On the day before the national celebration of the freedom obtained by American Independence, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church instead celebrated Christian freedom.
This was the message delivered by Rev. Dr. Sarah Henrich, Minister of Adult Education and Visitation, in her sermon, ‘What Kind of Freedom Does Faith Proclaim?” Its Biblical foundation was Galatians 5:1, 13-16, 22-25 (NRSV):
- “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
- “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
- “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
- “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
Rev. Henrich opened her sermon by remembering that archaeologists had just “let the world know that they found the tunnel dug in 1944 outside of Vilnius Lithuania by Jewish prisoners in order to escape the evil in which they were trapped. 100 feet dug with bare hands and spoons. Such a desperate drive for freedom.” She also recalled that in July of 1776 the American Declaration of Independence was immediately printed and posted up and down the east coast of the colonies.
“I wonder if St. Paul wished for a printing press right around the corner in Galatia millennia earlier. His short letter to a little group of Jesus followers would have fallen harshly on many local ears. Let freedom ring, he says. How warmly welcomed is that claim to freedom when sung out by some minority group? Yet Paul insists, “For freedom Christ has set you free.” And that conviction, that powerful conviction has also come down through the ages to us.”
“Two strong claims to freedom shape us. The overlap of the word freedom in our foundational scripture as Christians and in the America’s founding document has often led us to think that both freedoms are the same. Freedom from the unjust practices of imperial England and freedom from the legalism of ancient Jewish life. But not exactly.”
“What kind of freedom do Christians proclaim? Paul writes about a different kind of freedom. True, he wants to assert that being part of God’s covenant people does not require taking on practices of a pre-Christ age. More important to his little church, though, is the belief they are all free, free to live the good life. No matter their status…slave or free, male or female…empowered to live a good life.”
“That sounds a little like our constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness, but again Paul had something quite different in mind. These new believers, he declared, were freed by the Spirit’s power to live a life of goodness, of depth, of peace. The good life was to be a life of goodness with God’s love as plumb line, to borrow a phrase. Freedom is for something bigger than my pursuits . . . it is for life lived in love of God and neighbor.”
“Paul defines the good life for new believers by what folks do. They bear one another’s burdens and they take responsibility for their own lives. This is where’s Christian freedom is not simply American freedom.” (Emphasis in original.)
“Has there ever been a time in the world when we were more aware of our interconnectedness? Despite a deep international desire to build walls around ourselves right now as protection from dangers that crop up around us, despite our yearning for a safe place to live the good live, we know with every fiber of our being that we can’t. We can’t live a good life by disconnecting. Our freedom is not freedom to live in safe and splendid isolation from all that causes us grief or fear. We are only free to be the village that raises the children, respects older citizens and attends to everyone in between. To live the good/godly life. We experience and we are to be that village as we gather around the table. Come, just come. As you are to receive in this company the blessing of God’s presence.” (Emphasis in original.)
“This isn’t the pursuit of happiness as we usually think of it–friends, family, a home, freedom of worship, the ability to pursue our own dreams. Paul is writing to those early believers about freedom to live by standards other than those of the world around them. I think those Jewish prisoners, commandeered to burn or bury their own as they were killed by the Nazis in 1944, they would understand. Freedom to get out, to tell the story of evil, to call the world to hear. Freedom to help each other for God’s sake…freedom to live. They bore the burdens of each other’s lives, a spoonful at a time.” (Emphasis in original.)
“It was Sunday morning at another table just a few weeks back where I learned something about bearing each other’s burdens. At 6:15 am, my brother-in-law drank coffee and talked about a new book he was reading. Now, you have to understand. This man was raised as a Quaker, is a smart, edgy agnostic. And he loves moving fast–from the delivery truck he drove in high school to the motorcycle he zips around on as a grandpa. And he watched his beloved Dad slow down with Parkinson’s disease until he finally stopped. Now watching my sister go through the same thing.”
“Suddenly he needed a response. ‘I’ve read Matthew,’ he said, ‘in the New Testament. So what’s the gospel? What?’ I waited, hoping he’d answer his own question. But no, this one was for me. ‘The gospel—it’s that the reign of God is at hand, right at hand and it’s for all God’s people” [I said.] ‘Right’ he shouted. ‘That’s it. Right now, Living is to love, God and your neighbor, whoever.’ I’ve never come to God’s table with my brother-in-law in church, but God came to that kitchen table where the two of us sat. The energy freely to embrace a life of care – it was there.”
“I don’t know how, but my speed-loving brother-in-law knew that he was free to live the good life/the God and gospel life by slowing down to walk with those he loves. Whatever it took, whatever it takes – he’s free to do it, to give it. What kind of freedom do Christians and all led by God’s spirit proclaim? What kind of freedom do we live? The freedom to love God and others as we learn to love ourselves, recognizing the village God has already created us to be. The freedom to tell THIS story to a world yearning for walled in happiness. Even if we do it slowly, a spoonful at a time.”
Yes, the central Christian message for me is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself! It is not complicated to say. And we are free to live our lives in joyful fulfillment of this instruction. Yet it is not always easy to do. We all too often fail to satisfy this great commandment. By God’s grace we are forgiven—time and time again—when we fall short.
 The bulletin and the text of the sermon for this service are available online. The Prayer of Confession for this service was set forth in a prior post.