Friday, July 8, 2016

Free in Christ (John 8:31-32; Galatians 5:1-2, 13-14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do human beings desire freedom more than anything else?  Is freedom what human beings value most?   Thirteenth century Scottish knight William Wallace led Scotland in a war for independence from England.  In the movie, Braveheart, he inspires his warriors before the battle with these words: “Aye, fight and you may die.  Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!”   If people are willing to die for it; it is all-important.

In the Mariners' Museum in Newport News Virginia, there's a special display of a rickety, home-made aluminum kayak. This tiny makeshift boat seems out of place among thousands of Navy vessels from significant battles throughout history.  But there is a story behind this kayak.  In 1966, an auto mechanic named Laureano and his wife Consuelo decided that they could no longer live under the oppression of Cuba's totalitarian regime.  After spending months collecting scrap metal, they pieced together a boat just barely big enough for two small people. Then Laureano jerry-rigged a small lawn mower engine on the back of the kayak.

On a moonless night, they set out in their kayak toward the treacherous Straits of Florida. They had only enough water and food for a couple of days.  Finally, after they had floated in open water for over 70 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard found and rescued the couple in the Florida Keys.

Laureano was asked if the risk was worth it?  He replied: “When one has grown up in liberty, you realize how important it is.  We lived in the enormous prison which is Cuba, where one's life is not worth one crumb. Where one goes out into the street and does not know whether or not one will return to one's home, because the political police can arrest you without any warning and put you in prison. Before this could happen to us, we thought that going into the ocean, and risking death or being eaten by sharks, is a million times better than to stay suffering under political oppression.”    Yes, freedom is everything when you see people willing to risk their very lives for it.

Tomorrow America will celebrate its Independence Day.  It's a day worth celebrating.  It's a day which should be remembered.   According to many global observers freedom is what America still represents to the world.   Historically, political, economic and religious freedom was the motivating force in the American Revolution.  Voices cried out for independence from Great Britain, for self-government, freedom of worship and fair representation.   You recall the words from our famous declaration in authored in Philadelphia:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.  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.”   Ideally liberty can't be taken away or given up because it is an unalienable right, a right that comes from God not man.

Our nation was founded upon the Judeo/Christian covenant, a covenant with and under God.   We believe that freedom is an indispensable right and gift from God.  We believe freedom is worth sacrificing for.  We believe freedom must be protected and defended.  We believe freedom always comes with a cost.  We seek God's guidance and blessings as we strive to live out what freedom means in our nation in a changing and complex world.   We see this example and spirit epitomized in the military, and in first responders, who stand on the front lines of freedom.

Today, in the light of increasing terrorist attacks both here and abroad, the government and public debate many issues, such as individual privacy vs. the government's right to know, individual liberty vs. national security, the Second amendment's right to bear arms vs. the governments role to protect its citizens, and racial profiling vs. civil liberty for all.

We value both freedom and security for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.  In regard to immigration, the emotional debate continues about the God given human right and freedom to travel, to move from one country to another, verses a nation's right and duty to protect its borders, and ensure an orderly process of immigration.  The immigration issue is made more complicated in the light of Islamic terrorists who take advantage and use it as a means to gain entry to our nation.

The Bible also speaks to the notion of freedom.  The Bible is the source of the idea in the Declaration of Independence that freedom is an unalienable right which comes from God.  But it goes a step further.  It further spells out what true freedom is.

The Bible doesn't romanticize the notion of freedom.  It declares that we are never so free that we can do anything we want.  It declares that we are never totally free.  We human beings are always subject to some dominating power, we are always vulnerable to some yoke of slavery.  If not God's lordship, then some other ruler or power or person in this earthly life, that is, our own weaknesses and vices, culture, tradition or to a political system.  Why - scripture says human beings are slaves to sin, that is, to self-centeredness, to self-worship, to idolatry, to rebellion against their creator.  Sin is what drives people to dreams of world conquest or to dominate another human being.  And yes, we can become slaves to the evil one, to Satan.

But the good news is this – in Christ we can find freedom.  Through faith in Christ, we can begin to experience the freedom which God intended for us.  What is biblical freedom or independence?  It is a paradox, Judeo Christian freedom is becoming a slave to Christ.  Judeo Christian freedom is being a servant to God.   We are truly free, when we are bound to God and God alone.

Our scriptures state that human freedom originates from God, not from a powerful human, like a king, but from God.  The letter of Galatians says:  “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”   John's Gospel says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”  Faith in Christ set's us free; the truth of Christ makes us free.

We are free from the paralyzing power of sin, free from the power of evil, free from the fear of death, free to love our neighbor, free to care for others, free to worship God, free to be honest, free to practice justice and morality, free to sacrifice for others, free to even give our lives for others.  You and were created by God to live free lives in our relationships with God and one another.  Christian freedom is a divine gift; it is rooted in the liberating work of God in Jesus Christ.  We receive it by faith, and it's sealed upon our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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."

The Christian faith declares that God sent Jesus, who submitted himself to the slavery of death, so through faith in Him Jesus' followers might be set free from the power of sin and free to serve God.   Christ has set us free.   Let us use our freedom not for self indulgence but to glorify God.  Amen.

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