1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
For freedom Christ has set us free. (Gal 5:1)
That sounds pretty good at the outset of this week when the United States will celebrate Independence Day on July 4th. 243 years since the Continental Congress declared independence from the British monarchy in 1776, including for everyone inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)
It sounds as if Paul’s emphatic exclamation is right in line with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, awash in the thrust of freedom, liberty, independence.
Yes, it would be tempting to see the boldness of Paul’s statement closely tied with the boldness, emphatic vision, and courageous resolve of those leaders who founded this nation.
The human ideal of freedom in all its truth and praise-worthiness, worthy to give life and limb for, is however not the same freedom for which Christ has set us free.
As Christians, we do not take a vow of freedom. We do not declare our allegiance with Christ, with Christian ideals, Lutheran principles.
We are set free. We cannot choose it. We are not talking ideals but a reality that has happened to us, that is happening right now.
Yes, we can declare allegiance with a country, also with a congregation, like become a member of Christ the King Church, and we wouldn’t mind having more declaring their allegiance with our mission to be known as a healing place, but being a Christian does not begin or end with our membership at Christ the King Lutheran Church.
Into the cross of Christ are we baptized, newly made/created, which is nothing else but in Paul’s passionate words: For freedom Christ has set us free. For a purpose: to love. To love our neighbor, all our neighbors. He follows the same scholarly interpretation as Jesus, that what applies of the Torah to those baptized into Christ, is the love of God and the love of neighbor.
Mind here the plural, us. And, love your neighbor.
Being Christian is nothing solitary or individualistic. It is not even personal in the sense that this freedom essence/this freedom core makes just me who I am.
“Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” (Gal 5:13)
By definition, being Christian is being in communion/community, and set free for love. Love of neighbor, all our neighbors.
See, often our being Christian happens inside our heads, supplies comfort for our personal needs, stays inside our devotional life, inside our church circles. But Paul’s emphatic battle cry, For freedom Christ has set us free, pushes us out of our nest so that we infuse the world with the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In light of Paul’s passionate plea for us to realize that we are already set free for the benefit of God’s world, Jesus’ harsh and weird sounding sayings gain some perspective.
“Foxes have holes to rest, birds nests to sleep, but when you follow me, like me you’ll have nowhere to be home.”
“Let the dead bury their own dead. But you follow me and proclaim the reign of God.”
“No one who has her/his hand on the plow going forward, and looks back, is fit for the reign of God.”
As we now in this long green and growing season of the church year embark again on the journey of formation as disciples of Christ, dear friends, we are expected to grow, maybe grow up a bit, discern our own gifts and strengths. On the journey we are asked to maybe leave behind what we know obstructs us fulfilling our call, asked to change the ways we participate in systemic problems, dysfunctional family relations, cut loose and move ahead, knowing that for freedom Christ has set us free.
The images of Jesus’ sayings are offered to hesitant, well-intentioned followers/Christians, harsh maybe, but not un-loving, because driving toward longed-for meaning and liberation.
With the fox and birds word Jesus says to the first, you will have to count on an adult Christian life, devoid of the parental over-protection that you so desire. The other who wants to bury the father first is told, life in the freedom that Christ bestows requires a break with one’s past, – intellectually and existentially, one’s roots, ancestors, tradition, all of which the father represents. I think there are those of us here who resonate with this – who have fought to break free and come into who and where they are supposed to be.
Then there is the third who is informed that following Christ means you can’t allow yourself to be torn in all directions at the same time – one half looking backwards, keeping nostalgic allegiances, an idealistic image of one’s origins and the other half turning forward following the thrust of God’s reign.
In all this there is an underlying tenderness, a passion for people of all ages and all times to live and be whole in the reign of God. See, the reign of God does not wait for us at the far end of this long furrow which we call life and which we keep plowing in arduous labor. The reign of God is not just at the end of life as the promised but seemingly unattainable prize, but is already in the tone of what we say and how, when we proclaim the good news of Christ. The reign of God is when we go out of our comfort zone and extend love, joy, kindness, forgiveness.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore; your losses, your separations, your fears are accounted for. Love now. Love and work for the fruits of the Spirit. We do it together as the body of Christ in the world. In our relationship with Christ, freed to shoulder one another’s burdens, we live still in the world. Our relationship with the world, our patriotic sense of freedom, also our very own families, friends and places of employment – all these relationships and networks of familial, professional and political import are now processed through the lens of Christ’s freedom/God’s reign that is in us, under us, around us.
And you know what, when places or people close off to the joy that comes from the freedom of the body of Christ, like the Samaritan village that did not want to host Jesus and the disciples? Or when we encounter a shocking normalization of hatred? No need to become reactionary and rain down fire and destruction. Simply direct your journey to a neighboring village that is ready for the freedom for which Christ has set us free.