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