Sermon: What does freedom mean to you? John 8:31-36
31 Oct 2010 at St Paul's Lutheran Church, Sugar City, CO
Children’s Sermon: Liberty
Objects: Some $1 Presidential Coins with the Statue of Liberty on the back.
I have some $1 coins here that I’d like us to look at. (Pass out 1 per child)
What do you see on them?
(“In God We Trust” on front, Statue of Liberty on back)
Do you know who gave us the statue?
(The people of France gave the Statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of a friendship established during the American Revolution. Over the years, the meanings of the Statue have grown until she has become an international icon of freedom and liberty, the most recognizable symbol of democracy in the world.)
Do you know when it was dedicated? (October 28, 1886)
It was created to express the idea of American liberty. There are some plaques on the statue, but one of them has a phrase that has been quoted many times. Do you know what it is?
(Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!")
So, what do you think liberty is? If we look in the dictionary, we will see one definition that says, “The quality or state of being free.”
So what does it mean to be free? (Wait to see if any of them answer)
Being free can mean different things to different people, but today we heard Jesus say, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
Do you know what he was talking about?
Just like it says on the coin, Jesus was telling us that if we trust in him, if we follow him, he will set us free. And being free as a Christian means that we are free to serve the needs and hurts of other people, free to teach the Christian Way, free to live the Christian life of love, free to help others and to do acts of mercy with cheerfulness.
We are going to talk more today about being free, and what it means to different people, and how Jesus set us free to serve each other in love.
Let us pray,
Lord, thank you for giving us freedom in your name.
Sermon: What does freedom mean to you?
In our Gospel lesson for this Reformation Sunday, we heard Jesus say, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Jesus also said, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
For me, the word "free" really stands out here. But it also brings up some questions. For one, what does Jesus mean by being set free? What exactly is freedom? What does freedom mean to everyone? What does freedom mean for you? It’s an important subject, one that we should all think about.
If we search through the Bible, we find freedom mentioned many times from Genesis to Revelations, but it shows up different ways. In Genesis 2:15-17 we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’"
In Exodus, we read about Moses freeing the Israelites. In chapter 6, verses 6 and 7 we read, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.”
In Psalm 119:45 we read, “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your commandments.” And in Luke 4:18, "...He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed...” 2nd Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Perhaps the most quoted scriptures about freedom come from Galatians chapter 5, where we read in the 1st verse, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” It goes on in the 13th verse saying, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
We hear something similar to that in 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”
So we not only hear about how we are free, but warnings if we abuse our freedom. But do any of these verses come to your mind when you think of freedom? Maybe they should, but I will be the first to admit that if asked today what freedom means to me, I will probably say something in line with the upcoming elections and Veterans Day, and they will probably be biased on my being in and around the military all my life.
I would probably say something like; “We have many freedoms here in our nation, but freedom isn’t free and it doesn’t come cheap. Our freedoms have been bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors and our peers who still stand tall today in the military, ready and willing to defend our freedoms from any and all transgressors all over the world. These are our husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, daughters, wives, mothers, and aunts who not only protect our freedoms, but they fight to extend the freedoms you and I were fortunate to inherit to those who have never known it; and to preserve those freedoms from those who may seek to strip it away. So do not take your freedoms for granted.”
A phrase that I have heard said from many career military people is, "I may not agree with what you say, but I'll fight until my death for your right to say it." So we continue to hear phrases like, “Freedom isn’t free,” and “No one is free when others are oppressed.”
We have heard many quotes about freedom over the years, like from Nelson Mandela who said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Stephen R. Covey said that, “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.” And one of my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein said, “You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don't ever count on having both at once.”
Every one of our presidents has talked about freedom. I think the shortest is by Lyndon B. Johnson when he said, “Freedom is not enough.” Another memorable presidential quote is from Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed - else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”
But there is one president that stands out for me, and that is President Gerald R. Ford. Some of you know that I am an Eagle Scout, and President Ford was the only president that earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He also received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America. Scouting was very important to him and his family, and after he died on 26 December 2005, about 400 Eagle Scouts took part at the funeral procession, where they formed an honor guard as the casket went by in front of the Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A few selected scouts also served as ushers inside the National Cathedral during the funeral and memorial service.
So I’m going to end all these freedom quotes with three from President Ford.
In the address before the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe on August 1, 1975, “We are bound together by the most powerful of all ties, our fervent love for freedom and independence, which knows no homeland but the human heart.”
On July 4, 1976 during his Bicentennial Remarks at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, “As we continue our American adventure…all our heroes and heroines of war and peace send us this single, urgent message: though prosperity is a good thing, though compassionate charity is a good thing, though institutional reform is a good thing, a nation survives only so long as the spirit of sacrifice and self-discipline is strong within its people. Independence has to be defended as well as declared; freedom is always worth fighting for; and liberty ultimately belongs only to those willing to suffer for it.”
