Sunday, October 30, 2016
Jesus says, “so if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Zoe and Emery, if I were going to ask you what freedom looks like to you, right now, for this time in your lives, I’d guess you’d have a few good ideas: being able to drive (in your own car, preferably!). Being able to sleep in every day, whenever you want. Maybe you’re already looking forward to getting out of your parents’ house to live on your own, make your own decisions. Freedom is a sweet word for us all, but especially on your confirmation day, I want us all to reflect on the freedom that our faith in Christ gives us. Today, we welcome you as adult members of our church. You are free from sermon notes, free from Wednesday night classes! But confirmation is NOT graduation from church, as I know you’ve heard me say before! I may disappoint you a little bit when I tell you that “freedom” for a Christian does not necessarily have the same meaning as our American understanding of freedom, as the ability to make individual choices and decisions, to do whatever we want, when we want to do it.
Now, certainly we who live in the United States can be grateful for the many freedoms we enjoy, and we are blessed to live in a freer society than other places. In fact, there ARE places in the world where human slavery still exists. The latest statistics I found is that at least 20.9 million people worldwide are victims of forced, free labor, and that includes victims of human trafficking here in the United States. So as Christians committed to justice, we need to first acknowledge that there are many people who are literally not free. Slavery is not just a thing of the past, as we might tend to think. We can use the gift of the freedom that God has given us to advocate for the freedom of others.
However, Jesus tells us that “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” So that pretty much means all of us are slaves, in a more figurative sense. I recently was listening to a podcast where New York Times columnist David Brooks was discussing his latest book, The Road to Character. He was talking about how one of his editors took issue with him using the word “sin” in this book. I have heard this argument made before that people have a hard time relating to the word “sin” as if sin is not a problem anymore, or it’s too much of a downer to talk about people not being good, nice people. People don’t want to feel guilty any more than they already do, the argument goes. Brooks put the word “sin” in his book anyway because like me, he argues that sin DEFINITELY still exists, and anyone who’s gone through bad experiences in life, or sees the amount of suffering in the world, can tell you sin is a reality we all deal with. We shouldn’t ignore or dismiss sin, but we can help people try to make sense of how sin plays a part in their lives.
So David Brooks then shared St. Augustine’s definition that sin is “disordered love.” It’s an interesting way to think about our slavery to sin, and Christ’s desire to free us from sin. In our lives, we want to put loving God above everything else, but often that gets out of order and we prioritize other things, putting worship, service, giving to God for “when I have time or money for it,” rather than first. We want to place love and loyalty to our friends above our love of popularity, but how many of us have been silent or even contributed to gossip at the expense of our friends, letting our love for popularity dominate? We want to put our love for goodness and justice above our love for money, but how tempting it is to take the easy way out and do what makes us successful first, disregarding the ethics of the situation. We all experience disordered love – relationships that don’t work out, our desires to do what is right being taken over by more selfish loves. And that means, we all know what it’s like to sin.
So in the gospel of John, the Jews following Jesus protest and say, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, by saying, ‘You will be made free?’” Now, apparently, these Jews are quite forgetful. Not only are they slaves to sin, as we all are, as David Brooks and Augustine remind us. They also WERE slaves in Egypt for about 400 years, if you remember back to the story of the book of Exodus! In fact, at this point in the gospel of John, they are having this conversation with Jesus during the Festival of Booths which is a Jewish holiday commemorating God’s redemption of Israel, leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the promised Land! They should know better than many of us what it means to be a slave and then to experience freedom, from their history. The God of Israel who brought the Israelites out of Egypt is the same God in Jesus Christ who promises freedom from sin for all believers. This is good news Jesus shares with the people following him in John, and the same good news Jesus shares with us today. God takes our disordered relationships that can even put human beings in master-slave relationships with one another and restores them, by bringing us back into the family of God. Zoe and Emery, through your baptisms you are freed from the power of sin to have a permanent place in God’s household, now and forever. This doesn’t mean you won’t sin anymore! But God in Jesus Christ has given you the knowledge and reassurance that you are not stuck in those sins anymore. God in Jesus Christ, God who is love and who so loved this world, has reordered our disordered loves so we can know God’s love first.
Now, remember when I said that freedom has a different meaning for Christians than we might understand American individual freedoms? Martin Luther, who helped lead reforms in the church that we commemorate today, once said, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” This is what it means to be free as a Christian. Christ sets us free from everything we might otherwise worry about: popularity, possessions, our salvation, our very life. Jesus has conquered anything that we’re afraid of, anything we’re worried about: suffering, death, evil. We have the final victory in Christ Jesus, we have life eternal, we are free from anything that might otherwise hold us back or threaten that promise. BUT that doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want without any regard for anyone else! At your baptism, we welcomed you into the BODY of Christ and into the mission we SHARE. The God of perfect love brings us back into right relationships with God and one another. That means that we, altogether, are bound together by the love and freedom of Jesus. We have certain duties to one another: to love one another as God in Christ first loved us, to serve one another. Zoe and Emery, we will be asking you to make some promises to serve others when you affirm your baptism today. These are the same promises all of us have made either at our baptisms or confirmations as well. These are promises like being in Christian community with other Christians, worshipping together, taking time for prayer and Bible study, serving others and working for justice and peace. God frees us to serve God and one another not out of fear that something terrible will happen to us, but out of love, that we might share that love with others.