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3rd sunday in ordinary time

July 7, 2002

True Freedom

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

What is Freedom?

This past week we celebrate our national independence. The Fourth of July is the day we revel in and give thanks to God for our freedoms. We enjoy the freedom of speech. We are free to express our views on life without the fear of government reprisals. We enjoy the freedom of the press. We can publish our unique perspective and distribute our ideas to whoever will read them. We have the freedom to worship. The government is not allowed to dictate what we believe or how we express those religious beliefs. We are free to travel to any part of the US or foreign country. We are free to do nearly anything we want but are we truly free.

“My goal is financial independence,” Ted said to his pastor as they walked down the fairway toward the 7th green. The pastor was not surprised. Ted projected the image of a driven man. He had built a small business into a great corporation now worth millions by “the sweat of his brow,” as he likes to put it. His whole life was geared to gaining financial independence. And with a couple of million dollars to his name, he had nearly accomplished his goal. I wonder how free is Ted. I wonder if Ted’s quest for financial freedom has required him to become a slave.i

Some of us would like to think that freedom is being able to do whatever we want to do. We are free only if we are liberated from the constraints of social expectations, political laws, traditions, and customs. Eric Hoffer, the author of Future Shock wrote "When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other."

Today people are exercising their freedom by deciding whether they will or will not marry, by living in nontraditional relationships, by pursuing the career of their dreams not their parents and sometimes by deciding when to end the lifelong commitment they made to another person. However, I wonder if people are truly free. I wonder if our loud claims of freedom are not simply the rattling of our chains. I say that because few people are truly free. We all have our limitations. As an avid lover of the wilderness, I would long to walk for days through virgin forests unblemished by the scars of western civilization. Unfortunately, there are few places left on this planet where I can do that and most are located beyond my travel budget.

True Freedom

In our Scripture lesson today, Jesus gives us the model of two men who lived free lives – John the Baptist and himself. The passage begins by Jesus explaining to his disciples the role of the Baptist. He was the prophet who called Israel back to the Law. He was the messenger who came to prepare the way for the Messiah.

Many in Israel understood John’s message. They had heard the stories and predictions in the synagogue. They overheard their fathers talking about it in the marketplace. They had memorized the passages as small children. Before the messiah would come, God would send Elijah to announce the coming of the day of the Lord. While everyone looked for the physical return of Elijah from heaven, God sent the spirit of Elijah in the form of John the Baptist. He obeyed the letter of the law, not because he was a slave to the Law, but rather, out of his commitment to God. He words had a sting to them. His lifestyle exposed the greed and excesses of the Jewish religion. John never tired to be politically correct. The Jewish leaders denounced him and refused to dance to his tune. They allowed Herod to arrest him and eventually kill him. Yet, John lived and died a free man.

Then Jesus came. He played a different tune. His message surprised even John the Baptist who expected him to come brandishing a sword. But Jesus would not conform to the expectations of either the Pharisees or John. He would not become a slave to their comfortable religion of rules and regulations. He would live a free life by loving the outcast, by healing on the Sabbath, by breaking social norms and customs that prevented people from encountering the living God. He would live this free life even in the face of opposition, persecution, and eventually death.

After his experience in a Nazi death camp, Viktor Frankl wrote the book Man's Search for Meaning, telling the story of how men and women remained strangely, resolutely free even when all freedom was taken away. He wrote:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances - to choose one's own way.

Mark was a young man who discovered the freedom in Christ during his search for a position as an attorney. During his senior year in law school, he was invited for an interview at a prestigious law firm. The first visit went very well. They had him stay in a fancy hotel, took him to elegant dinners. He had great discussions about the work he would be doing if he joined the firm.

He really liked the partners of the firm. Everything was falling into place until the last few hours of the visit. One of the members casually mentioned that one of the firm’s clients owned and operated a video poker and gambling operation.

Mark was shocked. He believed that such activities were a sign of bad government and morally wrong. He took issue with the appropriateness of representing the company with one of the partners. The partners became defensive and justified their action because the company’s activities were within the boundary of the law.

Mark was adamant. It may be legal but it was not ethical to represent a company that preyed upon human frailty and ignorance. Mark returned home and as expected received a letter informing him that the firm had decided to move in another direction. His pastor visited him to console him. He had lost his dream job. To his pastor’s surprise he said,

"Actually, I feel great. I'm grateful that they gave me the opportunity to clarify who I am and what I want from the practice of law. I'm OK. I now have a much better idea of the kind of law I want to practice. I just feel sorry for them because I know that many of them feel the same way I feel, but they are trapped in the system and can't get out."

"I'm a Christian," he said. "I'm not just living my life on the basis of what I want, or just by what seems right to me. I'm trying to live my life as Jesus might want."

Which man is Free?

Remember Ted? At the age of 55, Ted suffered a debilitating stroke. He is now confined to a wheelchair with little use of his arms and legs. He has great difficulty communicating to his family. His pastor shared, “Forgive me if, when I now visit him, I think of his goal of financial independence and wonder if it was worth the cost.”

Let me ask you, which man is free, the businessman who drove himself to find financial freedom, or the young man who placed his principles before his career?

The Yoke of Freedom

I believe that the path to freedom requires us to take up the yoke of Christ. The imagery has a strange paradox. A yoke is the symbol of slavery and bondage, hard labor and drudgery. Yet, Jesus gives it new meaning by saying that his demands are easy and his yoke is light because it is the only thing that leads to true freedom

St. Augustine first noted this when he was a young man. He had lived a rather carefree, sometimes licentious existence. The great saint had even fathered a child out of wedlock. Then, his life got caught up in Christ. He was converted. After his conversion, Augustine discovered that freedom was not expressed in doing what one wants to do. That too easily led to slavery. Freedom means being free to be who God intends us to be. Before that happens, our lives are jerked around by external and alien forces, distractions that hinder us from being all that we ought to be.

It can be great freedom to find our lives caught up in the plans and purposes of God. In bearing a burden other than our own selfish desires, we become free to be who God created us to be. That is true freedom.

i All the material for this sermon comes from William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 27, No. 3, “True Freedom.”

© 2010 All material including but not limited to information, images, graphics, and email addresses is published strictly for the spiritual edification of the viewers and may not be used without the express permission of the Crossroads Presbyterian Church.

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1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390

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