Leviticus 19:1-18; Galatians 5:1, 13-26
July 3, 2022
- How we live out the freedom we have in Christ
Nearly 246 years ago, the founders of our great and gifted nation put forth a proposition that we are a free and independent people who believes in liberty or freedom at the heart of our core values. They said,
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—-
Liberty or freedom is critical to our bedrock of how we understand ourselves today. For good or for ill, freedom has been expressed in more ways than we can begin to imagine. Some of those expressions are rousing and engaging and moving – fireworks themselves are a visual display of this freedom; others of those expressions are deeply disturbing and troubling and even offensive – while many crave the freedom to pray freely in public as Christians, they are less interested in that freedom for other faiths to pray in public over them. How many would really welcome the prayers of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or any other non-Christian? I remember a hullabaloo a few years back when the local coven of wiccans in Chesterfield wanted to get into the rotation of opening prayers for the Board of Supervisors. Their thought was freedom is freedom. Rather than embrace that freedom, I believe the supervisors quit having prayers.
Maybe a better way of thinking about this is that freedom is hard. Even our sacred American independence song penned by Jefferson that sang out in courage and beauty on behalf of human liberty against the English crown and oppression was not really thinking all people. After all, our black brothers and sisters would not be able to vote for nearly 100 years after Jefferson’s gift and women 50 years after that.
Freedom IS hard.
Do not give up on freedom, however. Do not give up on our God-given liberty.
γνώσεσθε τὴν ἀλήθειαν…. Anyone know what that strange saying is? No, the pastor is not speaking in tongues today – at least not yet. Your clue is that it is Ancient Greek. *** It is the motto of Hampden-Sydney and a quote from John’s Gospel 8:32. “You will know the truth,” and the rest of that line is “and the truth will set you free.”
It turns our that the Lord our God, Father, Son, and Spirit, it pretty interested in freedom, too. No only do you have the passage I shared in Galatians (which book is all about our freedom), God’s greatest work in the Old Testament outside of creation itself is the freeing God’s people FROM captivity. And every single person should know that Jesus came to free us from our bondage to sin and death. For freedom Christ has set us free. Though this is a different freedom than the one we are used to celebrating.
When you compare human freedom and God’s freedom next to each other, I can tell you which one is more beautiful, more powerful, more profound, more sincere, and more enduring. Even though the freedom that our nation’s founders fought to enshrine cost them more than any of us can imagine, that freedom still pales next to a freedom that comes from one who was nailed as a criminal to a cross. All freedom is connected, however. We just need to figure out how what we celebrate today resembles what we have in Jesus when we live into his truth.
Freedom is so very interesting in that it is both freedom FROM something and freedom FOR something else. Freedom is similar to how I understand grace. We never just receive grace for ourselves. The grace we have from God is always meant to be shared. Freedom is never just about being free. It is also about being free FOR something else. Paul makes that point dramatically. Now that we are free, we should never use that freedom just to gratify worldly desires but to live out life in the Spirit, to do the things that the Spirit give ability to do. We are freed to do God’s fruit.
Our American freedom is being tested today. That freedom secured by the blood and sacrifice of those who have gone before us, even as recently as the heroes of January 6, is being tested by hyper partisanship, supernationalism, demagoguery, and anything that lessens the value of our shared American life in a global world. In our origin as a nation, we recognized a greatness in America for which it was worth fighting and dying. In many, many ways America has been and is still great, but our greatness has become too conditioned by chains and walls of tribal thinking so that we cannot see anyone or anything outside of our tribe or people as worthy or valuable. Tribes are terrible now. We were freed from the boot of Great Britain for the excellence that eventually made us the greatest nation in the world. Now, however, we are not even sure if we will live through another election in one piece. Where is our excellence now outside of our words and remembrances? I hope we find it soon.
