Why Freedom freaks me out.

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“Give me liberty or give me death” ~ Patrick Henry, 1775

 

I was recently reminded that this famous quote comes, as quotes are wont to do, with context. Additional context of Henry’s famous quote is as follows:

“It is in vain, sir, to extentuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

The “matter,” of course, was the colonies’ unrepresented position under a taxing England, but let’s not get bogged down in a History lesson.

My comments are in response to the contemporary notion of liberty, freedom, and like. (While I understand the historical significance of the American Revolution, I think we’ve lost the notion of freedom, and have overlooked some of the problems the our connotation of liberty brings onto the field.)

I’ll lay my cards on the table…

Freedom (as defined today) is a double-edged sword. Freedom means I get to do what I want. Freedom means you can’t tell me what to do, because this is what makes me happy (or worse, how I was made).  I’m convinced this is because freedom from something inevitably makes us slaves to something else. Today, society praises the individual–their rights, their opinions, their decisions. But I’m not convinced that  individuals make all that great of decisions. A lot of peoples’ opinions are…wrong. And how often does the right of one person infringe or harm another? I realize I’m speaking in the abstract..I can become concrete if anyone would like, but I don’t want to lose you on a tangent pet-gripe if you’ve got one (if anyone is reading this…)

But, as a Christian…

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” Galatians 5:1a

But the rest of the verse urges that we “not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This is the problem with the individual being free. Individuals are sinners (groups are too, but at least there are one or two hypocrites who will, from time to time, call a sin what it is). Perhaps Adam and Eve were seeking the Freedom of being like God when they chomped the forbidden fruit? I know that at the end of the day, if I have freedom, I’ll misuse it. I know that the first thing I’ll do is slip back into the shackles of sin. I’d rather have a Master Who is kind and forgiving, a Master who is love. Does this mean that I always get what I want? 

Thank God I don’t get what I want. I’ve had some stupid ideas for what would make life better, the church better, the world better. I’m glad there’s community to say, “Dustin, that’s just dumb.” I’m glad there’s a great cloud of witnesses that testify to what Christ’s bride is. Because in that community, it becomes less about the freedom I deserve, and more about the grace I receive as pure gift. 

 

Note: I may edit this after I reread it in a few hours. Just spilt a few thoughts onto the empty page. Feels good to write again.

Advent 4 Midweek – 2011

Text: Romans 8:18-30
Title: Lord, Have Mercy

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christmas can, all too often, appear to be a fleeting thing.  We look forward to its coming, but it seems as if it’s almost gone before we know it.  All of the preparations and anticipation, it’s a time that we associate with memories and warm feelings, and I think we look forward to Christmas, that day when peace and stillness rule the day, when the gentle Christ-child comes to be God among us.  But what will be on your minds a week from now? Will your tree still be up at home? Will you go to the trouble to turn on your Christmas lights?  Christmas is fleeting. It’s here one day, and gone the next.  It’s something we look forward to, and we reflect back upon.

And I think Paul understands this anticipation–this looking forward, while hearkening back.  He writes of the glory that is to be revealed to us–that creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption and it will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God!  He looks forward, but he’s also not afraid to look back.  He writes that the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it.  Creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth.  It’s true. Creation is falling apart.  Things are not as they should be.  The world isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse.  As the morose, third verse of the Christmas carol, I heard the Bells on Christmas Day puts it: And in despair, I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said. “For hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Paul is clear that these present time sufferings aren’t worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed, but he does have words of hope and comfort for Christians in this present time.  We wait as people who have hope…that is, eager and sure expectation, the object of our faith, not yet fully revealed to us, but coming with Christ when He returns.  So we’re people who are waiting.  For the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, Paul says.  This is that flesh-and-blood good news that Jesus came to bring, that even as He Himself is a flesh and blood savior, He has come to redeem your very body.  To restore you to a perfect, sinless human being–body, mind, soul.  This is the expectation that we cling to, as we pray Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

But Paul also tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us, even now.  If you’re anything like me, you know it’s good to know where we’ve been, it’s great to know where we’re going, but it’s crucial that we know where we ARE. And Paul’s words give us comfort in our weakness.  Paul’s words make it real, right now.

