You may be the exception to this, and, if that's the case, everyone around you here will look at you with wonder and a deep-rooted appreciation, maybe even astonishment. You know who you are. You're the one who remembers someone's name the first time you hear it. Most of us don't have this extraordinary, sought-after skill. No, we meet someone in a social setting—the party, the ballgame, wherever, the leaf thing at Elk Mountain. Someone introduces themselves to us—we know they share their name with us—and exactly one half second after they tell us both clearly and politely who they are, we forget. Bing. Done. Nope. Nada. Our info tank is empty. We have no clue if it's Brian, Bryce or Jeffery, Lacy, Macie or Tina.
Like most, I fall into the latter camp. Names quickly escape me, but yesterday morning, right there at our single back door, I met Mary Thurston. I was working on the sign to put out by the bell along the Creek Road. While standing in front of the copy machine—a technological piece I break only intermittently—I hear a very soft, insecure "Hello" from the nearest door. It turns out that Mary, a very agreeable sojourner, is looking for the Orphan School. After giving her written directions—there aren't a lot of people you can stop and ask directions on an early Saturday morning—we get to talking. That was when she introduced herself. One of the first things she shared was her love for travel. She spoke of the many different people she's met along the way, and she had a light in her eye when she said people easily talk with her. She said she's been a gifted listener because of her longstanding mental illness.
Mary tells me more. She says she's been suicidal. She told me she is 62 and woke up on the day she turned 50 and said to herself that she'd had enough of having very serious thoughts of killing herself. She gave up her old life then and began to live a new one, one where it wasn't about herself and her needs. She stopped looking at life in terms of what was in it for her and began to live life by how she could honor God. Get this. To the point of wanting to throw it away, Mary was burdened by her life her way. She was suppressed by it, now she's liberated. She went from being a slave to being one who is free.
I shared this quote in the sermon prep yesterday. Radical Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder writes in The Politics of Jesus about "revolutionary subordination." This is what Yoder says. "True freedom is found not in insisting on one's own rights, but in freely giving them up by being a servant to Jesus Christ first and the people of God second."
Maybe you're to the place in your life when you can admit that you are not living life by your measuring cup; you're living life by finally giving it all up to God. You know freedom has nothing to do with how free you are—freedom has everything to do with how, when, and were God will use you.
You know who we are. We are twenty-first-century Westerners, heirs of the Enlightenment. We are brainwashed by modernity's extreme emphasis on individualism and liberty. We know what "freedom" means. Freedom means self-assertion. Freedom means insisting on your rights. Freedom means throwing off constraints. Freedom means creating yourself. The highest virtue in contemporary society is this achievement: "Be true to yourself." In old-school lingo, "Don't fence me in!" Yet no truth is more pervasive in Scripture and Christian tradition than this one—that real freedom is found in obedience and servanthood. And yet no truth is more incongruent with modern culture. Here we stand before a stark either-or: the gospel message of true freedom versus the culture's ideal of self-creation, autonomy, and living "my way."
The great church father Augustine taught that true freedom is not choice or lack of constraint, but being what you are meant to be. Humans were created in the image of God. True freedom, then, is not found in moving away from that image but only in living it out. The closer we conform to the true image of God, Jesus Christ, the freer we become. The farther we drift from it, the more our freedom shrinks.
From a Christian perspective, then, freedom—paradoxically—is a kind of bondage. Martin Luther expressed this truth better than anyone since the apostle Paul. In his 1520 treatise On Christian Liberty (also known as On the Freedom of a Christian), the Reformer puts it in a nutshell: "A Christian ... is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian ... is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone."
In other words, according to Luther, because of what Christ has done for us and because of our faith in Christ, the Christian is absolutely free from the bondage of the law. We don't have to do anything. On the other hand, out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us and in us, the Christian is bound in servitude to God and other people. We get to serve others freely and joyfully. A person who doesn't "get" the "get to" part simply doesn't know the joy of salvation. That's what Luther meant.
Everyone craves freedom, but we quickly realize that freedom has its price. Christ paid that price. This said, listen to your heart. What does it say? Live freely. And how do you live freely? What do you do in your freedom? You know the answer to this question, or you will know the answer to this question in time. With freedom, the freedom (or the free will) God gave you, you know this: you love the love the Lord.
I mentioned free will. Living freely engages free will, and I draw your attention now to your sermon sheet. The first is a fill-in quote from Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon writes, "Freewill carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven." In other words, we can trip over our own freewill. As illustrated in the children's sermon, we can be the railroad car that is not on the track. Stuck by not wanting to be in the groove, or, in this case, the track, we are not going anywhere. Freewill is wonderful when we finally reach the point that it enables us to open the door to our freedom in Christ.
Here's the next quote. Billy Graham gives us our next fill-in. Graham writes, "The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion." This means we are not under the law, as Paul advises in our Galatians reading today when he uses the example of circumcision; we are not to be a part from religion. Instead, our founding fathers made this clear: we are to use religion as the means to our understanding of and our application for God to be at work within us.
Here's the third quote, and this goes back to the days long before our nation was born. This one is from Martin Luther. He says, "Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want."
Choices lead to free will, or choices are free will. The greatest gift we can give back to our God who sent His Son as our gift, is to choose His Son. Choose Jesus' actions as your own actions. Choose Jesus' responses as your responses. Choose the way Jesus saw things as your way of doing things.
Let's keep taking about freedom and about Jesus. Steve Brown, a man I heard in Florida a couple years back says this in his book, A Scandalous Freedom. Brown says, Jesus invited us to a dance...and we've turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we're doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching."
If you have a Savior who rules in your heart, you KNOW freedom. There is no "have to" thinking in church; there is "get to" action when you're able to live out His message, His life. If you're powered here by anything other than servitude to Christ, get this, you'll burn out. Get this because you have seen this in others—you will burn out.
Let Jesus be the fuel to your freedom.
Is Jesus your fuel? Asked a little differently, are you living your life, or Christ's life in you? If you find petty things to grumble about in church, if you are locked into "working" for church, or are simply not dancing in delight with your Lord, please hear Paul in the following scripture.
Paul says this in Romans 6:6-7. "We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin."
Again, I ask you, are you alive to self, or are you alive to your Savior?
Choose life—choose freedom!—with Jesus. Paul encourages us with describing who Jesus is. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul says, "He is so rich in kindness and grace that he has purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins."
Paul adds something else in 2 Corinthians 3:17. He says something important. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
Mary, the woman I mentioned earlier, died to self. She doesn't live by her will. That got her nothing but heartbreaks that left her empty and hurt. Now she lives not for self, but in service to Jesus.
Don't be empty. Don't be hurt. Choose freedom. Choose Jesus.