Sunday, July 7, 2013


This 4th of July weekend we think about our nation
         and what it stands for.
We like to think America stands for freedom.
When most of the world looks at us,
         they say we are a place of freedom
                  and opportunity
– which is another way of saying freedom.

We may think of freedom as a political value.
And it is.
But it is also a Biblical value.
Judaism was born in the Exodus,
         in God’s liberation of an enslaved and oppressed people.
The Passover celebrates God as the first Great Emancipator.
Christians take that story to the spiritual level.
We call Holy Communion our Passover,
         celebrating Christ’s liberating us
                  from the power of sin and death.

So I invite you to think this morning
         about freedom in Christ.
Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free.”
And he said, “I am the truth.”
Jesus came to set us free.
Paul said, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.”
Elsewhere he said, “If the Lord has set us free,
         then we shall be free indeed.”

When a nation declares its independence
         or when the law protects our liberty,
         we understand that is about freedom.
But what does it mean to say
         Jesus has set us free?
How does that work?
It works in a deeper and better way
         than  any government or political movement
                  ever could.
 I am all for political freedom,
         but without spiritual freedom,
                  it doesn’t do us very much good.

Spiritual freedom is what makes political freedom possible.
Without spiritual freedom,
         political freedom is impossible to maintain.
 Political freedom just protects our right to do
         whatever our passions or inclinations dictate.
The problem with that is:
         our passions and our inclinations
                  don’t always line up with our souls.
 In Romans, Paul says,
         “I do not understand my own actions.
         I do not do the thing I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.”

A young salesmen was peddling books
         on the most advanced new agricultural methods.
He gave his best sales pitch to an old farmer,
         but the farmer was having none of it.
 The exasperated salesmen said,
         “Sir this book can show you how to farm
                  30% better than you are today.”
The farmer replied,
         “Son, I ain’t farming half as good as I know how already.”

A lot of us can relate to that.
We know better than we act.
I can’t think how many times,
in both church and family life,
         the same people have done the same things,
                  to push my buttons in the same way
over and over again. 
 And I have known better than to respond the way I did,
         but I just keep making the same mistake
         like Charley Brown trusting Lucy
to hold that football for a place kick.

Psychologists call that compulsion.
And compulsion is the opposite of freedom.
Our actions are almost never completely free.
There may be 5 different brands of laundry detergent
for us to choose from.
But that means 5 companies have competed to see
         which one can do a better job of manipulating our choice.
We call that the “free market” and it is free – in a sense.

In what we like to think is the freest country in the world,
         we lock up in prisons a higher percentage of  our people
         than any other developed nation.
It takes spiritual freedom to make political freedom work.
And that’s what Jesus offers.
That’s what Jesus shows us how to do.
That’s what the gospel is about.

You see as long as we think freedom
is about getting our own way in this world, 
the part of us in the driver’s seat is our ego.
Now the ego isn’t evil.
It’s just easily manipulated.

It can be manipulated by advertisements,
         addictions, natural human squirrel -iness,
                  and the power of sin itself.
All these things latch on the our ego
-- the pitiful part of us that gets batted
         back and forth like a ping pong ball
         between moments of pride and moments of shame.

As long as we are living by the natural order,
         trying to secure our own well-being,
                  we are not free.
We are at the mercy of all the powers that can affect
         our well-being or bluff us into thinking they do.
 Freedom does not come when the world lets us go.
It happens when we let go of the world,
         when we say “Come what may, I am the Lord’s.”
When we say, rich or poor, sick or well,
         in good moods or bad, it’s all ok.

I am not here to feather my own nest.
I belong to Jesus.
My soul belongs to Jesus,
         and in him, I will be alright.

Let me tell you a powerful kind of prayer.
You place your hand on your heart,
         and let all our fears and anxieties come to mind,
         one at a time, and with each one,
         you say silently or aloud,
“Even if – then fill in the blank –
         I belong to Jesus and it is well with my soul.”
“Even if I lose my job,
         I belong to Jesus and it is well with my soul.”
“Even if this sickness I have is a terminal cancer,
         I belong to Jesus and it is well with my soul.”
Whatever is on your heart, let it come
         and greet it boldly with that prayer.

It won’t guarantee you a calm feeling.
You don’t have to have a calm feeling.
Whether you are calm or afraid,
         it’s all the same.
Even if you feel anxious,
you belong to Jesus and it is well with your soul.

He shed his blood to buy that soul of yours,
         to set it free from the powers
that would dominate you.
“Take my yoke upon you,” he says,
         “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. . . .
Take my yoke upon you . . . .
         and you will find rest for your souls.”

I won’t deceive you about the price.
This freedom costs us everything.
But it gives us more than we had ever dreamed possible.
God is good, brothers and sisters.
God is good all the time,
         and it is well with our souls