Grace, peace, and the freedom of Christ be with you. Amen.
How cool is it that the central theme in the Letter of Paul to the Galatians is freedom, and we’re gearing up to celebrate our nation’s independence on July 4th.
Today I’d like to reflect on freedom with you, which is timely, coming into our 4th of July celebrations. Galatians talks about freedom from the law -- but not just so that we can do whatever we want to do. Galatians talks about freedom from the law because once we’ve been touched by the grace, peace, forgiveness and life of Christ (and thereby turn and share that grace-peace-forgiveness-and-life with everyone we meet), we don’t even need law anymore! We are free! As I imaged last week, we don’t need that “babysitter” anymore.
But what is freedom, really? I think it’s way more than just political freedom. We can be free as a nation and still locked up all kinds of ways. We can be free from oppression, but a slave to addiction. We can be free from hunger, but a slave to anger. What’s got you locked up these days? What’s preventing your true freedom? The shackles of a grudge. The hand cuffs of resentment. The jail bars of bitterness.
Here we are at church proclaiming again, “You are free!” Here we are as a nation celebrating again that “We are free!” But what does this mean? And what are you going to do with the freedom that you have been given? Paul’s got some thoughts on that.
I had a rigid training when it came to English and grammar growing up. I had a rigid training when it came to writing in elementary all the way through high school. I’ve always been thankful for that, but man, it was strict. We had to diagram sentences, use correct punctuation, all that, and in writing we were taught a very rigid formulaic method for composition.
When I got to college Dr. Sig Schwarz, in Freshmen English (later became one of my favorite professors), pinned me down after my first essay and said to me, “Dan, you write like you’re in a cage. Your structure and form is good -- don’t get me wrong -- but you don’t need to be bound to all those methods and formulas any more. You are free to write!”
The writing rules have done a good job babysitting you all these years, but now you’re free! [pause]
Uhhhh…I didn’t know what to do. I was like a bird with the cage door open but I was afraid to fly out, like a dog on the beach with a broken leash but afraid to leave my owner’s side. I was a slave to my master: the rules. I struggled with this -- I still do -- shuddering every time I compose a dangling participle, or end a sentence with a preposition, or put a period on an incomplete sentence. (Micah’s new coach and swinging out of the strike zone.) [pause]
What do we do with the freedom that we have in Christ? It’s like my experience of the writing cage opening up and me pretending I don’t know how to fly. (or Micah swinging out of the zone.)
Christ has freed us from our sin, from our brokenness, from our hatred, from our anger, from our addictions, from our pain -- even from death itself. So now that you’re free, what are you going to do? Also reminds me of the stories I hear about newly retired brothers and sisters or our service people who return to civilian life, that don’t know what to do with themselves. No more rigid schedule to keep, no more up at dawn structure, hour to hour structure. The cage door is flung open, and we pretend that we don’t know how to fly.
It’s those voices in our heads, I think. Many of us have suffered a trauma or abuse of one kind or another, and we still hear and are haunted by the angry grammar teacher slapping our papers and scratching red x’s across our incomplete sentences. Even as older adults, we can still hear the furious father, the manipulative mother, the pious pastor shaming us into submission and fear.
But sisters and brothers in Christ, I proclaim to you this day the good news that the cage door is flung open. The stone is rolled away and...We. Are. Free. In Christ.
But there’s a paradox to this freedom as the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther point out. Luther said: “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; AND a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.” These may appear contradictory, but this are exactly what Paul says too: “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all.” (1 Cor. 9:19)
The freedom that we have enables us to reach out. When the cage door is open, there’s nowhere to go but out. The freedom that we have propels us into the world. The freedom we have activates all those virtues that Paul lists for us today: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those are a product of the true and lasting freedom that is ours this day.
Being free in Christ, is being free to serve. Free to love everyone. Free from anger to be forgiving as Christ forgives. Free from fear to be present and attentive to pain and suffering around you. Free from vanity to interested and even excited about how others are doing. Free from deceit to be honest. Free from addiction to be healthy and whole. The list goes on and on, depending on what’s been locking you up. But ultimately free from death...to be alive in Christ.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, freedom is yours! So it’s time to party! It’s time to celebrate and that means it’s time to serve, time to receive service from your sister or brother in Christ, time to open your mouths and eat. The cage door has been flung open and the Holy Spirit dove is waiting out there to feed us with grace and passion for justice and new life. It’s time to feast on the goodness of God -- caring for the widow and the orphan, the immigrant and the stranger, the least, the lost, the lonely and the forsaken and forgotten. We can’t help ourselves: We are freed in Christ. Thanks be to God! AMEN.