’ll give you a hint, July 4 is a celebration of it of sorts. Another, it derives from a word in the sermon title. Freedom, That’s right, and who doesn’t want to be free? But what does it really mean to be free? Is freedom a possibility?

Is ultimate freedom found in personal expression: free speech, like the sign the high schooler displayed up in Alaska, bong hits for Jesus! Or expressions made through music, clothing styles, tattoos, hair color, piercing, you name it. Maybe it’s a state of mind, a grasped concept: free your mind and the rest will follow. Maybe it is ultimate individualism: in which my actions affect no one, and no one’s actions affect me. My freedom ends where your nose begins. Does freedom come through military conquest: Freedom is on the march. Freedom isn’t free.

But is anyone really free?

According to my friend Tom Guthrie, a professor of cultural anthropology at Guilford College in North Carolina, anyone who is part of any society is not really free. Instead, we’re confined to social norms and constructs. Tom, would you care to say more?

Born in 1944, my mom came of age in the era of hippies and free expression, as long hair and funky clothes reveal in old pictures. I think some of the mentality of those days influenced aspects of the way she raised us. Maybe some of you have heard of the album whose name I borrowed for the sermon title? Free to be you and me. I loved that record, played it every day when I was a kid growing up. If someone were to play it right now, I could probably sing every song word for word. Among the songs I remember was one about a boy, William, who has a doll”, the kids would make fun of him, but his parents told him it was okay, that dolls aren’t just for girls. And then there was another song that went, “It’s alright to cry, crying gets the sad out of you, rainbow in the sky, it might make you feel better. I guess my mom wanted me to feel okay about playing with dolls…and crying, so that I could be free to be me. But I never really played with dolls, and I don’t cry much.

A week ago, Trasie and I were away; we had an awesome time with family at our family reunion [not quite as big a reunion as Gerzain’s yesterday. Wow.] My cousins, Aunts and Uncles, who remember me pooping in diapers, shooting watermelon seeds at any susceptible target, and acting like a wild kid all the time, are so curious about my new position as a minister in a church. Among the many questions and comments I entertained over the course of the week, was if I had one guiding theme or emphasis as a leader in a church. I was surprised at how easily I was able to respond to him: Christian Freedom. To convey to everyone in the congregation the very words of Paul: for freedom Christ has set us free.

Free to be who God has created us to be; free to act in the world. Free to be you and me.

So every Sunday I pronounce the same charge at the end of the service: Go neither fearing people nor institutions, for you are free people in Christ Jesus. And what do you know, the first Sunday we’re back in town the scripture is about Freedom: A great opportunity to talk about this wonderful concept of Christian Freedom. For Freedom, Christ set us free. Don’t use your freedom for self-indulgence, instead through love you become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So don’t participate in fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing: Shall I go on? Instead consider the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience.

Have you noticed I don’t frequently preach from Paul’s letters, can you see why? Abstract concepts.

Today’s is summarized by two words: Christian and Freedom, Christian Freedom. What a paradox, opposites attract. How many think that being a Christian is all about lists of can’ts, don’ts and nos? Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with guys or girls that do. So if I can’t do those things…how can I be free? But really, freedom is an essential part of the Christian life. Freedom is foundational to who God created us to be.

So what does Christian freedom look like, a bunch of rules? 16th century theologian, John Calvin, said that Christian Freedom means: “freedom from the law as a means of self-justification; freedom for joyous obedience of God’s will summed up in the commandment to love God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.” Freedom from the law, freedom for joyful obedience. Hmm. Sounds like a two-part sermon to me.

Part 1: Freedom from the law.

Paul suggests that Christ set disciples free from “slavery” as he calls it, in other words freedom from the law. We heard of all those old laws in the Bible; there are hundreds of them. Male circumcisions, resting or doing nothing on the Sabbath; the ten commandments, not eating shell-fish. Laws, Laws, Laws, religious and otherwise, were to govern the way people lived. And then all of a sudden this guy, Paul says, in Christ you are free from the law that once enslaved you: instead through love you become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Instead of being governed by the Rule of Law, Paul suggests that in Christ we are to be governed by the rule of love. And Christ sets us frees us to live under this rule.

In today’s world, as we’ve already suggested, there are many expressions of Christianity and other religions that want to enforce rules and laws; ways people are supposed act. I love and dread peoples’ reactions when I tell them I’m minister. Many times it’s a conversation killer. You’re a minister, okay, I’ll see you. Often times people will buckle up, and suddenly try convey a certain type of pious behavior, like not saying swear words, and standing up straight. I try and assure people that I’m not a moral policeman. Contemporary religious rules and laws suggest a new form of bondage, not always expressing the sum of the law in a single commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.

I believe that Christian freedom means freedom from anxiety or worry about what God, or what anyone else thinks about us, because we are assured that God loves us. God loves you and God loves me. Therefore we can be free. Think about when you know that someone loves you unconditionally. Trasie I think does this better than I do, but when you are loved by someone unconditionally, you are given so much freedom from worry about if that person will love you. God loves us unconditionally.

