Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Different Kind of Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is required to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. Galatians 5.1-18

Freedom. What is Christian Freedom? I remember riding on the bus recently. In the back were three teenagers, a girl and two boys probably around 16 or so. As with teenagers the world over and from all times they were being rambunctious as a way of fighting their own feelings of not belonging. Who is the coolest was the game they were playing. One boy cursed about nothing in general to show his power, his peacock prance trying to look cool for his friends, especially the girl. The bus driver told them to cool it with their language or he’d kick them off. They quit cursing, for who wants to walk the several miles, but started to complain about it being free country and their rights had just been violated.

As they got to the stop, the predictable happened. The young girl mustered her strength, and more to impress her friends she said to the bus driver, “Thanks for the #$*& ride.”

She rushed off the bus giggled with her friends and look to see if the boys accepted her and found her actions cool. Her act of rebellion most likely lead to a rush but in the long run it will not alleviate her fears of not belonging. Her fear of not being accepted was her true prison.

In about the early seventy started a movement within the church to make church more seeker friendly. Along with removing the crosses and upping the tempo of the music, they also preached the removal of “church” language. “Church” language scared people that did not know it.

So generations past that knew terms like justification, piety, sanctification, self-control gave way to a few generations that have little knowledge of the meanings of those words. Moreover certain Christian words got redefined or lost their meaning such as freedom, grace, and love. In my next few sermons, I want to tackle the difference between how Christian traditionally define these words as oppose to how the world defines them. I start with one of the grand words of our culture, Freedom. Before I get to want we, Christian mean by word, freedom, let’s look how our culture defines freedom

Freedom as defined by our culture is political freedom. It comes from the world of ruler and ruled, the oppressor and oppressed, master and slave. To be free is to be free from others telling you want to do. It is based in action. I am free because I have no one telling what I can and can’t do. This is the Freedom that Mel Gibson as William Wallace screams out at the end of the Braveheart.

Freedom! Freedom!

It is the freedom won by the blood of soldiers and defend from those who wished to enslave us.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, political freedom is very important, it is just not Christian freedom. We know this by the fact that Jesus did not lead a political revolt. After the cross, Caesar still ruled, and Christians were fed to the lions.

As a system of organizing a country, democracy and society political freedom is powerful. Freedom here is based on action and the restriction and allowing of action. This is important to protect. Where it runs into problems is when it is moved out of the realm of action, out of the political realm and into defining us and our nature. Human existence has three modes:

Who we are. The ontological.
What we do. The political.
What we have. The economic.

Political Freedom is in the political part. When we make about who we are, the ontological, we pull it apart like some bitter seawater taffy. Because the range of what we can do defines our freedom. Since we live in a world of others, the border of our freedom in action is others.

Follow me for a little bit. The freedom we been talking about was defined in the French enlightenment and is stated as:

Freedom for humans are free to do as they wish as long as we don’t infringe on the freedom of another.

In a sense, this freedom does not define what “wishes” are. It stays in the area of action. But if it defines who we are, then the limitations of my freedom and really me is you and your freedom. It creates a barrier between humans. We hear this in the common saying, “your not the boss of me.”

We can see it as a contributing factor in the divorce. The other is my limitation of my personal freedom, to expand it, I have to avoid or control yours.

Pushed fully in define us, this freedom can forces into tiny enclaves to watch TV and play on the internet, and to be alone in our freedom. Such a freedom seems more like a prison than liberation.

But there is another definition of Freedom that comes from the world of relationships. This is the first of the three aspects of Christian freedom. When we are known and know another, call this love, we also have a powerful sense of Freedom. We arrive at some of the answer that Paul gets to in our text. Think back when you felt you belong and known, time you were really with someone and love was present. Did you not experience what Paul describes? You were free in that moment. This is the beginning of Christian Freedom. We are not there yet as there are two more dimensions to the Freedom in Christ.

For Paul, we are called to be free for freedom sake or in other words to set others free by proclaiming the love of god in Christ Jesus to the captives. And this second aspect of the Christian freedom is that of joining into something larger than ourselves. Again, think back we you were part of team, be it a sports team, part of a theatric production, build a church. Did you not feel bonded with you co workers, team members? Again, you were free in the sense of belonging, but also in the sense of purpose. With the great commandment, Jesus gives us, out of his grace a deepest purpose and the greatest team to join.

Finally, by giving us the victory before hand, he gave us confidence. Again, think about a time you felt confident and what you were doing was good. Being writing a poem, designing a website, singing a song, you knew you not only could but you would succeed. Jesus was won and so we work knowing we will win. The third dimension of Christian freedom is confidence. A confidence bought by and paid for by the blood of Jesus, God incarnate. Remember con-fidence means with faith.

Now I could go on and on about Christian freedom. And I probably will in future, but I am a writer. One of the first rules of writing is show don’t tell.

Paul in the chiastic point (the central point of Romans 8.38-39) In ancient writing the chiastic point where the writer place the most important point he was making in the letter or essay. Here is the centerpoint, center of Paul’s faith, the most important point in the most important letter of the whole New Testament. Here is how Paul defines himself and who he is.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Stop and think about the place Paul is in. Nothing, not being in prison, not threaten with death, not being attack for being a Christian, not being attack for not being a good enough Christian. Nothing can separate Paul and his beloved communities from the love of God in Christ Jesus. I say communities because Paul say “us.”

Imagine what freedom there is in that space.

Imagine what freedom there is for us if we realize this as Paul has.

Not worrying how cool we are, or our status, not worrying about how much power and wealth we have. Living life with love, purpose and confidence:

For I am convinced that neither a bad economy, nor terrorism, nor neighbors judgment, nor politics, nor things present, nor things to come, not even if this church fails to attract anyone else nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is Christian Freedom.

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