The following is a sermon I wrote for July 2, 2017. I wrote it because I’ve been considering what it means to be free. I’ve also wondered in recent years how it would be to have a message from the pulpit that offered a voice that didn’t seek to go to the extremes of being politically correct or incorrect or to being pro or anti anything. What would it be like to try to make an honest attempt to say something that acknowledges love of country, while also proclaiming that there is much more to us than just where we happen to have been born on this planet?
So, the following is that attempt. If you’re thinking it’s long–well it is a sermon. But, hopefully it’s a message that calls us to consider the word “freedom” in ways that do not limit, but rather in ways that allow us to reach beyond to something more.
I wish you peace….
(The scripture for this sermon is Galatians 5:1, 13-16, 25)
Where Freedom Can Be Found by Rev. Lynnette Sills
Every year since my children were little, we’ve spent Independence Day at Montreat. The kids have been going to the Clubs day camp there since age 4 and on the 4th of July, Montreat holds a day full of festivities that are about as unpretentious as you can get. And, amidst all the small-town festivities are two events that I have come to enjoy so much that I don’t want to miss them: the July 4th Parade and the ceremony at the flag pole following the parade.
Now, if you go to the parade, don’t expect anything on the scale of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or a Tournament of Roses parade. It is Montreat, after all. But, what you can expect are things that will make you smile.
Things like all the kids in the Clubs camp—they call themselves “Clubbies:”—who will be dressed up in costumes that have something to do with the theme of the parade. One year when she was about 6 or 7, my daughter’s group dressed up like all the ingredients for s’mores—it was a camping/outdoor theme that year. She was a Hershey’s chocolate bar. She was the cutest little chocolate bar I’d ever seen, so I took a picture of her that day. Against her wishes. She was not a happy chocolate bar.
Anyway, all the Clubbies march in the parade and wave at the folks lined up on the streets to cheer them on. They are joined by The Scottish Society folks—the Presbyterians at Montreat are apparently really big on this—and they march along in their kilts representing the various clans. There are, of course, bag pipes marching, too. You can’t really have one without the other. And, not to be outdone, there is a group of people who have Scotty dogs–some of the dogs are sporting tartans, which is pretty cute.
There are some summer residents who drive their antique cars in the parade. Generations of families pile into these cars, that are often decorated with red, white and blue bunting and American flags. They will be waving and smiling and usually tossing out candy to the kids as they go.
The Town of Black Mountain always has one of their fire trucks in the parade, too. There’s a brass band that gets loaded into the back of someone’s pickup truck and they play as they ride along.
The last thing you will see in the parade are two people carrying a home-made display made of two boxes with the words “THE END” written on them. That’s for anyone who might need a prompt to let them know that the parade is now over.
Immediately following the parade, everyone gathers at the flag pole and there is a ceremony led by a local Boy Scout Troop and the Clubbies. The American flag is raised and the Star Spangled Banner is sung. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited and songs like “My Country Tis of Thee” and “America, the Beautiful” will also be sung. At the end, there will be a prayer and then folks are free to go and enjoy the other festivities of the day.
There have been times over the years when I’ve witnessed all these things and my heart has been full to bursting and my eyes have been filled to overflowing with tears.
I know that sounds a little corny and sappy. And, I make no apologies for that. I can’t help that I’m that way. And, I don’t want to, because, what those moments and memories represent for me are things that are important—time with my children, the joy of simple yet delightful events, a celebration of heritage, culture, and history and country. There’s something very comforting in those moments—something that can offer a sense of belonging and a sense of connection with others.
In those times, in that place, I am thankful that I am an American.
But, what I am most thankful for on that day and on every other day that I get to draw breath is that I am so much more than that.
I am—we are–children of God. We are God’s people. And, many of us in this room today just happen to have been born here—on this part of the planet that over millions of years became part of something called America. It hasn’t always been called that and someday it will no longer be known as that. But, for now, it’s where we happen to be and what we call this place.
Our history as a country and a people is messy. It’s imperfect. Our story is complicated and filled with triumphs and losses, hard fights and crushing defeats, justice and injustice, crime and punishment, incredible stupidity and amazing ingenuity, slavery and freedom, unthinkable poverty and excessive wealth.
Our history is full of stories that fill us with pride, and with tales that leave us in disgrace and shame. We have lifted people out of despair while simultaneously forcing others to live in the depths of it. We have been people who offered to educate one group while denying another the opportunity to learn. We have kept people bound by rules and laws that denied many of their dignity and their freedom. And, we have been a people who fought for freedom and declared that we were endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.
But, before we were any of these things, we first belonged to God. And, we are still God’s people.
In our scripture this morning from Galatians, Chapter 5, Paul’s letter is one of a very personal nature. What he wanted to convey to these early Christians was that it is faith in Jesus Christ that made them free. That message is still just as relevant and true for us, sitting here in this room this morning, and it is a message for everyone.
