July 3, 2016
This is July 4th weekend, and tomorrow is the anniversary of the day we declared our freedom. In fact, this is the 240th anniversary of that day. And notice I said the day we declared our freedom. Remember, the Fourth of July is not the anniversary of the winning of our freedom! It is just the declaration of our independence!
Does anyone know the date of the end of the American Revolution? That would be the anniversary of when we actually won our freedom. I did a little research, and I found that the army of British General Cornwallis was captured in Yorktown in 1781. (I don’t know the actual date of that surrender.) But the war didn’t officially end until the Treaty of Paris, which was drafted November 30, 1782, signed September 3, 1783, and became effective, May 12, 1784. (You learn a lot writing these sermons!) So pick one of those days. Maybe we should have some kind of celebration on May 12th.
The thing is, a lot happened between July 4th, 1776 and May 12, 1784! There were a lot of defeats for the colonies before there was ever a victory. That’s why Washington’s crossing was so important! We needed a win! There were hard times. There was despair. There were many who wanted to give up. And there were many who didn’t want the Revolution in the first place! If you read David McCullough’s book “1776,” you would see the “thin thread” upon which our freedom hung in that fateful year!
In our scripture for today, Paul “declared” our freedom in Christ. He wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) In this case, the freedom he wrote about has already been won. Yes, there would still be struggles ahead. But unlike the case of the American Revolution, our freedom in Christ in certain. In the Revolution, freedom was declared, there would also be struggles, but that outcome was anything but certain!
So yes! Our freedom in Christ is certain! And I suppose we can say that Easter is our “Independence Day!” We are free from the “law of sin and death.” The “law of the spirit of life in Christ has set us free.” That was pretty amazing stuff coming from a Pharisee! As a Pharisee, Paul knew all about “the Law.” The law he referred to was the 10 Commandments. It was the law that said that sin leads to death. But “Christ has set us free!” By his grace he has forgiven us, and he has brought us back, back into relationship with God, back into his “grace.” He restored to us the joyful life God intended for us in the first place.
Now, notice that I said “restored.” Because I believe that’s what actually happened. Humankind were created to be in relationship with God. They were created to “glorify God… and (what?) enjoy him forever!” In “the Fall” – the fall of Adam and Eve – that relationship was broken. It was broken by human pride and the desire to be “in control of things.” All sin since “the Fall” has been about rebellion! It’s rebellion against what God wants for us! Even “the Law” of the Israelites was intended to be about a relationship with God once again. That “Law” was about God wanting what was best for his people. God loved the people of Israel. He wanted that relationship with them, But people broke that law, and worse, they made it oppressive!
So God “took care” of all that! Now, God’s grace reigns supreme. And Grace means “forgiveness and favor which is undeserved.” Simply put, God loves us anyway! He has set us free. But like freedom in our country, that freedom is not without a price. You can go to nearly any cemetery in the U. S., and you can see that price – the cost of our freedom. And you’ll see that some of those markers are bright and crisp, and some are worn and almost unreadable, after nearly two and a half centuries of erosion. But however they look, they are honoring of those whose names are carved on them, and the struggle they endured for freedom. Many gave their last breath for it!
If you think about it, they’re not alone in their sacrifice, for indeed Jesus himself paid such a cost. He gave his last breath for us. He cried out in his final agony for our freedom! And we celebrate the life he has given us through that sacrifice. “The law of the spirit of the life in Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death.” I like that phrase. “The spirit of the life in Christ!” I’d like us to think about that life today, as we think about how Christ has set us free.
As we do, though, I want you to remember that Jesus said “Think not that I have come to abolish the Law!” “I have not come to abolish it, but to fulfill it!” (Matthew 5:17) That comes from the Sermon on the Mount. I read recently, and I think it’s true, that in Jesus, we find “the best way of living the Law.” And because of that, in him, we have the way with the greatest freedom. In other words, if we follow Jesus, if we strive to be like him, the Law will be fulfilled in us. I believe that’s what Paul was saying in to the Romans. And that is our freedom.
And this is not about just being “free to do whatever we want.” Too many times I’ve heard those words coming from teenagers approaching the age of 18! “When I’m 18, I’ll be free to do whatever I want!” That’s not what freedom is about, in our country, or in our life in Christ. We are not free to yell “fire” in a crowded movie house! We know that. (But we are free to yell “movie” in a crowded fire house!) The freedom we have is the freedom to be the people we are inspired to be. We are free to pursue the life we choose.
But that freedom is not always easy. It does have a cost. There will be “bumps along that road. It’s not a perfect world, and it won’t be until Jesus returns. And he said himself, “In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33) Those were some of the last words Jesus said to his disciples before he left them, before he went to pay that ultimate price. I don’t think they could have imagined what was about to happen.
In our freedom, we are still not perfect people. The good news is that we don’t have to be in order for God to accept us. Think about it. Do some of the things we do and say drive God crazy? I’m sure if it’s possible to drive God crazy, some of our words and actions do! But God loves us, anyway! That’s what’s so amazing about Grace. And because of it, we are free. We are free to
choose God. We are free to choose “the law of the spirit of life in Christ.” We are free to choose the freedom he has given us.
Of course, the other side of that coin is that we are also free not to choose him. God never forces that life, that freedom, upon us. Otherwise it wouldn’t be “freedom,” I suppose. So we need to think about that choice.
There is so much we could say about all of this. We could easily be here until next Fourth of July! But what I’d like us to do this weekend is to think about the word “Freedom.” Think about what it means to us in this country, and in our faith. I invite you to join me in my yearly “ritual” of reading, on July 4th, the Declaration of Independence. If you do, I hope you’ll think about that dramatic moment in history when those men mutually pledged to each other, “Their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.” And I’d like you to think about the “law of the spirit of life in Christ.” The law which has “set us free from the law of sin and death.”
Personally, I give thanks for both of those! I hope you do, too!
Eternal God, we thank you for your Grace which is so amazing! We thank you for the freedom we have in Christ Jesus our Lord, the freedom to be restored to your kingdom. Help us, in our freedom, to choose your ways, to seek your joy and your peace, and to show those things to the world. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus’ name, Amen.