Our freedom in Christ is being tested today, also. We might think that our freedom in faith and freedom for faith depends on some authority giving us some license or space or permission to do as we might like. We might think that somehow if only the right laws were passed or the right persons were elected, then we could be good followers of Jesus. If only our nation seemed more Christian, then we could finally live out our Christian calling. And yet (hear me), liberty cannot be stolen from a Christian. Freedom cannot be taken away from a follower of Jesus – not true freedom, not a bit. This is the difference between human freedom and freedom in our Lord. It is much easier to steal a person’s earthly freedom, but no one can take away our liberty in Christ. That is why Paul told slaves and servants in his day that they could still be followers of Jesus whether they were slaves or not. Even as slaves, they were freed and loved in God’s eyes as much as anyone else. It does not matter who you are or where you are or your status in life or your state of servitude. Paul regularly introduced himself as a slave or prisoner of Jesus Christ, and he was one of the freest people who has ever lived. Jesus makes us that free.
For many years, I have been fascinated with Harry Houdini. You may have seen the sign I have of him in my study. He was a truly interesting person with such a strange and tumultuous life. He was the first person to fly an airplane in Australia. He also really wanted to believe in spirits and went all round trying to find authentic spirit mediums with his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holms fame. Harry wanted to desperately talk to the spirit of his deceased mother, so he travelled relentlessly looking for a true spirit medium. He never found one.
Of course, we also know him as the true escape artist. He tested every set of handcuffs he could find to see how to escape them, and he invited people who came to his shows to bring their OWN handcuffs to see if they could trap him. He was locked up in boxes, cabinets, jailcells, straightjackets, death traps of every description, and he always managed to escape. He always went free. Nothing could hold the handcuff king. In the end, though, he died from pancreatitis. He had freed himself so many times that he neglected the freedom that never ends.
We should not be uninformed. We can all be truly and deeply free right now no matter what our physical state might be. This freedom, this liberty, comes from Jesus our Lord, and it beckons us to be children of the Spirit. So what does that true, beautiful, enduring, perfect freedom look like?
In Christ, we are always free to love. This is so simple and so profound. The only person who can dictate whom you will love is you and you alone. It is always your choice, even if it is a really hard choice. It might seem to be an impossible choice. Maybe the one you need to love has done you much wrong. I will come back to that in a minute, but we are always free to care for, to have compassion for, to hold in our hearts whomever we wish, and love never runs out. Yes, friends, we are always free to love. We do not have to be near to love. Sometimes it is tough love. Sometimes love means saying good-bye, but godly love is for us to decide.
In Christ, we are always free to serve, all of these freedoms really grow out of the first. Just as we are free to love any and all of God’s children, we are free to express that love through service. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and invites us to follow. It is always our prerogative to give our time, talents, energy, imagination, gifts, and wealth to others in service to our Lord. We all have something we can do for others. We all have something we can give to others. We all have freedom to show others they matter.
In Christ, we are always free to forgive. So many people live under the oppression of guilt. So many people live with hate and resentment. So many people are inwardly dying because they refuse to forgive. Who is stopping us from letting it all go? No one. We have perfect and absolute freedom to relieve the guilt we carry, both toward ourselves and toward others. We are beautifully empowered to reflect God’s forgiveness in our own lives and relationships. Forgiveness does not fix everything, but it does say, “I love you as a child of God. Be free as a child of God.” Forgiveness can seem excruciatingly difficult until we realize that it is very easy. Once we realize that we hold onto our guilt more than God, it helps to put things into perspective. While we cannot fix broken people or broken relationships, we can give space for God’s Spirit to show us better life.
In Christ, we are always free to hope. I cannot tell you how important this one is, and I think you have a sense of how important this one is. So many people have found themselves in hopeless situations. Life seeks to beat the hope out of us, but if Jesus is Lord of all and he seeks our good and we are secure in his life, then there must also always be something for which to hope. No one can make you stop hoping. That is always a choice. As people in Christ Jesus, we have to be a people of hope. Jesus believes in us. We can also believe in him.
We have more freedom that we can comprehend, and nothing can steal our freedom, but we can trade our freedom. No one can take our freedom from us, but we can give our freedom in exchange for slavery to fear and hate.
Today, friends, in this time of holding dear the freedom we know. My prayer is that we will look to and cling to the greatest freedom this world has ever known and own this freedom in every fiber of our being. You and I are free in Christ. Our neighbor, our loved ones, even our enemies are free in Christ. The Spirit of God frees us to live out our freedom in amazing and beautiful ways. For all of this, to God be the glory. Amen.