This was the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 4 July 2004. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Kings 5: 1 – 14, Galatians 6: 1 – 16, and Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20.
If you think about it, today is an interesting day. It is the day that we celebrate our nation’s independence from Great Britain, yet nothing done this day some two hundred and twenty years ago made us actually independent. I think the problem is that we truly have no idea what independence and freedom are all about.
If we were to truly celebrate our independence from Great Britain, it should be on October 19th when General Washington’s army defeated General Cornwallis at Yorktown or even on the day the Treaty of Paris, acknowledging that we won the Revolution, was signed.
This day only celebrates the day a document written by Thomas Jefferson, with help from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, at the direction of the Continental Congress, was read to the people of Philadelphia and later to residents of other cities in the thirteen colonies. It was a statement of our intention to be free and no matter how you read it, it did nothing to insure that such freedom would be granted. Everyone who agreed to those words knew that our actual freedom would only be gained through work and commitment to the cause and not by a mere reading of the words.
The problem is that we forget what it cost to gain our freedom. We see freedom in terms of what we can do, such as complain about the cost of gasoline while filling up a cost inefficient four wheel drive vehicle. We complain about the cost of energy but vote for politicians who create bills that stifle the development of and prevent the use of alternative energy research because we, the people, fear the consequences of developing nuclear and other alternative energy sources.
We think that because we have the freedom to say whatever we want wherever we want and whenever we want that we are truly free. We think that because we have the freedom to act in whatever manner we want, insulting whomever we want, we are truly free. But we do not realize that such actions contradict and threaten to take away the very freedoms that our parents, our grandparents, our colleagues and friends worked to gained.
In our efforts to show people how truly free we are, we find ourselves trapped and enslaved by the very things that we think our freedom gained. By our actions, we boast of our freedom; we want everyone to see just how free we can be. Like the "tribute" ancient kingdoms paid to conquering powers to stave off invasions, we say "look at what I have gathered in this life, look at my medals, my trophies. Admire me for what I am today. But don’t look at my soul; don’t look into the depths of my character, for even I am afraid to look there."
Paul seeks no admiration from his peers. He does not offer the Galatians any form of "tribute"; he does not enter into their game of boasting, no matter how subtle or unsubtle it might be. He wants people to know that there is only one thing they have to realize. He is a free man today because Jesus died on the cross so that he might live. It is not an achievement, quality or possession; it is not beautiful or stylish; it doesn’t even pertain to Paul himself. But it is the one thing that makes him free and that is all you need to know. (From "Dog tale" in "Living the Word" by Samuel Wells, Christian Century, June 29, 2004.)
This country is a free and independent nation, not because of words written on a piece of paper or because it was somehow inevitable. Rather, this country is free because men and women were committed to the cause of freedom regardless of the cost. We, as individuals, are freed from the bondage of sin and death, not because of what we might say or do but because Christ died on the cross so that we might live.
In last week’s Gospel reading it said that Jesus had his eyes set on Jerusalem and his meeting with the cross. So committed to walking that road was Jesus that nothing could distract Him. Our freedom in Christ today has to come with that same commitment.
This commitment is found not in doing whatever you want or going wherever you wish to go, but rather in letting yourself be wherever God places you, unwavering in your determination to be of one mind with God. (Quoted in the chapter on Prisoners in Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs, Howell)
Naaman was a great commander, yet his greatness was threatened by his affliction with leprosy. And the king of Aram, whose own greatness came from the victories of Newman’s armies, was prepared to give virtually everything he had to so that his general could be cured and their greatness, their freedom could be insured.
But the king of Israel knew that he could not cure the leprosy and was afraid that Israel would be taken over because of his failure. Elisha offered a solution, but it was a solution that Naaman was not prepared to accept. It was a simple solution, bath in the Jordan seven times, but it was a solution that did not recognize the greatness of Naaman or the value of his power or his possessions. It was a solution that required a commitment on his part rather than the simple incantation of words and the application of some useless magical potion.
Naaman gained his freedom from leprosy because he was committed to its cure. It was a commitment that required a change in his thinking, his attitude, and his approach to life.
In the early days of Christianity, there was an author name Boethius. Caught in a power struggle, he was arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately executed. While in prison he wrote, "the only way one . . . can exercise power over another is over [the] body and what is inferior to it, . . . possessions. You cannot impose anything on a free mind, and you cannot move from its state of inner tranquility a mind at peace with itself and firmly founded on reason.” (Quoted in the chapter on Prisoners in Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs -Howell).
On the news last week I heard a story about Christians in China. Without commenting on the feelings of conservative Christians in this country on this subject, I found this story about the struggle of Christianity in China very interesting. The most important part of the story was the statement that the People’s Republic of China fears the Bible more than any other book ever published. The Bible inspires creativity and free thought, topics that no totalitarian government can ever endorse.
When Jesus came to us, he came not as a worldly king but as a servant. He showed that one could be free of the shackles imposed by religious and cultural law. But he warns those whom he has called to share his mission that they cannot hold onto what is in this world if they expect to follow him. If one holds on their worldly things, they can never expect to find the freedom that Christ offers. The reason that the Bible is such a powerful tool for freedom is that it gives every individual the chance to find out who Christ is and, in doing so, find out who they are really are.
We must be ready to leave the safety of the sanctuary in order to be his witnesses. We must be willing to leave behind those things that define us according to society and by which we often keep God imprisoned. In doing so, we are offered a freedom that cannot be found in this world, a freedom not hampered by a smallness of vision and obedience to the world. This is the freedom that is ours; it is a freedom that brings Christ to us and allows us to take Christ into the world. (From Faith in a Secular Age, Colin Williams)
It is that same freedom that the seventy took with them, which gave them the power to cast out demons and heal others. It is a freedom to help others, not condemn them. Note that Jesus told those who went out in His name that if the people of a town were not to accept them, just walk on by and leave the town alone.
On this day, when the fireworks go off and we celebrate our political independence, we must realize that freedom is more than just the victory of one army over another. We should celebrate but we must realize that, as Nelson Mandela said upon the legal dismantling of apartheid that, "we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free."
We must realize that no one can be free if the powers that take away freedom, fear, hatred, intolerance, injustice, still exist. We must remember that freedom is more than just cramming our time full of things that we can choose to do. It means that we have the chance to maximize our options and can focus on time, on quiet and concentrate on life. Freedom gives us the chance to explore the bigger questions of life, sense our connections with others and choose good over evil.
Jesus came to set us free. He did not, as some had hoped then and some now evoke today, a great army. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus came to set us free, free from sin and oppression. We have been challenged to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, and to bring the message of hope through the Gospel to the oppressed. Having accepted Christ as our Savior, we now have the opportunity and the obligation to set others free. (Quoted in the chapter on Prisoners in Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs, Howell)