And the reality of our lives in Christ, here and now, is one of prayer.  The final portion of the service of Evening Prayer is just that–prayer.  It’s the voice that our faith finds in the midst of strife, discord, and warfare; on behalf of our neighbors in the faith, our rulers, those who serve us, even for creation itself that rages against us, in times of affliction, wrath, danger, and need…in all of these situations, rather, in ALL situations, let us pray to the Lord!

It’s a strange prayer, isn’t it, “Lord, have mercy.” If you follow these words that echo throughout the Gospels, a pattern begins to emerge.  First, the ones crying out for mercy–the looked-down upon, the blind, the broken, the sick and dying.  And yet, it is these with whom we identify most in the gospels.  The season of Advent reminds us that we really aren’t ready to greet the King of kings and the Lord of lords, even as He comes as humble infant.  We’re marred beyond recognition of what God would have us to be.  Those words from the Christmas carol, “there is no peace on earth…for hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men,” we’re the reason for that hate.  We are the sinners in need of a savior.  Let us never forget that we are the broken down, the wounded, the blind, and the lame.  But at the same time, even while we are all those things, we are also those whose faith has made us well.

Jesus responds to the cries of “Lord, have mercy” with His own words, “Your faith has made you well.”  And this same Jesus Christ is the answer to your prayers. He is the One who has come in the name of the Lord.  He is the One who was born to take away the sins of the world, and you’re a part of that world, that groaning creation, the plants, animals, the seasons, every sinner who ever lived…crying, “Lord, Have Mercy.”

But, you know, I think that Jesus is used to turning his ear to cries of “Lord, have mercy.”  His mercy was upon all who looked to Him in faith during His earthly ministry.  And even now, He looks with mercy upon you, as you’re seemingly suspended in this not-yet-Christmas-even-though-Christmas-is-fleeting-and-will-be-gone-before-you-know-it kind of situation…He comes to you in this time, as His Christmas, the dwelling of Christ among you…so receive great comfort, for the Holy Spirit, He moves your lips and gives you voice, as you pray the prayer of the saints in Christ, as you look for the mercy of God, which is found solely in the Christ Himself, Jesus of Nazareth, born to save you from your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Advent 3 Midweek – 2011

Text: Luke 1:39-56
Title: My Soul Magnifies the Lord
 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

One of the times in my life that I will never forget is my final year at the seminary.  My first two years at the seminary, I was engaged, but single. I lived in the dorms, ate in the cafeteria, and studied whenever I needed/wanted to. We got married and moved to south Florida for my year of vicarage. But when we got back to St. Louis, things were different…I had a wife! We spent all of our time with married couples, the food drastically improved, my study habits had to change…but one of my favorite parts about being back was that half of the year, we were expecting…and watching Chelsea and a few of her friends, who were also expecting, interact, converse, talk about the changes they were experiencing, the things they were reading, the plans for the nursery.  It really made for a special time in our life together…

Women embarking on the new and exciting endeavor of motherhood.  The two women in question have no business being with child.  One, far too old…the other, not married, moreover, a virgin.  But it’s these two whose conversation we are privileged to overhear.  It’s these two blessed women whose exchange sets the tone for the rest of the Gospel of St. Luke.

And the words recorded start off sounding like a lot of the same things that I heard when Chelsea was pregnant.  “He’s kicking!” or “He just rolled over!”  What an amazing event, in and of itself.  But Elizabeth speaks words given her by the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit revealed to her, and to you, that this fruit of Mary’s womb is blessed. It’s the Lord Himself. It’s God with us.  It’s Jesus, who comes to fulfill that which was spoken to Mary. John the Baptist, even before he was born, is pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  What an incredible act of God that Elizabeth is given the words to express the joy that John receives when Jesus enters the room.  Elizabeth speaks the words that John would proclaim some thirty years later.  Truly Blessed is this One who Comes in the Name of the Lord!

