This is the message I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 2 July 2000. The Scriptures are 1 Samuel 17: 1, 17 – 27, 2 Corinthians 8: 7 – 15, and Mark 5: 21 – 43.
On this date in 1776, the Continental Congress completed the majority of work that was announced two days later, the 4th of July, as the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a statement outlining reasons why the British colonies in America had the right to be free and independent. No doubt there were those then who felt that the actions being taken that day were rash and irresponsible; that to declare independence, to take action against the British government was fool hardy and stupid. Every man who signed that document knew that, by fixing his name to it, he was signing his own death warrant. Should the fight for independence fail, they would be the first to be hanged as traitors to the crown.
But the writers, the signers, and those who support the cause of independence knew that freedom could not come without a price. If sacrifices were not made, freedom could not be won.
I think sometimes that we forget that there is a price to be paid for the freedoms we have.
But what is freedom? That may be one of the most difficult concepts one is every asked to define. Freedom could be considered one’s ability to choose and guide one’s own life. To a sixteen-year-old, freedom is a driver’s license. Freedom to worship at a church of one’s choosing, our very presence here today, was one of the reasons this country was founded. I really think that the political debates that we will listen to over the course of the next few months, nor matter what is actually said, will center on a definition of freedom.
What is the cost of freedom? That is the hidden question. As we have all discovered at some point in time, becoming freedom does not come cheap. To the sixteen-year old, having a driver’s license means nothing if there is no gas in the car, or for that matter, if there is no car. When we leave home and are finally free, we find out that we must still pay the rent and utilities.
I grew up on Air Force bases in the fifties and sixties where B-52 bombers sat at the end of the runways with their bomb bay doors open. . As long as those planes sat on the runway with the bomb bay doors open, we knew we were safe. For those planes were the alert planes, scheduled only to fly if we went to war with the Soviet Union. The cost of freedom in those days was eternal vigilance.
The cost of freedom sometimes calls for us to make sacrifices. Sometimes we have to give up the things that we hold dearly if we are to be free. That is another reason why we are here today. Because the ultimate freedom is the freedom from sin and death and to gain that freedom we must make sacrifices.
David asked the people of Israel to lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. This is a most interesting passage because, at the time of Saul’s death, David and he were extreme enemies. Yet David knew that it was Saul’s military leadership that had raised the standard of royalty and enriched the nation. David was also asking the people to cry out for the death of Jonathan because of the great personal loss that represented. The death of Saul and Jonathan represent the sacrifices that Israel had to make if it were to remain strong and free.
The Gospel reading for today represents what it takes for us to gain freedom. The woman in the story had suffered from over twelve years from a condition that made her, in the eyes of the community, unclean. Literally, she would not have been allowed to come into contact with anyone that day. She had already, as Mark noted, given everything she had financially to the physicians of that day, only to have her condition grow worse. Against that backdrop, she sought out Jesus.
Somehow she had heard of Jesus; perhaps touching Jesus’ cloak had healed someone else. Surely, she must have feared embarrassment having her condition revealed to the crowd. But her faith that Jesus could heal her was sufficient enough reason to act.
And Jesus’ own acts show us that he sacrificed something as well that day. The story about the woman is inserted into another story about Jesus and his disciples going to a friend’s house. Jesus interrupts that travel and takes the time to find this woman and let her know how it was that she was healed. If he had not done so, that woman and others would have thought that the healing came from some magical quality found in the clothing, not His divine will.
Jesus sought enough of that woman to find her. This, of course, caused great dismay among the disciples, who were anxious to reach their destination. But Jesus’ actions and kind words eased the fear of the woman. Jesus showed that it was her faith in Him that healed her, not some other action or belief.
The idea of faith is continued in the rest of the Gospel as well. When Jesus and the disciples finally reached Jarius’ house, they find that his daughter had died. And the people around him are angry that he was late, for if he had gotten there on time, the daughter would have lived. But Jesus pointed out that there was nothing to be afraid of if they would only continue to believe.
What Jesus gives us goes far beyond anything that we might have to give. There is nothing we can do to match the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. But that is the point about freedom from sin and death, as Paul explained in the passage we read from 2 Corinthians this morning. Jesus gave up all that he had so that we could become richer.
This weekend, as we celebrate the freedoms that were won some two hundred and twenty four years ago, let us also celebrate the freedom that was won some two thousand years ago as well. Let us remember those whose sacrifices made it possible for us to be hear today and let us also remember what we are asked to do today so that others can enjoy the same freedoms tomorrow.
We may not like making the sacrifices that we are called to make. We may not want to be a representative of Christ. But as Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, it is only right that what you have gained through Christ, you should share with others. The writer Glen Clark points out
The first lesson God gives us in training our will is to make us go halfway with him. He first put us through a series of disciplines to se if we are worthy to make his team. After this lesson is learned we discover that there are many, many times that God goes all the way with us. Over and over again he gives us far more that we have any right to ask. We call this “his Grace,” which goes so much farther than “his law” requires that he should go. God’s mercy goes so much farther than mere human justice goes.
And then there are the many times when God gives us the opportunity to go all the way with him. He did that with Job. He did it with Abraham. He used it as a school for many of his greatest saints and leaders. One of the great privileges he may give to you — if he is preparing for you great leadership — is the opportunity sometime of going all the way with him. One of those who did this was Thomas à Kempis. Hear his profession of faith:
O Lord, thou knowest what is the better way; let this or that be done as thou shalt please. Give what thou wilt, and how much thou wilt, and when thou wilt. Deal with me as thou knowest, and best pleaseth thee, and is most for thy honor. Set me where thou wilt, and deal with me in all things as thou wilt. I am in thy hand; turn me round and turn be back again, even as a wheel. Behold I am thy servant, prepared for all things; for I desire not to live unto myself, but unto thee; and Oh that I could do it worthy and perfectly! (From I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes by Glenn Clark)
The call for freedom always carries a cost; to be free means that we must give up something. To be free from sin and death, we must give up everything. Yet in giving up everything, we gain everything. We don’t always see the gain in the sacrifice we make, but when we realize that when Christ gave His life for us on the cross, that sacrifice meant everything for us today.
Are you prepared to make such a sacrifice? Are you prepared to gain your freedom? Consider the sacrifices that you must make.