Galatians 5:1, 13-25
This past Friday, I met my friend and colleague Bob, as I always do, for our early morning time of prayer. We meet up at Andover Newton Theological School and when it’s warm we meet outside, on the porch of the Meeting House. There we were deep in conversation, when suddenly Bob looked up. With a startled look on his face he pointed over my left shoulder said “Well look at that!” I turned to see that in the small parking lot below where we sat, there suddenly appeared a large coyote. It took us a few seconds to fully take in what we were seeing. But the coyote did not seem to be in any hurry. It stood there for a moment and then without rush or worry, loped slowly and silently up the drive and then disappeared from view.
Bob and I sat mesmerized, and as I watched her go it was all I could do to keep from getting up out of my seat and following her down that drive.
Sometimes, if we are lucky, there may come moments when the rush and clamor of our days is interrupted by the in-breaking of something totally unexpected, something completely outside our expectations as if it were from another world or realm all together. If we are lucky, we may be encountered by something so alive that it captivates our attention, ignites our wonder and bids us to follow.
Our Scriptures this morning point us to such moments.
But before we turn towards them, let us pray. God of the whirlwind and God of the still small voice, startle us with your presence. Turn our gaze to you that in doing so we may see something new in ourselves. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer. AMEN
We have come to the end of June and with that comes the end school, the end of packing lunches, the end of struggles over homework! We have come to the start of summer and that means the teacher conferences, band concerts, dance recitals are over! Don’t get me wrong, we really do love those band concerts and dance recitals, right? It is just that we also really, really love — the freedom that summer brings.
It is fabulous to finally have a more time and to have less asked of us. It is wonderful to be able to have the freedom to do what we want, when we want, with whomever we want. We anticipate this freedom that summer brings all year and now it is finally here. Let us relish in it!
We love our freedom, but of course I am not just talking about the freedom that summer brings. We are a country defined by remarkable freedoms that we fiercely love and defend. In a week or so, on July 4th all across the nation there will be parades and fireworks and children sporting red, white and blue face paint. In a week or so, on July 4th we will celebrate living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Freedom. It’s a cherished reality but also a powerful ideal that elicits strong passions. We certainly saw the power and passions of this ideal of freedom play out in the vote this week by Britain to leave the EU. But I think it is worth pausing for a moment and considering what is this freedom?
I think most of us would say that freedom is being free right? According to Merriam Webster dictionary “freedom” is defined as the “absence of constraint in choice or action; the liberation from slavery, or restraint or from the power of another”.
The Bible certainly understands freedom in this way. At the very heart of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament flows a strong current of God’s presence and intervening power to work for the liberation of creation from that which enslaves it. The pull of divinity on creation is from bondage towards freedom.
We remember of course the powerful story in the Book of Exodus where God heard the cries of God’s people who were suffering under the heavy hand of empire and how God delivered God’s people from bondage to Pharoah to new life with God.
And we remember the words that the Prophet Isaiah said to the people who were in exile in Babylon, words of comfort and hope that there would come a time when they would be delivered again to their beloved Jerusalem.
Over and over again in the biblical witness there arises hope and yearning and pull from that which enslaves to that which gives life.
It is good to remember the divine imperative of freedom and our secular rights to it. For even as we delight in fireworks and face-painting that this next week will bring, we cannot ignore the cruel fact that far too many of God’s children continue not too know what it is to be free. So many continue to live with constraint in choice or action. For far too long, so many of God’s children have been held in bondage or restraint under the power of another. Evidence of how so many of God’s children, not just around the world, but also right here in our freedom loving and defending country are not in fact free is undeniable — and heart breaking. The Pulse Night club, A LGBTQ sanctuary of freedom in Orlando defiled and forty –nine beautiful lives cut short. Too many black lives gunned down as if they did not matter. Walls build around hearts and nations to keep the other, the immigrant at bay. Deliverance from domination continues to the work of God and as such our work because so many of God’s beloved children do not yet know what it is to be free.
Freedom –“absence of constraint in choice or action; the liberation from slavery, or restraint or from the power of another”.
But there is another tremendously important aspect to freedom is that the dictionary definition may overlook but which the define imperative and the Apostle Paul this morning certainly do not. There is another crucial aspect to freedom that is fundamental to what it is to be free and that again is very much a part of the biblical witness. And this is the startling truth to which Paul speaks in our scripture this morning.
“For Freedom, Christ has freed us!” Paul writes. Freedom, is not just from that which enslaves but freedom is also and must always be for that which frees. We have been set free in Christ, so that we may be a source of freedom for others. This is the purpose of freedom. The purpose of freedom is not self-indulgence. It is not about doing what we want, whenever we want, carrying whatever we want wherever we want. Freedom is not about indulging our own desires but freedom is working to realize the desires of God and that is that each and every person, and creation on this good creation may grow to be fully alive, fully actualized as the person, or polar bear or blue footed dodo bird they were created to be.
Because here is the real problem, if freedom is understood solely as freedom from and not freedom for, then freedom can very much collapse upon itself and begin to look very much like the slavery from which we had hoped to be delivered. When our nation was founded we were freed from living under the military might of another power. We wanted to be free to defend ourselves and not live in fear of another’s domination. But this freedom from, I fear, has not been completed by a freedom for, leaving us today, in this gun saturated state where our freedom as outlined in the second amendment does not feel like freedom so much anymore as it does more and more like a regression into enslavement to a culture of violence.
In the Gospel passage this morning we see a powerful example of what freedom for, looks like. Jesus is filled with a power and an aliveness that perhaps had never before been seen in a human being, because I believe he knew in the very marrow of his bones what it felt like to be free. To be free from the domination of anyone who would seek to diminish but he also knew I believe what it was to be free for. And knowing what it is to be freed for opening him to the indwelling of the power of God. For that reason he set his face towards Jerusalem. His freedom was not for himself alone but for us all and for that reason he set out to seat of power so that through his freedom we may be free.
Like Jesus, we too are freed for freedom. We are freed through Christ so that we may be open and receptive to the power of God so that God can use us for the liberation of others. This kind of freedom is scary. This kind of freedom asks that we continually examine not only our own hearts but also our social norms and political realities and asks us to keep the question “is this for the freedom of which Christ comes” first on our mind and hearts. That kind of freedom keeps us ever vigilant and shakes us from our self-indulgent and self-congratulating comfort.
So as we go out into our summers, let us enjoy the freedom that this time can bring. Let us enjoy the fireworks and the face paint, but let us also keep our eyes and hearts open wide so that we may be startled by the in-breaking of God’s grace and power. Let us remember, that like that coyote, there is a wildness and grace that all around us that is waiting to surprise and startle us and bid us follow so that we too may set our face on freedom for all God’s beloved. Thanks be God. Amen.