Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sermon for May 25, 2008

What is Freedom
Romans 6:15-23; Romans 8:1-17

On Memorial Day, we are often asked to reflect on the highest of all American values: freedom. The foundation of our country was built on the sacrifices of men and women who were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of freedom. For instance, here are some little known histories of some the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.
· Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.
· Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
· At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. Nelson’s home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
· Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.
· John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.
· In addition, five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died, and nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

The price of freedom is often death. I don’t think we understand this as a culture anymore. We talk a lot about freedom. But our modern notion of freedom is not the same as that of our founders, or that of men and women who died to protect our freedom. For many people today, freedom means doing whatever you want, whenever you want, with no negative consequences. “Do your own thing,” has become the American moral norm. “Do your own thing” is a caricature of our country’s core value of a common wealth. Promoting the common good is necessary for individual well being. Citizens bring together their common wealth in order to build infrastructure that benefits everyone. However, in the new morality of freedom, the first commandment is, “Do whatever pleases you.”

Our culture’s second commandment is, “Thou shalt not be judgmental.” We are free to speak, protest, and assemble – until someone is offended. We are told that if another person’s feelings are hurt by our words, we are inhibiting that person’s ability to do whatever he or she pleases. Americans are empathetic people. Empathy involves connecting with all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Empathy leads to an ethic of diversity in our communities, schools, and workplaces. Diversity fosters communities and creates a range of opportunities for citizens to lead fulfilling lives. Americans act on empathy in order to protect others from harm and empower them to seek fulfillment. So we have these twin core values: empathy and responsibility. The new commandment turns these twin values on their heads. It says, “Everyone is free and equal. Therefore, we will protect our rights by never offending another.” Hurt feelings become the expression of trampled rights. We will legislate to make sure no one gets hurt.

So, for instance, if you are a student in some certain colleges or universities across the country, and you want to speak against the administration’s policies, you may only voice your protest or demonstrate in designated areas far removed from those who would see or hear you. The rest of the campus is an Orwellian “free speech zone.” In the free speech zone, you may say and do whatever you like without worrying about someone judging you and hurting your feelings. Students have been punished for simply handing our leaflets in these so called free speech zones. Is this freedom or tyranny?

If you want to protest the Word trade Organization, or make opposition known at a major political event, you may be ushered to a protest area a mile or two away from the actual event. You will be penned up and monitored by police as your protests are ignored. You are free to speak, as long as you don’t criticize those in power. Is this freedom or slavery? Go ahead and just try to be absolutely free for a while. Put the modern slogans of freedom into practice. Do your own thing! You may realize that you are not truly free at all. Some argue that our new morality of freedom is actually a deceptive by-product from a corporate consumptive system that is really enslaving its people 8 hours a day so they can go out and buy a few token luxury items. The western corporate slaves are only let loose on evenings and weekends to pursue the freedom to gratify their own ambitions, whether it be “party animalism,” consumerism, or whatever other form of popular hedonism. It’s just a new form of slavery with a greater choice of comsumptive goods -- a 9 to 5 job without any real security. Is this freedom or slavery? Is this the kind of freedom previous generations died to give us?

What most people seem to long for, the absolute freedom to do whatever they please without negative consequences is a foolish illusion. Such a freedom is impossible in the physical world. One is not free to jump off a skyscraper without becoming a pancake. The idea of free love proved not to be free at all. The price included unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and shattered relationships. Kill some one and see how long it takes to get caught and imprisoned. Absolute freedom is virtually impossible in the narrow sense of the word. So it is that Paul tells us that absolute freedom to do whatever you please is not an option in one’s relationship with God.

How often do we say in our hearts, “I know this is wrong, but God will forgive me.” Or, “I know this is wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s a free country.” To such self-justification Paul loudly exclaims, “No, you do not have that freedom.” When we choose to sin, we are not acting as free beings. We offer ourselves as slaves to sin. We do not have the choice of freedom or slavery; we only have the choice of who will be our master, the sinful nature or God.

When we choose to sin it often feels like such a free choice, usually because it goes against tradition or rules and regulations. Sin is never a free choice made in a vacuum. Sin is an addicting reality that deceives and then captures us. If we choose to sin, we choose to be obedient servants of sin. Sin is a ruthless taskmaster that will drive us to a merciless death. The only other choice, Paul tells us, is to offer ourselves as servants to another master. The freedom that the Bible describes is not an open invitation to do whatever we want whenever we want. Biblical freedom is a matter of changing masters. Before we know Christ, we are slaves to sin. The new reality is that in Christ we can now be servants of God.

Paul says to his readers, “Remember, this is the way you were before you were believers! So what did you benefit from such a life?” There is no benefit. The wages of sin is death. The word “wages” here refers to the daily fish wage given to Roman soldiers. The implication here is that the one who is enslaved to sin will get back just a little bit of death every day. Think of the death dispensed by a few of the traditional seven deadly sins. Pride leads to the death of relationships through exploitation and control. Lust leads to the death of integrity through the corruption of one’s personality. Anger leads to the death of others, either immediately by violence or slowly by words and attitudes. Envy leads to the death of contentment. Death is the daily wage paid out to those who become slaves of sin.

You may ask yourself, “Why should I switch from slavery from one master, to slavery under another? What are the benefits for me?” The first benefit is spiritual growth. Paul argues that because we have been set free from sin, because it no longer must control us, we are free to live lives that honor God. The benefit of this freedom is that we grow to be more like Christ. How is this a benefit? Well, it’s a benefit for our families who would much rather be around someone who is growing to be more like Christ than like Attila the Hun. Being like Christ benefits us because slavery to God frees us to fulfill the destiny for which God created us. At the depths of our being as humans, we were created to love God and enjoy God forever. However, the greatest benefit of being a servant of Christ is new and abundant life. It means knowing the One who died to set me right with God, the One who assures me of God’s presence love in a world that will never miss me when I’m gone.

We have no obligation to do what the sinful nature urges us to do. Sin is no longer the master. God is. And God treats us like family, not like cringing fearful servants. God is willing to give us everything, but there is a price. For God, the price of freedom was death -- the death of God’s son. For us the price of freedom is death -- death to sin so that we can live in Christ. The freedom God offers means sharing in suffering.

I think the suffering has to do with making choices about rejecting the values and patterns that are destroying us. Suffering has to do with being able to resist the message that individual license is the same as liberty. It’s not. The suffering that I’m suggesting doesn’t have to do with punishing the body. It involves the decision to choose the long daily process of yielding to Christ instead of a culture that is hyped beyond what it can really do for us.

We Americans are supposed to have more freedom today than ever. So, why are we so anxious and so afraid of life? Ours is the terrifying task of making decisions that will transform paralyzing license into true freedom. The decision to follow Christ helps us find who we really are. And if we find our sense of self in God, we are free. In choosing to follow the footsteps that Christ left on creation, we rediscover the center from which our personal freedom derives. Only a true self acts freely, and we know that self only through God. In choosing God, we choose to be ourselves. In choosing God, we choose to be free.

· Murray Bodo, The Way of St. Francis, 115-119
· Neil Chadwick, “Death and Freedom,”
· Brad Harper, “You Gotta Serve Somebody,” you_gotta_serve_somebody.pdf+romans+freedom+sermon&hl=en&ie=UTF-8
· John Leo in USNEWS and World Report

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