Like so many of the people in the early church, the people in this church in Galatia were trying to figure out what to do with those who had been taught to follow the Law of Moses and with those who no longer believed—or had never been taught at all. They were trying to discern if the laws and rules and regulations had any meaning or relevance any longer.
What Paul says in this letter is that love, defined by Christ, puts the law into its correct perspective. And, he says in verse 14 that the law can be summed up in a single commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We aren’t told we are to do away with the Law of Moses. Rather, Paul says that through love, we can fulfill the true intent and purpose of God’s laws. They were given out of love and care. They were not meant to enslave us. Nor were these laws to be used so that we will be diminished or devalued or trapped by the things that would keep us from knowing a life that is truly free, a life that is fully lived.
Paul has a warning in his words. And, this is one that I believe we might want to pay more attention to in our world right now. Paul says in verse 13:
- 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.
Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”
We are called to freedom. But, to accept this gift is a choice. We don’t have to take it. But, when we don’t we live as slaves to the world and the things that would keep us from being who God intends us to be.
We must remember, however, that this freedom that is offered to us is not ours to misuse. Part of the responsibility in accepting this gift is that we are to use this freedom wisely and with care. It is ours because it was given to us. How are we going to use this gift?
How am I/How are you going to use this gift of freedom? We have freedoms by virtue of being born in this part of the world that are not afforded to others in other countries. How are we using those freedoms that are written into our laws, into our social constructs, and into our own personal lives? And, how does our faith, our belief in the true freedom given to us in Christ, come into our thoughts and words and deeds on a daily basis?
Are you/ Am I living like a free person? Are we living like a person who understands and takes seriously the responsibility of freedom and all that entails?
One of the things that has come clearly into focus for me in the past few years as an American, but more importantly as a child of God, is that my hope is not dependent on or found in the conventional institutions that we often rely on to call the shots, make the rules, set the tone, provide the leadership, and offer the solutions to the myriad issues, problems, and challenges we face in our world today.
Each of these, and anyone who accepts the call to leadership and to positions of power, have a responsibility to be instruments of and catalysts for freedom—to work with and for the well-being and care of others: to do for others what they cannot or may not be able to do for themselves. And, as God’s people, we are called to lift each other up and encourage, care for each other, share our gifts for the good of others.
Each of us, if we choose freedom in Christ, are asked to step forward—to take up our cross and follow Christ.
And, Jesus told his disciple—told us—that we are to go and make disciples of others. We are to tell others the Good News about Jesus Christ. We are to be the ones who step forward, who take responsibility for the freedom we have been offered and to tell others what a difference that freedom makes in our lives.
I have watched the world through many lenses. Through the innocent eyes of a child, the naive’ eyes of a teenager and college student, the hopeful eyes of a young adult, the eyes of one who lost her focus, through the eyes of a mother, and for all my years through the eyes of a female. But, what most influences the way I see the world and the way things play out in it these days is through the eyes of a grown woman who is a follower of Christ. My journey—in life and in faith—has me traveling on a different path these days. It is a journey that longs to see beyond some of the ugly things that try to pass for truth in our world today.
Where do we find truth? Where do we find freedom? We have to look toward the only things that ever really have a chance to make change happen and can allow for abundant growth. Those are the things Jesus told us to do: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind soul, and strength. And, love your neighbor as yourself.
We can spend all our time worrying about the latest tweet or post of social media offering, the latest press conference, the latest opinion poll, the latest stock market report, the latest insult, the latest scandal, or the latest rumor. We can wring our hands and wail and gnash teeth till the cows come home. And, that will change absolutely nothing.
Find better ground. For whatever you want to see happening in the world that makes things better for others or for you, go there and tend to what needs doing. Give the gifts you’ve been given to something of substance, to something that really matters. And, don’t wait for someone else to fix it. It just might be that you or I are the “someone else” who can.
I believe that every single person in this room has it within themselves to turn things around. I believe that as God’s people, with God’s guidance, we have within us everything that we need to walk out of these doors today and share something with this world that it desperately needs—and that is love.
Friends, don’t take that lightly and don’t sell it short, because there is nothing more powerful than love.
Love is the one thing that can overcome evil, hate, and fear. Love never fails and it never dies.
And, what Paul was telling the Galatians was–don’t you use your freedom stupidly. Don’t use it to hurt others. Don’t use it for your own gain. Don’t you dare misuse this gift!
Paul is saying to that church and, it’s the message for the church today, that the good news we have is that Christ came to free us. When we are caught up and trapped by the things that would hold us down and keep us from being fully alive and fully God’s, hear the Good News of Christ.
When we are faced with the immoral and the unjust, the unkind and unfair, the prideful and the preposterous, the false and the ungodly, trust in God and know the freedom that comes in being a child of God.
To take up our cross and follow Jesus means that our passion becomes one focused on God and the kingdom of God. Let us accept that call and accept the gift of freedom that Christ offers us. And, as children of God and as a community of Christ, let us be an instrument of transformation that God uses and will continue to use in this place.