Faithlife Sermons

Freedom in Christ

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Sermon Notes, Proper 8, 2022 GAL 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Freedom is a volatile word these days. We all believe in and honor freedom, but there are many different interpretations. What is freedom for some, is servitude for others. Paul recognizes that paradox about freedom. He warns the Galatians that though they are free in Christ, yet their freedom is not without restraint. In sum, what we are free to do to others, they are free to do to us. Our readings this week are all about exercising freedom in such a way that we don't abuse others and don't ultimately harm ourselves. Ultimately, our freedom should glorify God. We need to understand that freedom in Christ is different from any other application of freedom. That exercising true freedom is never free. That it demands of us a discipline and a compassion patterned by Christ himself. The trusty Oxford English Dictionary gives multiple definitions of freedom. If we apply them to the scripture readings for today we will see what they tell us about freedom in Christ. Definition 1: "exemption or release from slavery or imprisonment." This is a good place to start because this is the freedom Paul is talking about in Galatians. Our passage begins with Paul's caution to not submit again to a yoke of slavery. The yoke is the weight that sins lays on us, what he calls "the flesh." Paul says this is counter to the freedom of the Spirit. On the one hand he lists sinful behaviors that diminish a person: "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these." Gal 5:19-21. On the other hand are gifts of the Spirit that enable us to enjoy our life in Christ: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." Gal 5:22,23. The world may say we are free to indulge in any behavior so long as it doesn't harm someone else. We are free to seek enjoyment or pleasure anywhere it may be found. The world does not see a conflict between flesh and Spirit. In fact, in the eyes of the world, flesh leads and draws the Spirit where it wills to go. That is what the world calls freedom. The flesh uses the spirit to justify itself. Cheryl Crow said it best when she sang, "How can it be wrong when it feels so good?" However, Paul contends that this is not freedom, but slavery. Our Spirit yearns to be free but cannot ever be free if our flesh is imprisoned by idolatry. So true freedom, the freedom of Christ, can only be found when Spirit and flesh are in concert, striving to be free of sin's prison. That alone is true freedom. Definition 2: "The quality of being free from the control of fate or necessity; the power of self-determination attributed to the will." This definition speaks to the value of freedom, the positive effect it has on us. The first is to liberate us from necessity, from doing what we have to do. The second is the exhilaration that comes from doing what we choose to do instead. To be free in Christ means that what we have to do is also what we love to do. The freedom comes when we realize that our have to dos are no longer burdensome, but joyous. It should be self-evident that freedom in Christ liberates us from the control of fate or necessity. That does not mean there are things we no longer need to do. Necessity is part of our human condition. We must eat. We must sleep. We must live in the company of others. But we are not subject to the authority of forces over whom we have no control. The furies of Greek mythology inflicted much damage on mankind out of spite or foolishness, and man was powerless to defend himself. We no longer believe in the Furies or Thomas Hardy's pur-blind doomsters. But we still acknowledge that there are forces beyond our control who seek to do us harm. To believe in Christ is to believe in the reality of the forces of evil that oppose Christ. Our creeds and baptismal commitment confirm this. But freedom in Christ assures us that Christ is the victor over these forces. They no longer have control over us. God gave Elijah some definite have to dos. He had been running from the threat of Jezebel's wrath. God found him, restored his sunken spirit, and repurposed him. What I really like about this story is that it happens to Elijah when he's an old man. His last job, destroying the 400 prophets of Baal, had pretty much taken everything out of him leaving him a shell of his former self. But God isn't through with him yet and restores him through food and rest for his next assignment. Anoint the next king of Israel, (that shows God's continuing care and love for his people), anoint the next king of Syria, (that shows Gods authority over all the nations of the world), and anoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet, (showing that God's voice will continue to be heard in the land.) From despairing for his life and wrapped in a shawl of self-pity, Elijah is again free to be Elijah. His great fear was that he was all alone, Yahweh's sole defender. Sometimes that how it feels when we are burdened by a task, even a mission of God's. But God's truth revealed to Elijah was that there were 7000 others who stood strong in their faith. Elijah resumed his destiny, replenished and reinforced. That is how it feels to be free in Christ. Here's one last definition to consider, Definition 3: "Exemption from a specific burden, charge, or service; an immunity, privilege." Freedom in Christ is a privilege, not a burden. In today's Gospel reading from Luke Jesus and the disciples continue their journey toward Jerusalem and along the way meet with people who would join them, if not for some extenuating circumstances. The first says he would follow Jesus wherever he would go. That sounds beautiful and self-deprecating, but is it? Jesus explains one cost of such discipleship: leaving your home behind. A second person called by Jesus asks to first let him bury his father. Jesus' answer strikes our sensitivities as raw and unfeeling. "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." A third person begs to be allowed to go home and say his good-byes first. Jesus answer invokes Elisha's response to the call of Elijah. "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." It would seem that each of these people has been repulsed in some way. But were they? Luke does not say whether they accepted the challenge, forsaking all and following Jesus, or walked away disheartened. The definition of freedom we are considering says freedom exempts us from a specific burden or charge. Freedom in Christ empowers us to accept the challenges of discipleship even when they seem overwhelming. The Bible offers many examples. Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah and fulfilled the anointings that God had assigned to him. Israel had her prophetic line of communication with God prolonged, even though Elisha at first did not run head-long into his new role. We know from scripture how the disciples of Jesus responded to his call. They dropped their nets and followed him. But they maintained their family ties and even maintained their occupations. Somehow, having said yes to Jesus, he enabled them to have the best of both worlds. The freedom of Christ exempts us from a labor and opens for us a privilege. The central point that Paul makes, and a point that is reinforced in all our lessons this week, is that freedom in Christ frees us from some things and frees us for other things. We are free from the bondage of sin. We are free to merge our will with Jesus'. We are free from the world's values. We are free to experience life in all of its fullness. We are free from trying so hard to be good. We are free to put on the perfect goodness of Christ. This week our country grapples with a new freedom granted us by the Supreme Court, freedom after living for 50 years under a law that made the abortion of infants legal. As Christians we should rejoice but also realize that freedom in Christ always compels us to respond as Christ would. To love our enemies as ourselves. To do good to those who hate us. We are free to again love children even as Jesus loved them. But we need to love the ones angered by this new freedom just as much. Because that is how Jesus loves them too. Saint Paul says use your freedom to serve one another. Then we will know true freedom and God will be glorified throughout the earth. Amen.
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