Pentecost 4 Year A July 2, 2017 Grace Llano
Today's sermon is about moving from slavery to freedom. We know several stories of being freed from slavery don't we. The major Old Testament story of moving from slavery to freedom in the Bible is, of course, the story of the Exodus, when God called Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt into freedom, the freedom of being God's people. That one story - the Exodus Story - has shaped the faith of the Jews ever since, and it shapes us as Christians also.
The Lord wants us to be free to serve him, no matter what. If we are a free people, then it becomes easier in a way, to serve Him…
Or does it?
Isn't it also true that when we are free, it becomes all too easy to take our freedom for granted, and to forget God and what we're supposed to do for him. That's what the Hebrews did time and time again. And the prophets kept calling them back to Yahweh time and time again.
In a way, having to remember to count on God, to rely on Him becomes easier when we're having to struggle in the tough times. In the struggle mode, we have to reach out to find God and experience his strength and his grace, his love and his guidance.
I would be remiss if, on this July 4th weekend, I didn't mention the freedoms we have in this country. One of the bold actions our forefathers took in order to be free from the bondage of taxation without representation, was to dump all the king's tea in the harbor. And the Revolutionary War began.
Freedom from bondage. Freedom from taxation with representation. Freedom from having a monarch.
And then about a century later than the Revolutionary War, we experienced a torn country over many issues, one of the main ones being emancipation from slavery - the slaves that we owned here in America. And then we experienced an ongoing struggle for those who were used to owning slaves, and the struggle of those now free - the struggle of how to live into that new way of life.
But let's return to Biblical and spiritual bondage:
St. Paul talks about another kind of slavery -- slavery to sin. What frees us from that kind of slavery? Or perhaps the better question would be "who" frees us from that kind of slavery - slavery to sin? It's Jesus, isn't it. The major New Testament story of moving from slavery into freedom is Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. It's the Christ Event that brings us out of the bondage to sin.
OK - that's freedom from something - what does Jesus' death and resurrection free us FOR?
It frees us for a new kind of slavery - the slavery of obedience to the God who loves us and seeks our true freedom.
But there's a dangerous half-truth going around - the dangerous half-truth is this: "God accepts us as we are." It's true because he does accept us as we are. We don't have to pass a test before he accepts us. He loves us, forgives us, and accepts us "Just as I Am," as the hymn says. Justification is by grace alone, through faith alone.
But here's the catch: Once God does accept us, his grace always changes us. God's grace always transforms us.
What's dangerous about the statement that God accepts us as we are? What makes that statement a half-truth? It's thinking that we don't ever have to change. It's the danger of "cheap grace," as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that German Lutheran pastor called it.
When God accepts us as we are, He knows that he doesn't intend to leave us where we are. He also knows that there is such a thing as us humans continuing to let sin reign in our body. It will require serious moral effort on our part, to combat this tendency. Christian holiness isn't attained by every person simply doing what comes naturally. True freedom is not simply the random, directionless life, but the genuine humanness that reflects the image of God under the Lordship of Christ. The Lordship of Christ makes demands of us that can be as difficult as they are liberating.
So Paul talks about moving from being slaves to sin, into being slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
Here's the deal:
God accepts us as we are.
Then, in the freedom of his grace we begin to be transformed, transfigured.
In Christ we are new creatures, who more and more no longer want to live a life of sinful habits.
In Christ we are new creatures, who more and more desire to obey the Lord in all things as his servants, his disciples obediently doing his will. That is true righteousness.
In response to such love and grace of the Lord, we willingly enter the slavery of righteousness for sanctification. It is only in the deep desire to do the Lord's will and acting on it, that we find freedom, peace and joy.
So, as we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America, let us pray for and strive for more and more people to find true freedom in Christ.
Happy 4th of July, Y'all.