Monday, February 10, 2020


Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, 
and give us the liberty of that abundant life 
which you have made known to us 
in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.

99 people out of a hundred see Christianity as a strait jacket, 
    a set of rules to keep us in line. 
But today’s Collect is a prayer for freedom, Set us free O God.
Paul says, For freedom Christ has set us free.
Again, he says, Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Paul's Christianity is all about what he calls 
          liberty in Christ Jesus. 
In today’s lesson from Isaiah, God says,
      Is not this the fast that I choose:
     . . . to undo the thongs of the yoke,
      to let the oppressed go free,
              and to break every yoke?

The Judeo-Christian story begins with Moses freeing slaves. 
Then Matthew portrays Jesus as the new Moses.
So, how did Christianity get turned 
           into a policies and procedures manual?

We find the answer in one of the most important books 
      of the past century, Escape From Freedom
       by psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm.
He wrote it in 1941 trying to understand fascism.
Fromm said modern culture gives us a negative freedom.
It offers no sense of the common good, 
        only individual freedom from
any sense of duty to each other`. 
That freedom from leaves us alienated, anxious, and afraid.
It casts us adrift, uneasy, not knowing how to live. 
Especially in times of change, when anxiety surges,
    we long to escape from freedom.

Fromm said we resort to conformity and authoritarianism
 to escape the anxiety of freedom. 
We try to make sure everyone is alike;
    and to keep the conformity in line,
    we set up authoritarian hierarchies.
We can do that politically or religiously. 
We turn God into a cosmic dictator, 
    stroking and slapping us into sameness. 

Regulatory religion makes us feel a bit safer.
We swaddle our fear in rule-bound religiosity.
It sedates our fear, but it’s not so good for our life. 

Fromm says that negative freedom, freedom from, 
    is doomed unless we match it with positive freedom
       freedom to, specifically the freedom to live dynamically,                   
     creatively, and compassionately engaged with the world. 

Psychoanalyst Michael Parsons defines mental health 
      as being fully alive
    and says the path to health starts with discovering     
what stands between us and being fully alive. 
Being fully alive means we experience 
        the ever-newness of things.
We see and appreciate other people for who they are.
We taste food. We hear music. We see the sky.

Jesus said, 
     I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Biblical freedom is positive freedom  
        -- freedom to wake up and live all the way. 
Give us, we just prayed,  the liberty of that abundant life 
which you have made known to us 
in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.

Whatever holds us back from abundant life, the Bible calls sin.
In the Bible sin isn’t rule-breaking. It’s bondage. 
In Isaiah God says,

      If you remove the yoke from among you . . .
         then your light shall rise in the darkness
         and your gloom be like the noonday.

The yoke is anything that holds us back 
           from being fully alive. 
If we break the yoke, we flourish. 

In regulatory religion, sin may be some naughty rule-breaking.
But hamartia, the Greek word in the Bible we translate as sin,                    
        doesn't mean that.
It’s an archery term meaning to miss the mark.
The novelist Walker Percy asked,
    Is it possible for a person to miss his life 
    as he might miss a bus?
Yes. Happens every day.
Sin is to miss the mark, and the mark is our own life,
        our abundant life as Jesus said,
our one wild and precious life, as Mary Oliver said. 

We don’t miss the mark by making a bad choice. 
The New Testament doesn’t call sin a bad choice.
It repeatedly calls sin bondage, an addiction,
    not necessarily to a chemical but bondage 
   to thinking and feeling in ruts,
    any set ways of interpreting situations, 
    any habitual moods and attitudes.

The question for us, as individuals and as a community, is: 
what attitudes, what habits of thought, emotion, 
and behavior stand between us and being fully alive?

Some of our bonds are patterns we learned early in life.
Others come from the spirit of our present time and place. 
Paul called those culturally prescribed 
     feelings and attitudes the wisdom of this age
      in today's lesson. 
In Romans, he calls them,
     the powers and the principalities of the present age.

Fascism in the 1930s 
    and Islamic fundamentalism in the 1980s are examples.
But we are not exempt. 
Some of us remember the Red Scare of the 50s, 
     then the libertine madness of the 60s, 
     followed by our own fundamentalist backlash in 80s.

The most common form of cultural bondage is fear. 
Jesus didn’t actually have much to say about sex, 
          drugs, and rock & roll.
The instruction he gave by far more often 
          than any other was Do not be afraid. 
God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power 
    and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1: 7.

We all have our individual fears. 
Our families have their fears. 
And the place we live has its own set of fears.
So how do we get free of bondage to fear?

The answer we learn in Epiphany, the season of light,
     is to take our fears out of the closet.
They get their power from hiding in our unconscious 
            or semiconscious minds.
We can shine the light of Christ on them 
        just by looking at them, 
naming them out loud, 
and telling someone else about them. 

Our fears hold us in bondage 
     because we don’t even know what they are. 
So, here’s my invitation to you this Epiphany:
Don’t try to conquer your fears. That will backfire.
Don’t banish them with heroic courage.
Just look at your fears, name them, and let them be. 

Make an inventory of your personal fears, 
     your family fears,
     and the fears that beset the place you live.
Broomfield fear may not be the same as Aurora fear.
For the personal fears, 
      you can journal about them or make a list. 
For the community fears, 
       it’s best to talk with someone else 
who lives where you do. 
Figure out together what your community is afraid of. 

Then, if you are so inclined, 
     you might have a word with Jesus about it.
And, if you’ve got a little Ignatian streak, 
     you might engage your sacred imagination
     to hear what he’s got to say.
He can be pretty surprising at times.
Maybe he’ll quote the immortal words of Geena Davis  
       from The FlyBe afraid. Be very afraid.
But probably not. That isn’t what he said in the Gospels. 

So call the fears out of the darkness and into the light. 
We are an activist culture; we like to solve problems. 
We want to jump in and fix things. 
But Epiphany isn’t about fixing. 
Epiphany is more patient.
It’s about awareness, mindfulness, 
         simply seeing how things are.
Just knowing makes all the difference.
Jesus knew that awareness, simple awareness, 
      is gently but powerfully liberating.
That’s why he said, 
You shall know the truth 
and the truth shall make you free