Galatians 6:1-16 & Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
July 4, 2010
Hope Lutheran Church
In case you haven’t noticed, today is the 4th of July. It is the day when our nation celebrates its birth and when we appreciate the qualities that have made the United States of America the unique country that it is today. Besides fireworks, lakes, and cookouts, when most people think of the fourth of July, the one thing that likely comes to mind is freedom. Freedom is perhaps the central, founding principle of our nation. Freedom is what Independence Day is all about. Freedom continues to be at the heart of what it means to be an American. To be an American is to be a free person. Quite simply, to be in America is to know a lot about freedom. We are surrounded by it, live in it, hear about it, and appreciate it. We have holidays like the 4th of July to celebrate it. But freedom is a word that also should strike at us for a different reason. We are Christians, and freedom is also something that is central to our faith. In fact, Martin Luther once wrote a treatise called “On the Freedom of a Christian.” In this treatise, he says this:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.
He spends the rest of the treatise defending these two seemingly contradictory statements. Basically what he says, and this is very basic, is that Jesus Christ frees us from the slavery of good works. We are not justified by works, but we are justified only by faith in Jesus Christ. Because of that, we are completely free people, not under any sort of law that we must keep in order to earn salvation. Luther says that we are freed from the belief in good works, justification through works. And in this way we are freed from the law. But we are not set free from doing good works. No, Luther says that good works are imperative for the Christian. We must do good works because we are still people who live in this world of flesh and bones. He compares it to food. Perhaps some of you are getting hungry already. Does anyone think that we can exist without food and drink? Absolutely not! But do food and drink justify us before God! Absolutely not! The same is the case with good works. We do not need them for justification, but we shouldn’t dismiss them, either, just like we would not dismiss eating this afternoon on account of the fact that we are already saved by grace alone through faith. If you will go home and eat, then you should also commit yourselves to doing good works. So, a Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none, and a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.
I think that this sort of paradox is a good thing to keep in mind as we are considering our scripture texts from today on this 4th of July when freedom is at the forefront of our minds. Just because we have been granted certain freedoms does not mean that for us as Christians, that we should exercise them at all times. In our gospel lesson for today Jesus is sending out the disciples two by two to proclaim a message: “The Kingdom of God is near!” We have joint citizenship. We are citizens of the United States of America, but we are also citizens of the City of God. But we are most importantly citizens of the City of God.
As Americans, the ultimate document of freedom for us could likely be considered the Bill of Rights. It outlines what freedoms we have which cannot be revoked. I want to look at some freedoms that are granted to us as citizens of America and compare that with our scripture lessons today.
The 5th amendment says, “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” In this amendment we are guaranteed the right to keep our own property. All of the things that we have worked hard for are ours. No one else has a right to them. The luxuries that have been afforded by our own hard work cannot be taken from us at a whim. No, in America we are free to keep things for ourselves. We are free to take care of ourselves.
To this, hear these words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke: “3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.” Jesus tells the seventy-two to lay down all of the things that they have earned for themselves. All of the things that would be helpful for traveling: things like money and a change of clothes, Jesus says to put those things away. For the disciples, they have a different kind of freedom: freedom from property.
The First Amendment guarantees Americans more freedoms, one of them is the freedom of speech. Part of it states: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” This is the law that allows us to hold opinions and express them without interference. If we want to speak against our government, we are promised the freedom to do so. Of course, it also protects our right to say things that are vile and indecent. It is this freedom which allows pornography to run rampant on the internet.
Does the Christian have freedom of speech? The apostle Paul says this in our lesson from Galatians today in verse 14: “14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” For the apostle Paul, there are restrictions posed on Christian speech. We are to boast not of ourselves, our accomplishments, our children, even our church, but we are only to boast in the cross of Jesus Christ. When you think about it, what else is there to talk about? What else is there to boast about? The law of Christ frees us from shallow, empty speech in order that we may speak of things that matter, in order that we can speak of the cross.