His remarks on July 5, 1976, during the Naturalization Ceremonies at Monticello, Virginia, reminded me of what we read in Galatians 5 about using our freedom to serve one another in love. President Ford said, “Remember that none of us are more than caretakers of this great country. Remember that the more freedom you give to others, the more you will have for yourself. Remember that without law there can be no liberty. And remember, as well, the rich treasures you brought from whence you came, and let us share your pride in them.”
So, after hearing all of this, what to you think freedom means to you? Maybe you think of the 4th of July, where we celebrate the birth of our nation. Maybe you think of the Declaration of Independence, where “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Maybe freedom reminds you of Martin Luther King, Jr. dreaming of a day when all Americans would enjoy the freedoms described in our nation’s founding document. Or the First Amendment of the Constitution that guarantees us the right of free speech, so that we can express our views openly without fear of arrest, and that also gives us the freedom to worship as we choose; or not worship if that’s our choice; without penalty.
These are not wrong answers, but I think freedom means different things for different people. It all depends on who you are, when you lived, where you live and the circumstances surrounding your life. Think about it. What does freedom mean to a blind person? Or to a person in a wheelchair? What does freedom mean to a new bride and groom, or to their parents, or to their future children, or to the person in a nursing home? What does freedom mean to a person in prison? Or to someone who is a prisoner of war?
What does freedom mean to a 55 year old man, at the peak of his business career, awaiting his first grandchild, and he has cancer? He’s never attended church regularly, he believes in God; but now, as he fights this battle against cancer, God feels very far away and distant.
What does freedom mean to a 35 year old mother of two small children, who has just gone through a messy divorce? She’s been a regular at church most of her life; but she wonders what the future holds for her and her children. Her faith in God has been shaken to the core. How could God have let this happen to her?
A few weeks ago we witnessed the rescue of the 33 miners in Chili that had been trapped since Aug 5th over 2,000 feet underground. It was 17 days before anyone even knew they were alive, and we learned the men took two days of food, and made it last for over two weeks. They were told it would take them 4 months to be rescued, but the first man, Florencio Avalos, stepped from the rescue capsule 69 days later in the midst of cheers and tears from his wife, son, the rescuers, and all of the onlookers. So I wonder, what does freedom mean for him?
What does freedom mean for the next one rescued, Mario Sepulveda, who seemed to want to jump for joy as he erupted from the rescue capsule, hugged his wife and anyone else in reach, including Sebastian Pinera, Chile's president, and then lead a crowd of onlookers in a victory chant of "Long live Chile!
What does freedom mean for the last man rescued, shift foreman Luis Urzua, as he emerged on the 70th day? What does freedom mean for all of the 33 as they each were rescued to cheers from rescue workers and hugs and kisses from tearful loved ones?
Freedom. What does it mean to you and I? After all of the quotes and examples I mentioned, I think freedom sounds different to a 19th century slave as opposed to a 21st century middle aged parent. Freedom for a low income family living in the city looks different than for a high school senior living on a farm. Freedom carries with it a variety of definitions.
And for people living in the early 16th century, freedom was something far different than we can imagine today. Many of us today don't even know that in 1486 the Archbishop of Mainz issued an edict threatening to excommunicate anyone who translated or circulated the Bible. Or that in 1536 William Tyndale was burned at the stake for translating the Scriptures into English.
So when Martin Luther came along, people were absolutely forbidden to read or interpret the Scriptures. They were in Greek and Latin, were not to be translated, and no one was permitted to explain the Word of God except a priest. The Church was caught up in unscriptural tradition, and corruption reigned at all levels among the clergy. The Church of Rome taught that salvation was through the sacraments, good works, and indulgences. An indulgence was forgiveness that could be bought from the Church. The Scriptural doctrine of salvation by faith, through the grace of Jesus Christ alone, was ignored or suppressed in the interests of power and money.
Most of us know that on October 31, 1517, Luther posted on the door of the castle-church at Wittenberg, Germany, ninety-five Latin theses on the subject of indulgences; those cash-and-carry pardons. In his statements, Luther called for repentance, asserted salvation by grace, and pointed to the authority of Scripture.
It ended up with Luther being excomunicated from the Catholic Church, and putting the Bible in the hands of the common person, giving men and women direct access to God, bypassing the religious authorities! As a result, people were hearing true Biblical principles such as:
Put your trust in God’s love; we are made righteous through Christ; you are saved by grace through faith; forgiveness is yours, no matter who you are or what you have done, when you confess. The grace of God through Jesus Christ is all encompassing and all accepting. This is the Good News. The Truth…it set people free, much to the shame and distress of the Church at the time.
But what does this mean today? I think there are a number of things we need to think about. One is that I think many Christians today, including ourselves, often take freedom for granted. We don’t really ponder WHAT Jesus did, and so we don’t praise and thank God as we should.