I believe Christian freedom means freedom from having to only living for myself, of thinking I am so great, with disregard for other’s well being. Following Jesus means freedom from. In the story we read about Jesus, he encounters three different individuals. The first and the third approach Jesus with the intention to follow, but Jesus warns the first of the difficulty of following, and harshly discourages the third from going home to kiss his mother and father goodbye before setting off on this journey of discipleship. In the second encounter, Jesus had approached that individual and suggested that the dead bury their own dead and follow.

At first glance, and second and third and fourth glance, Jesus’ interaction with these three seems harsh. I think they are harsh; Jesus was a radical who calls for a radical break. Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head. I was warned that once I bought a house, I’d lose my freedom. And that mortgage payment shows up every month.

One would be follower said, Let me first say farewell to those at my home. I am all about the importance of family but I have seen and experienced first hand how family’s can put certain limitations not only on discipleship, but also on one’s discovery of who he or she is as a child of God. A 16 year old cousin was so excited about coming down to Chile to stay with Trasie and me for a semester, to live abroad and learn Spanish. But then at the last minute his mother became worried over trivial matters, and said he couldn’t go for any number of reasons and that was it.

Finally, Jesus had suggested to one would be follower that the dead bury their own dead. While this confusing language sounds very harsh, perhaps if we consider Jesus calling followers to not return to death, to not kiss a corpse, metaphorically speaking. Jesus may be suggesting that followers sort out our past, from those people and events that give life and from those who seem to only drag us down and hold us back. Without a doubt there are many things that drag us down and hold us back and keep us from being free. What is keeping you from being free? What holds you in bondage and keep you from the joy of Christian Freedom?

Paul suggests that all of our Christian freedom comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit. I don’t know how the spirit works in our lives, but I can attest to this being the case at least one time in my life. When I was in my twenties, long ago, I was terribly hurt by someone extremely close to me. I felt betrayed, no I felt like I had been stabbed in the back. For weeks I experienced terrible pain. I couldn’t sleep at night, and when I did finally go to sleep I was haunted in my sleep as I replayed images of what had happened over and over, only be woken up by the same feelings of hurt and grief. Sleep deprived, I couldn’t concentrate on work, or anything really. Zomby-like, I would go through motions disengaged from the world around me. This went on for weeks.

I couldn’t stand to talk to or be around my friend any more; all my relationships were suffering. Even as I prayed my mind would be consumed by the memory. It became even too painful to pray. So I stopped. I was enslaved to my nightmares, to my inability to forgive and I felt like I was dying. I knew that I had to forgive, but I couldn’t. Really, I couldn’t not do it.

One night I was walking home late my heart was heavy and full of grief and bitterness as it had been for months now. And all of a sudden I became overwhelmed by what I truly believe to have been the holy spirit. I knew as never before that the only way I was going to be free of this terrible burden was through forgiveness. To let the memory of the incident lay dead and buried, and to forgive and love my friend, and in that moment as tears filled my eyes forgiveness became a possibility. A huge weight fell from my entire being and I began to leap for joy that forgiveness was happening.

I experienced freedom as never before, and learned the power of freedom in Christ. Freedom in Christ means that we can be freed from those things that would hold us back from wholeness and well-being, from being everything God created us to be. We can be freed of the weight of our sin, and the weight of the ills of the world, and in freedom we can rejoice that God loves us and sets us free for the sake of the world. Christ’s call for us to follow is not an abstract concept, but a very real call, to all who are weary and carrying heavy burden to come to him and be set free.

So even this morning we come to the table in freedom, as disciples, to join with one another in love, joy, and peace; free to be you and me.


God of Freedom, God who sets us free, we come before you in awe of your creation and majesty, awed that you would form us and make us in your image, and humbled by the freedom you give us to be and act in the world. We thank you that you have given us life, and called us to be in community with one another. I thank you for each person here this morning, and I pray that you may bind us together as your people and free us from all that may keep us from doing your will. Free us from self interest that would lead us to greed and vanity, and help us to consider the interests of others. Free us from our own ideologies concerning race. May we recognize a common brotherhood and sisterhood as children of God.

As we approach Independence Day this week, I pray that you may free us from ideologies of nation. Remind us that we are citizens of your kingdom, and even as we celebrate the great privileges that come with citizenship of the United States, may we consider and fight against the ways in which our country acts in ways displeasing in your site. Please free our leaders from pressures that keep them from doing your will, and may they be free to act in order to peace, love and justice.

Lord, even as you call us to be free, we experience many things in life that limit us from being healthy and whole. Free us from the burdens of broken relationships, as we pray for reconciliation. Free us from the burden of physical and psychological ailments that would confine us, as we pray for healing.

Hear our prayers lord as we offer them to you both aloud and in the silence of our hearts.

We thank you lord that you free us from anxiety even through the gift of prayer. Thank you for hearing our prayers God of the universe, and thank you for calling us to worship you and for the privilege of serving you. Amen