Oct. 31, 2021 - Reformation: "Freedom"

Oct. 31, 2021 - Reformation: "Freedom"

October 31, 2021 | Ryan Arnold

Passage: John 8:31-36

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    About 250 years ago, on a warm day in early July, 56 men gathered to review and sign a document of deep historic import:  the declaration of independence.  The declaration named the frustrations of a people ruled by tyranny, heavily taxed, governed unfairly.  All which limited their ability to live and move and have their being.  With the bold statement, signed by so many, the thirteen colonies absolved their allegiance to that which had held them down.  They did so once and for all.

    It’s important to note that the land the colonists resided on and claimed was not their own.  That fact a stained part of our shared national history impossible to ignore.  Much work is still left to right those wrongs.

    Yet this notion, of freedom, that comes from the 1,320-word declaration endures.  Over time it has become a central tenant of our collective consciousness, difficult backstory and all.

    American freedom is celebrated with –

    Beers, balloons, banners, 

    Streamers, speeches, songs,

    Picnics, parades, parties 

    On lakes, lakeside and lawns.    

     

    Often with fireworks that are truly a sight to behold.

     

    Over time these celebrations became a default definition for many of us of what it is to be free.  For many, images of freedom center on the red, white, and blue.

     

    Nothing more.

    Nothing less.

     

    Yet unlike hotdogs, cheeseburgers, and Chicago style deep dish pizza, what freedom is has roots that extend much farther back than 1776. 

     

    Freedom From and To

    Two millennia ago, Jesus spoke to a crowd about a different kind of freedom. The religious folk gathered there that day were both curious and confused.  Some believed in Jesus, others were filled with doubt. Among Christ’s followers some were all in.  Others were at odds with him.  Still others were dead set to see the man removed, from this earth, forever.

    Amid this backdrop of early followers Christ began to teach what is it to be a disciple.  Continue in my word, he shared with the crowd.  From that word you will know the truth.  This truth will make you free.

    The followers were perplexed.  They shared a family tree with Abraham.  They’d never been slaves to anyone, the group replied.  They were sure of it.

    In their minds they were already free. 

    Somehow important moments in the early Christ-followers collective past, and present, had been forgotten.  For by then the twelve tribes had –

    • Escaped from Egyptian entrapment via the Red Sea
    • Been deported to Babylon for 70 years, and
    • Currently lived under the reality of Roman colonization.

    “Never slaves to anyone?”  Jesus might have wondered.  Really?

    Still not recognizing important parts of their shared history, or what he meant, Christ continued to teach.  Everyone who sins is a slave to that which they do.

    Everyone.
    A slave.
    No exceptions. 

    But if the Son makes you free?  Then, Christ concludes, you will be free indeed. 

    With that Jesus had offered an alternate definition of freedom.  A definition that flies in the face of how we commonly understand it now.

    In that moment Jesus had made a historic declaration to the crowd.  He announced the declaration of independence from the tyranny of sin that taxes us, the tyranny of sin that governs over us, and the tyranny of sin that separates us from that which God desires.  All which limits our ability to live and move and have our being in harmony with creation and our Creator.

    Thanks be to God that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has turned the table on that sad state of affairs upside down.

    Martin Luther’s treatise The Freedom of a Christian sums Christian freedom up this way:  A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is also a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

    This paired paradox suggests freedom is more than just a state of being.  It is also a state of doing that asks something of us.  Christian freedom is an imperative to serve others.  It asks us to help the –

    • 25 million people globally caught up in human trafficking
    • 42 million people who experience food insecurity here in the US
    • 80 million globally who have been forcibly displaced from their homes

    It begs us to ponder our role in unshackling that which holds others back.

    Today, as we celebrate the Protestant Reformation that brought much needed religious and societal change, let us look within, and around, for that which is in need of reform.

    It’s all good to celebrate the political freedom you have.  It is indeed wonderful.  Break out the hot dogs, and picnics and fireworks and enjoy.  But even more importantly -

    Let us declare our allegiance to Jesus Christ, our savior and Lord, over and above all else.  Let us dwell deeply in the Word, today, tomorrow, and beyond. For it is in the dwelling of the Word where we are truly Christ’s disciples. 

    And then let us pick up the mantle of Christ’s call to act.  To serve our neighbors locally and beyond, held back by the chains of –

    • Poverty
    • Violence
    • Food insecurity
    • Racism
    • Xenophobia
    • Religious persecution

    …and so many more ills that inhabit our would. 

    Lord, let us recommit that Your will be done – not ours – re-forming life on earth to be as it is in heaven. 

    For no one is truly free until we all are.  

    Show us your will.

    Show us your ways.

    Amen.