I think too many people don’t know about this freedom. We have the greatest gift of all time, a Truth like no other. So if we know this Truth, how can we keep it to ourselves? Another thing that can happen is that as Christians, we often take freedom too far. "I don’t have to go to church. God will forgive me". If we don’t watch it, we can find ourselves living by the mantra of "Cheap grace," not realizing how costly this grace really was; the very life of Jesus Christ.
Or…we know about this freedom, but choose to embrace bondage. After the Civil War the slaves were set free, but many of them choose to stay put. They would rather stay "slaves" than to embrace the freedom they were given. They didn’t know what to do with that freedom. I wonder if, as Christians, we like our bondage to sin because sin is more fun and freedom is "scary".
There is a lot to think about when it comes to freedom. But one thing we need to do as Christians is to keep proclaiming this freedom and keep listening and learning about this freedom. So how do we do that? How do we learn more about the freedoms we have?
I once saw a T-shirt with a picture of the Bible on it that says, "When all else fails, read the instructions." We have the Scripture we now have in our own hands, in our own language, thanks to Martin Luther and others that have risked their freedoms, with some even risking their lives.
Things really do go better when you read the instructions, are open to what's in them, and follow them! If you don't have your very own manufacturer's manual, the Bible; or you don't have one in a modern translation you can actually understand, Christmas is coming. Ask for one! Or buy one for a friend or family member who doesn't have one.
And if you do have a Bible, and it hasn't been getting much use lately, “dust it off.” Start with some daily lessons. Read a verse or chapter aloud at the dinner table with your family, or read it before you go to bed, or after you get out of bed. If you're too busy to read, listen to Scripture tapes in your car or while you do things around the house! And if you prefer fiction, there are lots of great, inexpensive Scripture-based novels available at a Family Christian Bookstore or over the Internet.
So if you don't go away with anything else today, I hope you will at least leave this service thankful that you even allowed to own a Bible in a language you can read; something that, to this day, many Christians in oppressed countries around the world are still forbidden to do, and are tortured and killed if they dare to.
Thomas Jefferson talked about inalienable rights that come to us from God, and used many examples to speak of political freedoms. But the Bible speaks of spiritual freedom.
Governments can take away political freedoms, as we’ve seen in China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and many other countries, but no one can take away our spiritual freedoms, unless we give them away. That means, you can make me a slave or put me in prison, but you can’t take away the freedoms God has endowed me with.
The Bible tells us that our freedom is rooted in a faith expressed in love. Because it is rooted in God’s love and justice, no political system can give it to us, nor can it take it away from us. We have been blessed with the freedom to worship openly, but the people of God have often worshiped without government approval.
Remember that when Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, the Christian church lived under Roman imperial rule, which was anything but democratic. This means that you can live in China or Iran or Iraq or North Korea or any other oppressed country and still be free. You may not have political freedom, like we have here in the United States, but since true freedom is a spiritual thing, no one can take it away from you!
But this doesn’t mean that there are no constraints on our freedoms. As Mark Twain put it: “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” In other words, we may have freedom of speech, but you shouldn’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater.
And while we’re free in Christ that doesn’t mean we’re free to do whatever we please. We may not live under a system of do’s and don’ts, but there is one very important limit to our freedom; that limit is the command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” You may be free, Paul says, but don’t destroy your freedom by using it for selfish purposes.
In a nutshell, Christian freedom means to serve the needs and hurts of other people, to teach the Christian Way, to live the Christian life of love, to contribute generously to the alleviation of suffering, to give aid with enthusiasm, and to do acts of mercy with cheerfulness.
We have been set free in Christ, but as Paul makes clear in his letter, we shouldn’t confuse freedom with self-sufficiency. As Christians we’re called to experience and live out our freedoms in community.
So, are you hurting? Then, turn to your neighbor and seek their hand in friendship and find help. Is your neighbor hurting? Well, reach out and touch them and pray for them. Too often we don’t let each other know that we hurt. We keep it inside and we distance ourselves from each other. But, when we do this, we confuse self-sufficiency with freedom.
Being a Christian, like being an American, means that I have chosen to live out my freedom as part of a community. By living in community, I become responsible for and to my neighbor, who Jesus has called me to love, whether that neighbor lives next door, sits next to me in the pew, or lives in Iran or North Korea.
Don’t take your freedoms for granted, and keep in mind the freedom we share in Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ we have been given the greatest gift of all. So we need to embrace our freedom and pray that our nation will truly become a beacon of freedom.
We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Please pray with me:
Lord Jesus Christ, we seek to know the truth that sets us really free. So help us to know you better. Keep us steadfast in your Word and give us the desire to read and study it every day. Through your Word increase our faith and trust in you so that whenever illness or fear seeks to crush us completely, we will be secure in the certainty that we are in your holy and protective embrace. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
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