Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Galatians 5:1, 13-15
July 7, 2013
I don’t always do a Fourth of July sermon. Some feel that you should. But I don’t. It depends on how the Spirit moves. But I did feel led to do so this year. And I think it was because I was drawn to this verse from Galatians 5. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
On Thursday, I continued the tradition I started a few years ago. I now read “The Declaration of Independence” every Fourth of July. And it really is an amazing and inspiring document! I’ts a bold document, and it’s all about freedom. And it makes me think of Pauls words, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
Of course freedom is not what most of the colonists wanted. Not at at first, anyway. And some didn’t want that even in the end. The ties to the old were very strong! What they wanted was to be treated fairly. They wanted the British crown to stop, and to recant, the oppressive things they were doing.
There are actually words in the Declaration that reflect the difficulty of severing ties with former governments – even when those governments have become oppressive. Near the beginning it says this. “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Again, the old ties can be very strong!
So can the ties that bind us to the forces in our lives that would keep us in bondage. Am I right? The old familiar sins are very comfortable to us, are they not? So maybe this is a good time to remember that Christ set us free too, so that we can be free!
We Presbyterians can be proud of the part we played in the American Revolution. We were a big part of the drive for freedom in 1776. We helped turn this country’s thinking, from fighting for a redress of the oppression – fighting to be treated fairly – to thinking of, and fighting for, freedom itself. That’s because we Presbyterians believe in the freedom of thought. We believe that” God alone is Lord of the conscience,” and that “people of good conscience can differ.” We were a driving force in the colonies in 1776, and our ideas about “freedom of thought” would soon transition into freedom itself!
I’ve said before, on other Fourth of July weekends, that some historians believe that there were some in the British Parliament who thought that the American Revolution was a Presbyterian Revolution! That’s what they thought of us! And they didn’t want to see us Presby’s taking part in colonial government! Because we were the troublemakers! We were the upstarts! Good for us!
So, For freedom Christ has set us free, Paul said. “Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” And of course, he wasn’t referring to those in that society who actually were slaves. As God’s people, we are free from slavery to the law of sin and death. That’s our tyranny! We are free from that.
We are free to live in Gods grace. We are free to live in the Joy of his kingdom! But sometimes we are like those colonists who were “more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Sometimes the old ties can be very strong for us, can’t they? Sometimes we forget that freedom, and we slip back into our old ways, and give in to our” old nature,” as Paul would put it. So, it’s good to read these words, just as it’s good to read the Declaration of Independence each year! These words in Galatians remind us that we are free in Christ!
Its more than that, though. In verse 13 Paul wrote the words I used as my title for today. “For you were called to freedom, brethren. But do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Instead, through love, be servants of one another.” We are not just offered freedom “if we want it,” or if every so often we remind ourselves of it. We are called to freedom! We are commanded to be free. And like the people of old we are to remember what has brought us that freedom.
We read today this wonderful passage from Deuteronomy. And Deuteronomy is a book, the basic message of which, is to remember. All of the peoples most important stories were recalled and retold in this book, so that they would remember what God had done in their lives! And here today we read this famous passage that says, “When you come into the land which the Lord your God gives you, remember. And you shall remember saying A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there.” Then follows an encapsulation of the story of God’s salvation of his people. This book was a reminder to them. And notice that these words of their salvation were to be spoken as they gave the first fruits of the land. This was to be “liturgical” as well as “instructional!”
So, don’t we need that same kind of reminder? We are Called to Freedom, and we are called to remember, too. Well, then Paul says “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. But through love, be servants of one another.” We are free to be the people God calls us to be. And that means we are free to have the kind of love and servanthood Jesus showed us. That was so important that Paul summed up the whole law, by saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Right there he’s saying what I’ve been saying the last couple of weeks. Don’t live in “your own little world.” Instead, reach out to others. Paul makes it a bit more descriptive here. He says, “If you bite and devour one another, you will be consumed by one another!” Thats a great description, isnt it? Thats what happens when we live in “our own little world.” Because that little world usually doesn’t mesh with the real world. And if we let it that happen, it eats us up inside! And it makes us miserable! In addition, our own little world also doesn’t usually mesh with other people’s “little worlds,” either. And so we “eat each other up!” I think Paul really explains that well here! And then he tells us instead to do the opposite. He tells us to live for others. That is where we find the greatest freedom!
Then Paul leads us to his conclusion at the end of this chapter by saying that we are called to a freedom in which we live our lives in the spirit. And when we do that, he says, it will be evident, because we will have in our lives the fruit of the Spirit. And I hope this list is familiar to you. Its a very prominent passage. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” A few years ago, when I did a series on these gifts, I suggested that Paul was setting up a new Ten Commandments in that list. In doing so, he was telling us that we are free from the burden of the original law, to live this new law of the Spirit. I can only imagine how that upset his former Pharisee colleagues!!
Paul would tell us that this is what makes the whole body of Christ function correctly, and how together, in the Spirit, we are blessed by God And it’s good for each of us individually, too. Because the thing is, when we have those fruits in our lives, we will be free from the heartache and the strife that we often bring upon ourselves by living only for ourselves! Thats the other freedom to which we are called!
So I challenge you to think about this chapter in Galatians as our spiritual “Declaration of Independence!” Here we are “called to freedom.” Here we are called to be the kind of people God calls us to be. Here we are free from the bondage to sin and to self-centered ways of thinking. Here we know the joy of actually being one in the body of Christ.
Will you heed the call? They heeded the call in 1776, and to that freedom they pledged “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.” What will we pledge to our God who calls us to freedom?
Eternal God, in Jesus Christ you have made us free. Help us indeed to use our freedom to love one another and to have the love, joy, and peace that shows the world we are yours. Help us, Lord, to seek to live in your spirit. For these things we pray in Jesus name, Amen.