Friday, July 11, 2014

Christian Liberty (I Peter 2:13-17; Galatians 5:1-2, 13-14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man writes:   “While I was attending graduate school in the early 1980s, I stopped for coffee in a Malibu, California, restaurant.  Coming from a non-political family, I knew nothing of political activists—but I met one that day in the restaurant.   He told everyone what a mess the United States had become.  He ridiculed our government and our educational, industrial, and banking systems. He was on such a roll that he had everyone in the restaurant on his side except for two people: an old man and me. The activist for some reason decided not to approach me, so he went after the old man.  As he approached, the old man continued slurping his soup. The activist sat down at the old man's table and offered, "Mister, if you can tell me just one thing the United States has ever done for you, just one measly thing, I will leave you alone."  Finally, the old man looked up. He licked his spoon clean and set it down on the table. His red face indicated years of laboring in the sun.  With a heavy Russian accent, he replied, "Ve hold zees truz to be self-evident, dat all men created equal, life, liberty, perzuit of happiness." Then he went back to the soup. The activist could not argue against what the old man had experienced growing up under communism before immigrating to this country.

On Friday America celebrated Independence Day.  We went to a park with Nancy's family and then to her mother's home and watched the spectacular display of fireworks all over the city.  I hope you had a good 4th of July.  Independence Day of course celebrates one thing – freedom, liberty, opportunity.  According to many observers it is what America represents to the world.   What does freedom mean to you? 

Historically, political, economic and religious freedom was the motivating force in the American Revolution, with cries for independence from Great Britain, self-government, freedom of worship and fair representation.  This July 4, celebrates 238 years from that historic moment in 1776 when the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.   Since that momentous day we have celebrated Independence Day with fireworks, picnics and parades.   The second president, John Adams said: "I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival," he wrote his wife, Abigail. "It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other."

We have built a nation based upon a Judeo/Christian covenant, a covenant with and under God.   We believe that freedom is a God endowed and unalienable right.  We believe freedom is worth making the ultimate sacrifice for.    We believe freedom must be protected and defended.  We believe freedom comes with a cost, it is not free.  We seek God's guidance and blessing in our life together as a nation and praise God for our freedoms.  We thank the men and women of our military, 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.”     

The drafters of our Constitution sought to strike a balance between a strong central government and one that protects personal freedoms and rights for both states and individuals.  Our first amendment protects rights of: free speech, freedom of religion, peaceable assembly, freedom of the press, and the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances. 

Today we frame it as that balance between personal freedom and the public good, between individual liberty and national security.  This takes many different forms.  There is the NSA and surveillance of citizens vis-a-vis the right to privacy of our personal communications.   We value our freedom and yet we also value security and safety for our posterity, our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  In regard to immigration, there is the controversial and emotional debate about the God given human right and freedom to travel, to move from one country to another, and the dream of people seeking freedom in America verses a government's right and duty to restrict and ensure an orderly process of immigration.  I think of the recent Supreme court ruling of the rights of corporations on the basis of religious freedom, that government cannot mandate corporations to provide contraception coverage to employees.   A recent concern is the Federal Court ruling that New York City can bar religious groups from holding religious worship services in public school buildings on weekends.  Churches regularly meet in schools in Pacific Beach, San Diego and all over in CA.  What is that about?

We see how precious religious freedom is when we see the growing intolerance and change in policies in Egypt, where Muslim mobs are attaching and burning churches and killing Coptic Christians, and where the courts are now jailing Coptic Christians on charges of the contempt of religion, meaning of course, Islam.   I think of countries like Pakistan where converting to Christianity and renouncing Islam is a capital offense. 

Our scriptures declare that human freedom originates from God, not from a king, not from government, but 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.  Christian freedom is a divine gift; it is God’s will.   Our freedom is grounded in the liberating work of God in Jesus Christ.   

The Bible is realistic about human freedom.  Pure freedom is a fantasy.  It says that human beings are never totally or fully free.   We are always subject to some lordship or power, always vulnerable to some yoke of slavery.  If we are not under the lordship of God, then we shall be to some other ruler or power in this earthly life.   We think of some today who are slaves to their feelings; they have self-control and anger management issues which is made manifest in spousal and child abuse.  We think of some who are addicted or slaves to drugs, to pornography or alcohol, or gambling or money or power.  Why - scripture says human beings are slaves to sin, that is, to self-centeredness, to self-worship, to idolatry, to rebellion against their creator.  And 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 freedom which God intended for us.  Therefore, stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 

What is Christian liberty?  It is a paradox - Christian freedom is becoming a slave to Christ.  Christian freedom 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.”   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 wrote:  “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.”  Christian freedom is at the same time freedom from the controlling power of sin and Satan and freedom for loving God, worshipping God, service to others, and for loving others in obedience to the command of Christ.  We are only truly free when we are a slave to Christ.

Author 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 our jobs, our marriages, of making commitments to the church or community, 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, a binding that leads to loving others, to service, to sacrifice, to sharing, to generosity, to accomplishing a goal.

Our contemporary idea of human freedom as one author put it "Began in the Renaissance, blossomed in the Enlightenment and rose to its climax in the 1960s." "You are confined by no limits.  Human freedom is limitless potential apart from God.”  Karl Marx: "Man is free only if he owes his existence to himself."

The Christian faith declares that God sent Jesus, who submitted to the slavery of death, so Jesus' followers might be set free from the power of sin 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.”  That's the radical difference between the contemporary idea of freedom and the biblical truth of Christian liberty.  For freedom, Christ has set us free.  Amen

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