But Mary has a response to Elizabeth too…to Elizabeth and to you.  Mary’s song, called the “Magnificat,” which is Latin for “magnifies,” the first words of the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”  These words of faith are an incredible testament to who God is and how He acts throughout history.  His mercy is on those who fear Him, He scatters the proud, He brings down the mighty and exalts the humble, He fills the hungry and sends away the rich, He has helped His servant Israel, according to His steadfast love, His covenant, the one He made with Abraham and with His offspring forever…Well, those are the words that are there, but what hope does this song offer us? (Pause)

Mary’s song is, in a very real way, our song.  She sings from the perspective of one who is humble, that is, lowly, dare I say humiliated, in the lowest estate imaginable…a young girl, pregnant, out of wedlock, worried, and frightened with nowhere to turn, yet the only thing she has to hold on to is a promise given her by God.  And such are you.  If the season of Advent has reminded you of anything, I pray that it is your need of Immanuel…your need to have God among you…your need to have Jesus in your life, breaking in, tearing his way in through your thick skull and your dark heart…to bring you light and to bring you life.  That’s what we celebrate at Christmastime…that Jesus came into a world that wasn’t looking for him.  But a world, nonetheless, that so desperately needs him.  Mary’s song is great in that it points out many and various ways that God has acted on behalf of the lowly and the downtrodden.  It lauds and praises God for redeeming and rescuing folks like you! Throughout history, God has lifted up, not those who have great status or wealth, but those who believe His promises.  Truly you will be called blessed for all of time…Truly you will be lifted up, because God Himself is mighty–because God Himself is holy.  And because Jesus Christ, the fruit of Mary’s womb, has come into the world and has borne your sin and become your savior, He has given you every blessing imaginable…God Himself has visited you in the flesh, and even now, He resides among you, He is God with you, He is Immanuel, who comforts you in your affliction, and grants you forgiveness and life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And so we join in the song of Mary, of the promises given and the fulfillment that is found in Jesus alone.

Advent 2 Midweek Sermon – 2011

Text: Psalm 141
Title: An Evening Sacrifice

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The prayer of a desperate man.  That’s what we have before us in the psalm today…the prayer of a desperate man.  David prayed this psalm in a bad situation…It’s apparent that he was on the run. Perhaps he was fleeing Absalom, perhaps Saul–the specifics of this psalm aren’t important, but what we hear in these words…a man seeking after God, rather seeking to be moved and made righteous by God; a man who knows the whole world around him is speaking deceit, working iniquity, indulging in the wickedness of this evil age…

And David prays. “Lord, I call upon you, please listen to me!” It’s that prayer that seems to capture the urgency of David’s plight.  “May this prayer rise before You like incense,” and as scholars argue, at this time David was on the run, away from Jerusalem, unable to offer right sacrifices, so the lifting up of his hands in prayer and a holy life would have to suffice as offerings to the Lord.

The real bulk of David’s prayer is in the center section, it asks God to guard, to keep watch over, to keep the heart pure in the presence of the wicked.  At times this looks like a righteous man striking.  For example, the prophet Nathan, who came to confront David over his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah, her husband.  Let a righteous man strike me, let him rebuke me.  God, send someone to call me to task.

It’s that kind of a prayer that, even we we pray it, we kind of hope God won’t answer it.  There’s something in each of us that fears change.  And no, it’s not called Lutheranism.  It’s called sin.  The sin in each of us is afraid of change. Deathly afraid of it.  Because the change that the Lord brings eradicates sin.  It drives it out, like light drives out darkness.  And the war raging between the repentant saint and the hypocritical sinner in each of us is quite clear in our reading from Matthew…

John comes as the righteous man whose ministry it is to strike us, to rebuke us, to preach the fruits of repentance and faith into our lives, so that we despair of ourselves, and fully rely on God.  John gives great words of hope and peace to those who come, confessing their sins to God.  He says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  Repent doesn’t sound like such a nice word, but if it’s on account of the fact that heaven’s King is coming among us, then by all means, turn around, away from your sins, the Lord is coming!….But his words to the Pharisees…these he calls brood of vipers, children of snakes…sons of the serpent.  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance, he says.

And these words he says to the sinner living in each of us.  What better place than the shores of a river to wash away these impurities, to hear the word of the Lord, and to drown the sin within us…

Now I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this has to do with Advent…and to that I’ll reply, “everything.”  The entire season of Advent is devoted to the coming of the One who liberates us from our own sin.  The One who is coming into the world, first as the babe of Bethlehem, to walk among us, to heal the sick, and preach to the poor; even now He comes among us in the breaking of the bread, in the lifting of the cup, in bread and wine, His body and His blood; in the splash of water, His saving bath–all of which at the command of His voice.  This is Jesus, coming among us, here and now. And in Advent, we look to the One who is coming in a third, distinct way.  He is coming again, to judge the living and the dead. We look and we wait as we live lives of repentance, as we turn from wickedness and flee toward the good.  We look and we wait…and we pray: …Our eyes are turned to you, O God.  We look to you as the One who has come and is coming again to call us your saints.  Your word creates a guard over our mouths, it keeps watch over what we say.  You continue to pull and tug us away from evildoers.  You are our dwelling place, O Lord.  In you we have hope and peace.  In you we have safety.  You prune us as a plant, cutting back that which hinders us, and you grant growth so that we might abound in fruit, the fruit of repentance and the fruit of faith, shown forth in love for You and our neighbor.

