This Sunday was at the New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church (Location of Church). Summer services start at 9:30 and you are always welcome there. The Scriptures for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost are Genesis 24: 34 – 38, 42 – 49, 58 – 67; Romans 7: 15 – 25; and Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25 – 30.
This has always been an interesting Sunday for me. Growing up as I did, a 2nd generation military brat, living much of my early life on Air Force Bases, I have one sense of what this day means. But, over the years, as I have looked at this day/weekend from the standpoint of the Scriptures and a conscious and public acceptance of Jesus Christ, I have come to appreciate a different, perhaps deeper meaning for today.
Clearly, this is a weekend to discuss freedom and what it means. But I think that we have to do so with an understanding that there is more to it than the public discussion. We understand and we appreciate those words that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “that all men are created equal”, yet we fail to understand that when Jefferson wrote those words in 1776 it applied to only men, and only men, who owned property. If you were a man but did not own property, a woman, or a minority, then the words of the Declaration of Independence were simply words on a piece of parchment, words without meaning to you. It may have been that this was how Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were able to justify the contradictions in their own personal and public lives.
Over the course of history we have heeded the words of Jesus when he spoke to the Pharisees in John 8:31 – 32, “seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” When we speak of all men being equal we mean everyone and not a select few.
It has always struck me that most of the discussions Jesus had with the Pharisees and the other establishment figures was how freedom transcended the law. For the Pharisees, the law was the limit; it was what defined a person and determined what they could and could not do. Jesus was always pushing the limit of the law, going beyond the law to the spirit of the law and its true meaning.
It is the establishment that criticized John the Baptizer for his words and his actions; it was the establishment that Jesus pointed out criticized Him when He ate with sinners. The establishment viewed such engagements as outside the boundaries of the law and, thus, actions that needed to be limited. Yet, the intent of the very laws that the establishment used to justify such limitations were never meant to do that. God’s kingdom was never meant to be exclusive; it was meant to be inclusive. The laws that God gave to the Israelites were to define the relationships in the kingdom. But the Ten Commandments quickly became some 600 laws with over ½ of them telling people what they could not do.
And we know from our own experience that the moment someone tells us that we cannot do something that is the very thing we want to do. We tell our children not to do this or not to do that and then we have to spend all of our time making sure that they don’t do it. But sooner or later a child finds out what hot or sharp means and we have to do something different.
We understand that there are things that we need to do and must do but we are so tempted by the “freedom” that sin offers, we turn away from God. We really would like to do those things that we know we shouldn’t, even if it is something trivial like have a second helping of pie for dessert, if for no other reason than there is that momentary satisfaction of feeling good.
I sense this struggle in what Paul is writing. He recognizes that there is a “freedom” outside the law, a “freedom” that we all at one time or another seek to enjoy. What was it that Paul said in the passage from Romans for today, “part of me wants to rebel?” But Paul goes one step further. This lure of “freedom” is nothing more than sin trying to steal us away from God and what God would have us do.
It is very hard for us sometimes to know what God would have us do in terms of freedom. We still see God in a strict, legalistic sense. We see God as deterministic, deciding the outcome of all decisions long before we enter into the picture. This is not the picture of freedom that we would like to see.
When I first read the Old Testament passage for today, I wondered how it would fit into any discussion of freedom. Let’s face it; the story doesn’t have much in the way of freedom in it for either Isaac or Rebekah. Did Isaac have any say in the sending of the servant to his ancient homeland? Did Isaac even know that his father was getting him a wife? Did Rebekah have any say in the decisions of her father and relatives when it came to the discussion between Abraham’s servant and them regarding the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah? Maybe Isaac wanted to marry a local girl? Maybe Rebekah wanted to marry a local boy? When you read the story, you get the impression that neither Isaac nor Rebekah was given much in the way of a choice. And Isaac doesn’t even get to meet Rebekah face to face.
On the face of things, this story goes against everything that one can say about freedom. But does it? By this point in his life, Isaac had to have known the story of his parents traveling from the ancient homeland to what will become Israel. Isaac clearly knew the story behind his trip to Mount Moriah. And though I am not aware of any passages in the Bible, surely Isaac and Abraham talked about God’s plan and how they fit within it.
Understanding God’s plan and where anyone fits in it is not a simple thing to do. It requires far more than maintaining a certain collection of laws. It requires understanding what we are being asked to do in this world. It is not something that is automatic or complete in one step; what did Jesus say in the second part of the Gospel reading for today – “I am willing to go over it line by line to whomever is willing to listen.”
In the end, what we might call freedom may very well be nothing more that slavery with fancy trimmings. We get trapped by laws or our desire to not be trapped by laws. We seek to achieve something that we cannot achieve because we are so certain that we must do it in one way and one way only.
The invitation today comes from Jesus Himself – are you tired, worn out, burned out with religion. Do you seek a new life, one that is free? Perhaps the solution is Christ because Christ sets us free from the slavery found in a life of laws and regulations. We are invited to follow Christ and find true freedom. You know, the interesting thing is that we don’t have to follow Christ. That freedom was also given to us.
But the freedom not to follow leaves us where we are now and that does not appear to be a good alternative. In following Christ, we find a freedom that allows us to expand our boundaries and find ourselves.
This thing called freedom is an elusive thing. Some will search and never find it; others will see it in front of them and never know it. You are given the invitation to find freedom through Christ today. It is yours for the asking. What will you do?