Friday, July 12, 2013

Free in Christ (I Peter 2:13-17; Galatians 5:1-2; 13-14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I remember what a thrill it was, years ago, when our family took the ferry out to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty.  It was in August and it was hot.   I’m sure many of you have had the opportunity to see the Statue of Liberty.   This iconic symbol of national freedom reopened on this Fourth of July, eight months after the storm Sandy pounded Liberty Island.  The idea of freedom was of course at the core of the founding of America.

The right of privacy and freedom are central in the controversy about Edward Snowden who has outed stories about telephone and internet surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Administration, the NSA.  We hear that surveillance of Americans by electronic means is nothing new, that it’s been going on at least since 9-11.  Is this much ado about nothing?   

Some say – “I have nothing to hide, let them listen.”  Others say U.S. government spying on civilians has reached a dangerous level.  The rationale given is national security, to keep us safe, to prevent plots and attacks by Islamic terrorists.  And yet the surveilling of former CIA Director David Patraeus I felt was troubling.  Was it a violation of the 4th Amendment which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures?  It always comes down to that delicate balance between personal freedom and the public good, between individual liberty and national security, doesn’t it?  What do you think?

Historically, political, economic and religious freedom was a motivating force in the American Revolution, with cries for self-government and freedom of worship and fair representation.  Today the protection and preservation of our constitutional freedoms continues to drive us although the peope and the courts sometimes disagree when it comes to those 5 freedoms listed in the first amendment.    

Especially since 9-11 and the awareness of the world of global terrorism in which we live, the complicated debate between personal privacy and the government’s need to know grows more intense each day.   We treasure our freedom and yet we also desire security and safety for our selves and our children and grandchildren, so we have witnessed a gradual increase in surveillance in government buildings, businesses, churches, sports arenas, national monuments, airports, train stations, banks, schools and that trend will continue.        

This July 4, 2013, celebrates 237 years from that historic moment when the Continental Congress voted to approve and sign the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.   Ever since that momentous day we have celebrated Independence Day with fireworks, picnics and parades.   We Americans have built a nation based upon a covenant under God.   We believe that freedom is a God endowed and indispensable right.  We believe freedom is worth making the ultimate sacrifice for.  We are aware of regimes in history and today where people live in fear and oppression under dictators.  We praise God for our freedom as a nation and we thank the men and women, who have sacrificed their lives to ensure the liberty which we enjoy.   

Recall these famous words from the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”     True national freedom always has inner-tensions.  The drafters of our Constitution sought to strike a proper balance between a strong central government and one that protects particular freedoms and protected rights for states and individuals.    

In our morning scriptures we are likewise reminded that the reality of human freedom originates from God.  Galatians says:  “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”   You and I were created by God to live free lives in our relationships with God and one another.  Theologically, Christian freedom is a divine gift; it reflects God’s will for our freedom is grounded in the liberating work of God in Jesus Christ.    

The Bible is realistic about human freedom.  It says that human beings are not autonomous; we are never totally or fully free.   We are always subject to some lordship, always vulnerable to some yoke of slavery.  If not the lordship of God, then to some other influence or power.  

We think of some today who are slaves to their emotions, to their desires, to their impulses, to their fantasies.  We think of some who are addicted to drugs, to pornography or alcohol, or gambling or money or power or violence.  Can one become a slave to a particular ideology or dogma or philosophy?  The Bible says human beings are slaves to sin, that is, to self-centeredness, to self-worship, to idolatry, to rebellion against their creator.  Yes, we can become slaves to evil, to the evil one, to Satan.   The question is – to whom are you going to be in bondage?

But the good news is this - For freedom Christ has set us free.  Through faith in Christ, we can begin to experience the free lives which God intended for us.  Therefore, stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.   For one can slip back, back-slide as we used to call it into bondage to some other master.

What is freedom in Christ?  It is a paradox - Christian freedom is becoming a slave to Christ.  It is being a servant to God.  I Peter says:  “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.  Honor everyone.  Love the family of believers.”   We read in Galatians:  “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”  It is based on Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself.”   We read in I Corinthians:  “Though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win some of them.  To the Jews, I became as a Jew in order to win Jews.  To the Gentiles, I became as a Gentile in order to win Gentiles.  To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.” 

The 16th century Reformer Martin Luther paraphrased this truth in these words:  “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all and subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone.”  Is that a helpful perspective on Christian freedom?  Christian freedom is at the same time freedom from the controlling power of sin and Satan and freedom for service, for worship, for witnessing, for glorifying God and for loving others in obedience to the command of Christ.  We are only truly free when we are a slave to Christ.

Is the Christian understanding of freedom is radically different from a worldly understanding?  What do you think?  The scripture says we are only free when through the power of God’s love we are slaves to one another.   True freedom is always expressed in love and this freedom to live free lives, is made possible by the Spirit of God, who dwells with us and in us.  It is God’s Holy Spirit who gives us the power to live in freedom.

Think of other examples of this biblical truth of freedom.  Elden Trueblood writes:  “We have not advanced very far in our spiritual lives if we have not encountered the basic paradox of freedom, to the effect that we are most free when we are bound.  But not just any way of being bound will suffice; what matters is the character of our binding.  The one who would like to be an athlete, but who is unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and by abstinence, is not free to excel on the field or on the track. His failure to train rigorously and to practice abstinence denies him the freedom to go over the bar at the desired height, or to run with the desired speed and endurance.  Slavery to self-discipline is the price of freedom.”  

And isn’t that true also of work, of raising a family, of being a mother or father, of getting an education, of learning a craft.  We are most free when we are bound.  But what is paramount is the character of our binding.  Is it a binding that leads to loving others, to service, to sacrifice, to sharing, to generosity or is it another kind of bondage?

We reflect finally upon another biblical truth, freedom always comes with a cost!    God sent his only son so that by submitting to the slavery of death, we might be set free through faith for life.  The letter of Philippians says:  “Jesus Christ through in was in the form of God, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, so that we might find new life and freedom in him.”   II Corinthians says: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich for your sakes, He became poor, so that through His poverty, you might become rich.”

Remember what happened to those 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?    Twenty-four of them were lawyers and jurists.  Eleven were merchants; nine were farmers and large plantation owners.   They were educated men; men of social standing and property.  They signed that document knowing full well that the penalty if they were captured was imprisonment and death.

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Two lost their sons serving in the Continental Army; another had two sons captured.  Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.  Carter Braxton, a wealthy planter saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy.  He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.  Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly.  He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

At the battle of Yorktown, the final battle of the war, Thomas Nelson Jr, knew that the British General Cornwallis had taken over his home for the general’s headquarters.  He urged General George Washington to open fire anyway, the home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.     The signers pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."    Amen!

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