What Freedom Do We Sacrifice to Follow God?

Transcribed from the sermon preached October 5, 2014

The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

Scripture Readings: Exodus 20:1-20, Philippians 4:1-13

 

Barbara Brown Taylor – lives in a neighborhood where they post the Ten Commandments in their front yards like a real estate sign. Apparently they were making a statement concerning the debate about whether or not it was ok to post them in public places. But she couldn’t help but note the irony when she saw a man mowing the grass around the sign on the Sabbath.

 

A covenant is to establish a relationship based on faithfulness to a solemn vow. The covenant with Abraham had three parts: Abraham’s family would have descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky, they would have a special relationship with God, and they would have a homeland flowing with milk and honey. There was another part to be added. How would all these descendants organize and order their lives in this land of milk and honey they hoped to get to? They were to order their lives by submitting to God and God’s law.

 

Now a couple of questions come to mind. The Israelites had just busted out of slavery in Egypt. Why would they want to submit themselves to a bunch of rules? What does God get out of this covenant? What do parents get when they promote good sleep, good diet and education? They get a thriving child. God gets a people who feel blessed and have hope. God gets the joy of thriving children.

 

Today in America, freedom is a big deal. We should all be free to do as we wish, to make our own decisions, to follow our own truth. I heard someone in a serious conversation about rules to live by say, “I have decided to direct my life by doing what feels good”. There was a song a few years back that went, “If it feels so good, it can’t be that bad.”   Now I must grant that our culture and religion has too often been afraid of enjoying life. There have been parts of the Church that have promoted self-sacrifice for its own sake, and piety has been displayed as seriousness and a generally dismal disposition. If this woman had been taught that self-flogging was how to earn her parents or God’s love, then to do what feels good may seem like a divine corrective. The least we could do is cut her some slack for going overboard the other direction.

 

I feel it is extremely important to recognize that Jesus was crucified for what he was not willing to sacrifice. The Pharaohs and Caesars, Herods and Pilates of the world want obedience as if they were gods. With their wealth and power they may use a carrot or a stick; they would tempt you with pleasure to get your obedience, or more often, just beat or kill enough to get you to bend to their will. If you were lucky, you had a choice. You could join them, become one of them, worshipping pleasure and punishing anyone who threatened to limit your acquisition of more power and pleasure, or you could accept oppression and say and do whatever you needed to just to survive. Jesus has the freedom to become one of them, to rise up through the ranks of power and be served as a king. Yet he refuses. And he could have just accepted his fate as oppressed and said and did what he needed to survive. Yet Jesus chose not to give up his freedom to worship the one God of love. He was not willing to sacrifice his own integrity. He was not willing to sacrifice true hope. Thus, while he was nailed to a cross, his heart soared free like an eagle. The violence and blood and suffering of Jesus does not save us. What does save us is that we see in Jesus that the temptation of power and pleasure, our sins, and the threat of violence and bloodshed cannot kill or extinguish God’s eternal grace and love. Jesus loves us, forgives us. There is nothing you can do to get God not to love you. Following Jesus doesn’t mean we are to seek out suffering, as if suffering is good in and of itself. Following Jesus means being loving and gracious with joy and thanksgiving to God, no matter what…even if it means suffering.

So suffering for its own sake saves nothing. But trying to order our common life on the idea we should all do what feels good to us is a prescription for disintegration. I may want the freedom to run right through an intersection without stopping. But if everybody takes that freedom then we lose the freedom to not get in accidents or traffic jams. I may want the freedom to throw trash out my window, but if we all do that we lose freedom from trash. For some, doing what feels good may mean polluting our water and air, and buying elections. For the unmarried who want freedom to have sex, the idea of mutually consenting helps. But it is still morally complicated: are you mutually consenting to raising a child together, mutually consenting to an abortion… and certainly the child cannot consent to being raised by one parent or being raised in poverty. Who consents to paying health costs for disease or childbirth? Who consents to loss of freedom when they gain the responsibility of a child. For someone who likes to drink, they want the freedom to drink as much as they want. But often over time they begin to discover they have lost the freedom to not drink. When we make what we desire our god, then we become slave to our desires. AA has learned that to be free we have to surrender to a higher power.

I was reading up on the problem of the recent influx of immigrants from Guatemala. In seven regions of Guatemala, most up by the Mexican borders, the police have completely pulled out and the drug cartels are in control. In Guatemala they have never had enough equality to get the rich to pay taxes or increase wages. The one amazing attempt to balance out power ended in 1954 with a US funded and orchestrated coup, assuring that the wealthy could continue to extract wealth without sharing. The result of this long history of exploitation is that there has never been a government that served the people, never been a government with enough tax revenue, honesty or integrity to maintain decent roads, schools, hospitals, sanitation, water or a police force. So the police and justice system are just too weak to maintain the rule of law, and people and business suffer. The strongest and most violent win until they don’t. They have freedom to make all the money they want, until community life is so chaotic that it starts to take money and life away. The freedom to extract wealth from other countries without contributing to the well- being of the laborers has meant that now those countries send drugs and people our way to draw upon our resources. On world communion Sunday, let us affirm that we are bound together by our common creator and the nourishing grace of Christ.

Bob Dylan sang,

You may be a state trooper, you might be an young turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord you might even own banks.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Whatever or to whomever we pledge allegiance we worship, we make an idol of. We all have various allegiances, alliances, contracts but only one God. It is true we may worship more than one god. We may make the nation our God, our lover, our drug, money or power or beauty or some ideology or race. But we are gonna serve somebody.

 

  1. I am the Lord your God. Have no other God’s before me.
  2. Make no idols, don’t give allegiance to temporal things
  3. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Don’t use God’s name for your own purposes or disrespect the name of God.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day – When we take time to worship, we rejuvenate our heart mind body and soul. The Sabbath is about sustainability for labor and land. It is for taking time and giving thanks to God.
  5. Honor father and mother.
  6. Thou shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness or lie
  10. You shall not covet

Obedience to God increases freedom. It gives us the freedom to become that person we were made to be, freedom to be the best we can be. It gives us freedom from lack of trust and hope, freedom from chaos. As an individual a part of a covenant people, our obedience even and especially when obedience is not easy, and we have to suffer to maintain our integrity and do what is right helps others, and their obedience helps us, so that together we become all we can be both as individuals and as a people.

We are not God. We fall short. Every person in this room. We sin. But the joy of knowing the power and grace of God through Christ we can keep our eyes on the prize: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.