On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Laying Down Our Freedom*
Galatian 5:1, 22-26: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ... 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. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (NRSV)
Greetings to you and peace from God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the abiding Holy Spirit.
We are living in unprecedented times. It seems like every other week I read a new headline talking about how fast things are changing and how things will never be the same again. Our few decades of history will set the stage for centuries of human life.
Never before have people lived as long of lives as they do now.
Never before have women had so much agency in their own lives. Never before have women had so many choices about the work they do, when and if they get married, and when and if they have children.
Never before have the economies of the world been woven together so tightly. We prosper together, and we suffer together.
Never before has humanity faced an environmental crisis like the one we face now and in the years to come as we watch land turn to desert and cities drown.
Never before has it been so easy for any two people from anywhere on the planet to connect with one another. Between the Internet and cellphones and air travel, humanity has never before been able to hear each other’s stories and learn about each other’s lives with as much honesty, openness, and directness as they can now.
Once again, the Church is asking itself what it means to be a Christian in a world like ours. We don’t know what the answer will be, but we do know one thing about our future, after a 1,000 years, the heart of Christianity is returning to the global south.
Never before have we, as citizens of the world, been provided so many choices, so many experiences, so many stories to hear. Never before have people had so much freedom to move, to communicate, to choose.
Here’s the tricky thing about freedom - freedom by itself is nothing. It is empty space. It is a blank canvas. A bare stage. Silence. Freedom demands choice. Demands action. Freedom cannot stay inert, cannot stay empty or blank or bare. If a person wants to be something, create something, belong to someone - movement and sound and action must fill the space.
We, as Christians, have been grappling with our freedom from the very beginning. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, through God’s grace, we have been given incredible freedom. Each of us has been set in an open field. Our burdens have been made light. But we cannot stay that way. Not if we want to belong to someone. And we belong to Jesus. So we begin to plow the field. To sow. To harvest.
That is why Paul first talks about freedom, and then talks about service and commitment. He knows that freedom cannot stay neutral. Freedom must transform into something else. It must be laid down at someone else’s feet Those who belong to Jesus sow, dance, knit their freedom into love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those who belong to Jesus, their freedom bears the fruit of the Spirit.
We belong to Jesus. And Jesus has given us back to the world, to our neighbors, to our families. As mothers and fathers, farmers and miners, doctors and nurses and teachers, we transform our freedom into good care, good food, good products, good words so that our neighbors can know that they are loved and valued in this new, messy, global community. As disciples of Christ, we transform our freedom for our neighbors so they know they are loved and valued by God. As more and more of our life is laid down for others, as our freedom diminishes, Jesus’ love swells.
We live in an age where more and more people are being given a similar kind of freedom. To varying degrees, people are less constrained by their gender, their age, or to a place by accident of their birth. More and more people are getting to choose what they become in the world, who they will belong to. But people still have to choose. David Brooks, New York Times columnist, recently described that to do otherwise would lead to a fake freedom of simply leaving your options open. Not to choose leads to a fragmented life with no real connection to anything or anyone - just a string of unrelated moments and unrelated relationships.
When I read a new article about our never-before world, and I ask myself again what does it mean to be a Christian here and now, I know this, we have something to share with our world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have an intimacy with freedom, real freedom, that the larger world is only now beginning to understand. Freedom that comes from the laying down of options so that something else bigger than us can grow and flourish.
When we flow from this place onto cars and buses, planes and trains to seep back into our lives as parents and children and neighbors, when we seep back into the many and varied places we call home, may Christ renew you every day. Every day may Christ set you in an open field and make your burdens light. Every day may you choose to work that field so our families and neighbors may know good care and good food. So our families and neighbors next door or around the world may know that they are loved and valued. May our families and neighbors from all over the world not only be united by our intertwined economies, the climate crisis that troubles us, or the technology that keeps us one click away, but may we also be united by Christ. Christ, our savior, who loves and values us so much that he has given us the freedom to commit ourselves to him and to the world he loves so that self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, kindness, patience, peace, joy, and love may swell and fill the world.
*This sermon was selected as a finalist in the Lutheran World Federation's Young Pastor's Preaching Contest in 2017. It was distributed to all of the LWF delegates who gathered in Namibia that same year.