Friday, July 10, 2015

Freedom's Gift and Task (I Peter 2:16-17;Galatians 5:1, 13-14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

The U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is located in Havelock, North Carolina, close to some of the Atlantic's most beautiful beaches.  But when visitors come to Havelock, the first thing they hear isn't the ocean's waves; it's the roar of fighter jets.   Since 1940, the sound of jet engines have echoed through the local skies.  The Marines from Cherry Point don't mind the noise.  As a matter of fact, the entrance to Cherry Point Marine Air Station has a large sign that reads: "Pardon our noise, it's the sound of freedom."

On July 4th our nation celebrated Independence Day.  What an all-important day.  For we remember the story of our nation's beginnings and the incredible sacrifices of our nation's founders.  It's a day to give thanks to God for His blessings upon this nation.  I hope you had a good 4th of July. 

Independence Day honors one thing – freedom, liberty.  According to many observers it is the beacon, the ideal of what America represents to the world.   Of course glorifying freedom in general is one thing, defining and applying it specifically to reality, to issues and our way of life is something else.  What does freedom mean to you? 

Historically, political, economic, social and religious freedom was the motivating force in the American Revolutionary war for independence against Great Britain.  We were inspired by noble ideas about self-government, individual liberty, economic opportunity, freedom of worship and fair representation.  Yesterday celebrates 239 years from that historic moment in Philadelphia in 1776, when the Continental Congress voted to approve and sign the Declaration of Independence.

We have built a nation founded upon the Judeo-Christian tradition, a tradition under God, with principles like freedom and values like justice.   We believe freedom is worth sacrificing for.  We believe freedom is worth working for.  We believe freedom is worth dying for.  We thank the brave men and women of our military, who have sacrificed their lives to ensure the liberty which we enjoy as Americans.

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.”   Our first amendment protects rights of people: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble peaceably, freedom of the press, and freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The Bible has much to say about freedom.  It teaches that human beings because of sin are never totally or fully free.   Isn't that a bummer?  We are always vulnerable to, tempted by, or subject to some form of slavery.  We must keep alert.  We think for example of people consumed by consumerism, constantly buying more and newer things.   Author Phillip Yancy writes:  “I remember reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. "I hope your stay is a blessed one," said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. "If you need anything, please let us know, and we'll teach you how to live without it."

We think of people who are slaves to drugs, to pornography, to alcohol, to gambling or money or power or hate or evil.   Because of human sin, that is, self-centeredness, self-worship, idolatry, disobedience to God's laws, we are always vulnerable to becoming slaves to something or someone.

Scripture further teaches that freedom is a divine gift, a divine right which comes from God.  God is free and we are made in God's image so that we might exercise our freedom.  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.  Freedom is a divine gift; it is God’s will. Our freedom is grounded in the liberating work of God in Jesus Christ. The good news is that no matter what you or I are in bondage to, what we are enslaved to, through faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be delivered and begin to experience the freedom which God intended for us.  Therefore, stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Scripture further teaches about the nature of Christian freedom?   Is freedom being able to do whatever you want whenever you want to?  Is freedom the ability to be reckless and shiftless and irresponsible?  Sure it is.  Well, maybe not.

Biblically, that is simply another form of slavery, slavery to one's whims, impulses and selfish desires.  Christian freedom is a paradox – Christian freedom is becoming a slave to Christ.  Biblically, true freedom is being a servant of 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.”   Christian freedom is becoming a slave to Christ.

Further, Christian freedom is both a gift and a task, a gift of grace from God and a task for God.   The gift, through faith, of being free from the controlling power of sin and Satan in our lives, the freedom which comes from knowing you are accepted and forgiven by Jesus, freedom to know God loves you, freedom from the fear of death, and  freedom from hopelessness.  On the other hand, freedom is a task given to us by God: the freedom to love God, to worship God, to serve others, to share our resources, to guide others, to pray with others, to encourage others, to love neighbors after the command of Jesus Christ.

God's gift of freedom is at the same time a task for the Church – to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick, to help the poor, to share the gospel.  There are Christians like the coalition of Roman Catholic organizations involved in fighting against the evil of human trafficking, the slave trade of humans.  Human trafficking enslaves people into forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.  God is bringing freedom to modern day slaves through His church.

Clearly, the issues today about freedom are complex and highly emotional.  Implementing the principle of freedom is never simple.    For example, in regard to immigration and control of borders and the debate about the God given human right and freedom to travel, to move from one country to another verses a government's right and duty to protect the nation and provide for an orderly process of immigration.  Or the right and freedom of individual privacy, which we all treasure dearly verses the need for national security and governmental surveillance.

Or the current debate about the recent supreme court decision legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states.  For some its a non-issue and for others its a major issue.    The court has declared the right and freedom for gays to marry.   Christians differ on this issue.  Christian Pastors and Jewish rabbis disagree on this issue.  Non-believers don't all agree on this issue.   I know that members and friends of this congregation hold different views on same-sex marriage.

Some make a case by pointing to biblical teachings about marriage and others point to the separation of church and state.  Some argue for the right of states to set marriage policies and guidelines and others argue for the federal government's right to over-rule them.  There is discussion about the religious freedom of churches and pastors or Christian colleges and what this new law means for them.  There is the discussion about marriage verses civil unions and domestic partnerships.

As I have stated before, based upon scripture, I believe that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman.  On the other hand, I also believe in equal legal rights for all American citizens under our constitution, rich and poor, old and young, educated and uneducated, gay and straight, black and white, male and female, religious and non-religious.  Marriage affords far more legal rights to people than civil unions.

I think the demonizing and labeling and name-calling on both sides is unconscionable.  Self-righteousness on either side should be condemned.   Pursuing one's convictions is important, but however one feels, we must strive to see these issues with the mind and heart of Christ.  That's what separates Christians from non-Christians.  We must treat people with respect.

Why?  Scripture declares that God so loved the world that he sent his only son.  So it's crucial that whatever our viewpoint, we must be guided by Jesus' command to love God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.   For freedom is both a priceless and gracious gift from God our creator, and Christ our redeemer, and a task for His followers in our daily lives.  For freedom, Christ has set us free.  Amen.

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