So, Lord, we wait in eager expectation.  We pray the prayer that means our own death, but that Christ would live within us…We pray the prayer of all the saints, Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Come quickly, Amen.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Advent 1 Midweek Sermon – 2011

Text: John 8:12-20
Title: Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

During the weeks of Advent this year, we will be following–praying, really–the service of Evening Prayer.  It’s a service that is appropriate for this time of year because the days are getting shorter, the evening is coming more quickly, and the Light of the World is right around the corner…Evening Prayer just seems to have a tinge of expectant hope, of looking forward to, of excitement for Jesus to arrive.  The service begins with three short calls and responses…Jesus Christ is the Light of the world! The Light no darkness can overcome! Stay with us Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over! Let Your light scatter the darkness and illumine Your Church! All words from scripture, all calling on Christ to be present among us.

But then, as the procession has concluded, the congregation joins in song…a song that you’ve probably never heard or sung before, but it’s likely the oldest complete hymn the Christian Church has.  The Phos Hilaron (Greek for Joyful or cheerful light) was sung by the early church as they met in secret, either in homes, or later in catacombs…This song was sung as they lit the candles to lighten the room…a reminder that Jesus Christ is the source of all true light.

So Jesus Christ is coming into the world. John writes this of Him in the first chapter of his Gospel: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. And in this Advent season, it’s that Light that we look for, like people sitting in darkness, straining our eyes to see just a hint of that light that shines in the distance.

But Jesus Christ isn’t just some kind of flickering candle, He gives light to the whole world!  Jesus says, in our lesson for today, “I am the light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life!”  Jesus says this right in the midst of several chapters of disputes over Who He is.  It’s like you can see these opponents, these nonbelievers groping in the darkness for some shred of truth, and they just don’t get it.  It’s right there in front of them, and they don’t see Jesus for Who He truly is.  The one person who appears to be in utter darkness, a woman accused of adultery, is the only one privileged to see the Light of the World, when He says, “neither to I condemn you, go and leave your life of sin.”

It’s the same today.  We bring nothing of worth to Christ.  We fall on our faces at His feet, feeling our way through the darkness of the world all around us.  And just as God led Israel by cloud and fire, He leads us by the Light of Christ.  He leads us through this Advent season and all seasons and time to gladly hear and receive His word. He becomes the very light of our lives, who shines and shows forth those areas of our life that we are less than proud to exhibit.  But He shines and shows them in order that we might be cleansed of them.  Draw near with a true heart and confess to Christ that which you have done or failed to do.  He will give you rest and respite.  He will cleanse you.  He will shine in His glory so that there may be no question of your innocence, your forgiveness, your purity.

That’s the thing about St. John’s Gospel…Jesus is always talking about coming into His glory.  He’s always saying, “my time has not yet come.” But what He’s really talking about is the Cross.  John begins at the beginning of the cosmos, “In the beginning was the Word.”  And from the beginning, this Word of God was coming into the world to be God among us, and to die on our behalf.  Christ was born for this reason: To die and rise again.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns captures this reason for the season quite well…

Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Give ye heed to what we say
News! News!
Jesus Christ is born today!
Ox and ass before Him bow
And He is in the manger now
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice
Now ye hear of endless bliss
Joy! Joy!
Jesus Christ was born for this
He hath ope’d the heav’nly door
And man is blessed evermore
Christ was born for this
Christ was born for this

Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice
Now ye need not fear the grave:
Peace! Peace!
Jesus Christ was born to save
Calls you one and calls you all
To gain His everlasting hall
Christ was born to save
Christ was born to save

Jesus Christ was truly born for this…to save you from your sins. To die and to rise. To be the light of the world forever.

Rejoice, for the Light of the World has shone upon you, and Christ Himself will lead, protect, and sustain you, unto eternal life.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.