Freedom from sin = freedom for loving others
Today is a good day to celebrate freedom. Canada Day July 1st is just around the corner. Sometimes we take for granted how lucky we are to live in Canada in particular. However, I want to distinguish the fuzzy concept of freedom often associated with civilly obtained rights and protections, and the kind of freedom in and through Jesus Christ, that Paul is talking about in our reading from Galatians.
So what can we learn about freedom from Holy Scripture? Paul writes in his letter to the Galatian church:, “For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Paul reminds us that Christ’s perfect freedom is quite different from how North Americans tend to think of freedom. God’s perfect freedom is sacrificial love for both friends and enemies. It isn’t a legal right. It isn’t the ability to do whatever we want or whatever suits us. Freedom is loving others, even when that can be painful, challenging, frustrating, tiring, annoying … freedom is love that often involves sacrifices. We all know that sort of love: it’s the kind of actions you find in marriages where partners make sacrifices for each other; where partners both give to one another, and also refrain from saying things, from harshly criticising to the point of demeaning or humiliating another, from yelling, and from acting in ways they might be tempted to act so they don’t hurt the other.
You can extend this to relationships between children and parents, between siblings, between friends and co-workers, and of more challenge, freedom in Christ. It carries with it the commandment to make sacrifices for the sake of enemies; sacrifices that might include refraining from how you would like to respond when your enemies make you angry.
Paul puts it like this: “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.” To become slaves to one another, is to exercise the sacrifical love for others that Jesus did. And that sacrificial love for others (neighbour and enemy) is loving God. That’s how Jesus accomplished our salvation: he loved God by loving his neighbours and enemies alike. It is the only reason you and I have life now, and have eternal life open to us.
The challenge of course is that we have become comfortable in our slavery to the things of this world. We like to tell people off who aren’t living up to our expectations don’t we? Whether our partners, our children, our politicians, our doctors, our friends. In recent years, it’s almost become a sport to tear others down. Don’t like that politician, that person in the news, that person at work or in this or that institution, or in my condo complex, that doctor, or the way those people are doing things, hey, let me blame, yell, belittle, call names, be reductionistic in my judgment and presume that I know everything, let me cut down and tear apart and add to everyone’s struggle and exhaustion. It feels good doesn’t it? Righteous? Just? You feel powerful and in control when you can exercise your freedom of judgment and speech. Vengeance is mine for I have declared the truth and now I can hold my head high.
How many relationships of abuse, how many fights, how many breakdowns, how many divorces, how many suicides, how many wars, how many losses of potential, of flourishing, of acts of hope have been lost to these outbursts where people have submitted to false freedom, a freedom that leads to tearing down the people whom God has made? How many people have lost sight of God because they are subjected over and over to individuals exercising a false freedom of self satisfaction rather than exercising the freedom of grace: the difficult cross of grace, of loving the imperfect person, of treating that fragile and finite person with the patience, kindness, gentleness and self control that God treats you?
True freedom, isn’t found in pursuing self satisfaction - power, control, position, or influence. True freedom is given to us in Christ: it is being set free from the slavery to the sin of needing to satify ourselves, so that we can create an opening in this often very difficult life, for others to touch Jesus’s cloak, to know his love, to experience his presence, his healing, his comfort. True freedom isn’t a state we achieve by force or power, by exercising actions or words grounded in anger that incite strife, jealousy, quarrels, dissensions, factions, etc. Paul warns us that acting in these ways will prevent us from inheriting the Kingdom of God. True freedom is relinquishing our presumption that we are God, or gods of our own little corner of the world. True freedom is a constant, effortful practice of learning to think, act and speak with others, whatever we think of them, in ways that demonstrate our baptism in Christ and so the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When you look at Jesus’s life, these are the traits you see poured out on those whom he encountered. When we exercise these traits, we are allowing others to see, seek, and open themselves to God. If, like me, you find it hard to exercise these things with people, or certain people, now would be a really good time to dig into your own life to figure out why. Because embracing and taking on your freedom in Christ is actually a calling and a mission. It’s about the upbuilding of God’s kingdom, an invitation open to everyone whom you encounter in life. How are you doing with that mission? Amen.