Saturday, June 30, 2007

TRUE FREEDOM

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Oh, to be free, really free, so that I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted!! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Do you ever have such thoughts? I do!

Well, since we’ve come to that time of the year when it’s mandatory to celebrate freedom, maybe it’s appropriate to think about such things as freedom and liberty. You do know that the 4th of July Holiday is just a few days away? I know the 4th is about barbeque, fireworks, parades, and summer sales, but still . . . Maybe it would be a good thing to talk about freedom, especially at a time when some of our freedoms seem to be in danger.
Back in 1941 – I know some of you were alive back then -- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared in his State of the Union Address his unswerving support of four freedoms, freedoms that should be for everyone, everywhere.
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of Worship
  • Freedom from Want
  • Freedom from Fear
When he spoke these words the United States had not yet entered World War II, but war was raging in Europe and in Asia, and it wouldn’t be long before our nation entered the war. It was a time when freedom around the world was in jeopardy, and yet Roosevelt spoke with great optimism about the future.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called "new order" of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

The dictators of his day would, he believed, be turned back, and they were, at great cost, but unfortunately new ones took their places in many parts of the world. Most of those freedoms he spoke of so eloquently sixty-six years ago remain more a dream than a reality, even here in the United States.

It’s good to celebrate the freedoms we have as Americans and to be proud of our country. And yet, I always find it difficult to preach on the Sunday before the 4th, because it’s too easy to merge nationalism and faith. It’s too easy to think of ourselves as the New Israel and to believe that we’re so special in God’s eyes that we deserve special blessings. But the truth is: God is God of all the Nations and all the peoples and God loves us all equally. And as far as freedom goes, Paul understood quite well that true freedom had nothing to do with political freedom.

We are free in Christ and therefore, no matter the circumstances, we’re to stand firm in that freedom and never again submit to any “yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). It’s good to remember that Paul wrote this word of encouragement to people living under Imperial Roman rule, and so he has in mind a spiritual freedom that transcends all other forms of freedom. Of the four freedoms that President Roosevelt outlined, the one that is most related to what Paul has in mind, is the “freedom from fear. Don’t let others enslave you with their opinions and their rules and their regulations, because it will be fear that will enslave you to their views.
If we are to be truly free, then what does that mean? Paul makes several points worth hearing today on the eve of Independence Day!

1. Freedom to Serve

It may sound a bit contradictory, but Paul says you have been set free so that you might choose to serve. Paul understood the lure of self-indulgence; that urge to gratify our desires no matter the cost to others or ourselves. Consider for a moment, the buffet table; the ones you can find in Las Vegas. The choices are overwhelming, and you have to try everything. This makes it really hard to stop, because you want to get your money’s worth, even if you pay for it later by getting really sick. This isn’t the kind of freedom Paul has in mind. What he has in mind is freedom from legalism. In this context he tells the Galatians that it isn’t the circumcision of the flesh that saves you, but rather it’s a transformation of the heart.

Because you’re free in Christ from the bondage of legalism, choose to serve your neighbor. It’s your choice; you can do otherwise, but if you’re truly free, you will serve and love your neighbor as yourself. Now in this country of ours, if we follow this call to freedom, then our acts of service will have definite political consequences, because we will put others before ourselves.

2. The Fruit of Freedom

There’s a reason why we have laws – we seem to be inclined to indulge ourselves rather than serve our neighbors. Paul tells us what freedom gone to seed looks like, and it’s not pretty. Freedom gone bad produces such things as idolatry, anger, strife, jealousy, factionalism, carousing around, and things like that.
When freedom is rooted in the Spirit of God, we bear fruit, against which there is no law. The fruit of the Spirit’s movement in our lives is things like love, joy, peace patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Instead of focusing on not doing the first batch of items, Paul encourages us to focus on the things of God by letting the Spirit transform our lives.

3. Freedom and Responsibility

If we truly want to be free, then we’ll need to pay special attention to the ninth of these fruit of the Spirit. Freedom without self-control is anarchy and it will cause everyone, including ourselves, a lot of grief.

You might find it a bit ironic, but without freedom there can be no responsibility – If I’m not free how can I be responsible – and yet the more freedom I have, the more responsibility I have. As Paul says elsewhere: “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12). If self-indulgence is our goal, we won’t stop to consider how our choices affect others. When that happens our freedom – whether as individuals or as nations -- becomes destructive.

Yes, it’s a good thing to celebrate our freedoms as Americans, and it’s appropriate to defend those freedoms, but more importantly, it’s imperative that we remember that to be truly free is to serve our neighbors in love, and that goes way beyond being an American.


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
5th Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2007

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