The last freedom I want to look at is the freedom of religion, again in the first amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Again we turn to the apostle Paul in Galatians to see what he has to say about our ability to exercise religion freely. In verse two he says: “2Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Put simply, Paul says that we are not free to practice our religion however we want. He says that there is a very specific way to practice our faith: to bear one another’s burdens. Paul says that this fulfills the highest law in the land, law that is higher than even the Constitution of the United States: the law of Christ. And what is the law of Christ? In a word: love. We can find no deeper, no more robust practice of love than when we bear the burdens of one another. The law of Christ frees us from selfishness in order that we may experience the joy that can only be found in deep, meaningful relationships, relationships that are not afraid to share burdens with one another.
Many of you know that a member of our church, Gerry Seefeldt, passed away Friday morning. Pastor Joel would normally attend to the family during this time, but obviously he was out of town. Pastor Ryan Mills from Our Redeemer in Grand Prairie told Joel that he would provide pastoral care should it be needed while he was away. Thursday morning I got the call that Gerry was getting very ill and there wouldn’t be much time left. The family requested a pastor to come pray with Gerry and the family in those last hours. So, I called Pastor Ryan. I could have simply told him about the situation and let him handle it. I’m quite untrained in what to do in these situations. I haven’t had much experience with death, and I didn’t think I would be much help. But for some reason I thought that I should go, so I offered to accompany him. I’m glad I went. I saw what it means to bear one another’s burdens while I was with Gerry’s family. Ryan and I went and saw Gerry and Pastor Ryan led us in prayer and scripture reading. We closed with the Lord’s Prayer. One of Gerry’s daughter said that when we were praying the Lord’s Prayer with her that Gerry prayed with us as loud and as clear as she had said anything in the last few days. And then the next morning, Friday, I got the phone call that Gerry had passed away. So for the second time in as many days, Pastor Ryan and I both dropped what we were doing to attend to Gerry and her family. We entered the home, spoke with the family, and prayed again over Gerry’s body and helped the family to say goodbye to their mother. It was a holy moment.
Were Pastor Ryan and I free to do whatever we wanted with our life and with our time on Thursday and Friday? Absolutely not. We were bound by the law of Christ to bear the emotional burden of this death in Gerry’s family. But Pastor Ryan and I would not have it any other way. Were we free to do whatever we wanted? No. But we were free to love this family in their time of grief. It is because of the bond of Christ that we were free to go into a home filled with people whom we had never met and share those moments with them.
The freedom of Christ is like that. It closes some doors in order that we may experience true freedom. My time was not my own this past weekend in order that I could be free to fulfill the law of Christ. We are not free to say anything that we want to say, but we are bound only to boast in the cross of Jesus Christ, because when you get right down to it, anything else is not speech, but just shadows of reality, just wasted breath. We are freed by Jesus Christ to true speech. And the freedom of Jesus Christ frees us from our possessions. So often our possessions own us. The law of Christ helps us lay everything down, to take no purse or bag or sandals with us, but to experience true freedom from the things that occupy so much of our time and energy.
Just as Jesus was very God and had all the rights and privileges of God, he laid them down for our sake (Phil 2). So we too have been afforded many great rights as citizens in the kingdom of America. But there are times when we must lay down our rights and lay down our freedoms, in order that we may be truly free. We serve the king of kings, the president of presidents. And when we are truly free we can say with the Psalmist and all peoples of the earth today:
1 Be joyful in God, all you lands;
sing the glory of his name; sing the glory of his praise.
2 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.
3 All the earth bows down before you,
sings to you, sings out your name.”
4 Come now and see the works of God,
how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.
5 He turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the water on foot,
and there we rejoiced in him.
6 In his might he rules forever; his eyes keep watch over the nations;
let no rebel rise up against him.
7 Bless our God, you peoples;
make the voice of his praise to be heard,
8 who holds our souls in life,
and will not allow our feet to slip.