“The Gift of Freedom”

“The Gift of Freedom”
Joshua 24:14-18; Galatians 5:1, 13-26
Rev. Harry Brown July 4, 2021 

On this the 4th of July, the day we commemorate the birth of our nation in the declaration of independence and the freedom we enjoy, it is appropriate for us and especially appropriate for us as Christians to reflect on the gift of freedom that we enjoy and what it means. Freedom is defined by Merriam Webster as: 

  1. The quality or state of being free such as: the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action. 
  2. Liberation from slavery or from the power of another.

The Oxford dictionary defines it as 

  1. The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. 
  2. The absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government.
  3. The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

For us as Christians freedom is more than the right to do what we choose; it involves the forgiveness of our sin and all that this implies. 

Freedom is a tremendous gift. For those of us who have not really experienced slavery or bondage, it’s hard to grasp the importance and power of freedom. Freedom is something that to a significant extent we take for granted and thus don’t take the significance of freedom seriously enough. Because of this, I think it’s important to reflect on the experience of those who have been slaves. 

It isn’t just the violence, backbreaking work, and poverty slaves had to endure, the lack of freedom had even more devastating effects. To explore this we are going to look at the life of a woman names Sojourner Truth. She was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 to enslaved parents, James and Elizabeth Baumfree, in Ulster County, New York. The first thing to note is she is property and not able to determine her own course in life. At age nine, she was separated from her parents and sold at an auction to John Neely for $100, along with a flock of sheep. Imagine what it would be like to have your child sold and taken away from you. Imagine what it would be like as a nine year old child to be separated from your parents. Neely, her new owner, was a cruel and violent master who beat the young girl frequently. She was sold two more times by age 13 and ultimately ended up at the West Park, New York home of John Dumont.

Around age 18, Isabella fell in love with an enslaved man named Robert from a nearby farm. But the couple was not allowed to marry since they had separate owners. Instead, Isabella was forced to marry another enslaved man owned by Dumont named Thomas. She eventually bore five children: James, Diana, Peter, Elizabeth and Sophia. Think what it would do to your heart and mind to be forced to marry someone, not of your choosing. 

Eventually, Dumont promised Isabella he’d grant her freedom on July 4, 1826, “if she would do well and be faithful.” When the date arrived, however, he had a change of heart and refused to let her go. Incensed, Isabella completed what she felt was her obligation to Domont and then escaped his clutches, infant daughter in tow. In what had to be gut-wrenching, she left her other children behind because they were still bound to Dumont. 

Freedom is a tremendous gift. It is the right to do and be what we choose. It certainly involves freedom from slavery and oppression of all kinds. It is a gift that is often fought for and about and those conflicts have literally cost millions of lives. Wars and battles throughout history make this vividly clear. We can go all the way back to God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt and go right through the U.S. war of independence, the Civil War, two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the wars in Iraq and Iran and the current war on terrorism. 

Freedom is a tremendous gift. For us as Christians, the most important part of freedom rests in the forgiveness of our sins through Christ’s death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection. Without forgiveness, all other freedom is diminished. The freedom that comes in forgiveness is a tremendous gift because there is no way we can earn forgiveness. In the words of the apostle Paul, “all have sinned and fallen short” of what God intends us to be. Only the forgiveness that comes to us in Christ restores us to relationship with our holy God and ultimately with one another and enables us to begin to live as the human beings God intends us to be. 

Freedom is a tremendous, tremendous gift. It is also an awesome responsibility. Freedom involves forgiveness as well as the absence of oppression and slavery. It also, and this is very important, always involves the issue of what we do with it. The freedom that comes to us in the forgiveness we have in Christ, and the freedom we have as part of this country means we can while away our lives in idol pursuits if we so choose. But the responsibility that goes with freedom means that we need to use it to make ourselves, our country, and our world a better place for all. This country was founded on a vision of freedom and justice. As Christians, we know that all human beings are created in the image of God and are to have the opportunity to grow into all that God intends them to be.

The issues and questions around how to do this are incredibly complex and continually need to be addressed by society as a whole. The results of this have been and will be imperfect. As Christians, we need to participate in this discussion. Our response to the gift of freedom needs to flow out of the understanding that freedom individually and as a nation and in the world is ultimately a gift from God and needs to be used for God’s glory. Christian freedom is not unrestrained permission to do whatever we please. In the New Testament lesson in Galatians, Paul reminds us that God calls us to freedom, but he adds, “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” Much of what Paul means by this is don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. What he means is don’t use your freedom for self-centered living. Instead, we are to use our freedom for God-centered living. Our freedom in Christ leads us to a life of loving service for the benefit of others. This is a life where faith works through love to build others up. Indeed, faith in Christ makes radical loving service possible and in the process fulfills the will of God for human relationships. 

Freedom to love and serve after the example that Christ sets for us is God’s intention for us and all humanity. Real freedom is a gift from God given through faith. Like all good gifts, it can be misused. Believers can misuse the freedom they have to dominate and abuse others. And on the other side of the coin, people who love and serve can be taken advantage of and abused. I think this is a significant part of the reason that Paul makes the distinction between living for the flesh and living a God-centered life in the Spirit. 

As Christians, we are to avoid the works of the flesh which are reflected in self-centered things like pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. Instead, we are to rely on the Spirit to live out our freedom that we might learn where it rests and what it involves. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness and self-control are some of the gifts of the Spirit that are expressions of the freedom that we enjoy as believers in the crucified risen Christ who calls to follow him into the freedom of loving service to others. 

Those who belong to Christ are to turn away from the flesh with its passions and desires. Following Jesus, we are to die to the enticements and power of the flesh and are no longer to be under its spell. Instead, we are to live in the freedom of the rule of the Spirit. We exercise self-control and put the needs of others ahead of their own needs. Following Jesus, who exchanged places with sinful humanity, taking upon himself the curse we deserved in order that humanity might receive forgiveness by grace through faith. As Jesus’ followers, we are freed and empowered to serve others in the same loving, self-sacrificing ways. This is much more than simply going down to help at the soup kitchen one or two days a month, not that this is unimportant. Loving service to others is seeking each day in every area of life to live in such a way that people are enabled and encouraged to become all that God intends them to be.

There is no power for this way of life apart from the power that is given in the Spirit. Through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the spirit of the risen Christ is now available to us, to believers who have been transferred through faith into the realm of God’s rule. By faith, Christ’s followers are enabled to practice divine faithfulness, the foremost expression of which is love for God and others. Love is the greatest gift of the Spirit and the greatest expression of our freedom in Christ. 

Using our freedom responsibly through walking by the Spirit is not something that is optional for us as Christians. Either we are governed by the controlling power of the flesh and will exhibit unrighteousness in self-centered living or we are under the controlling power of the Spirit and will display God’s righteousness in the world loving God and neighbor. This is why Paul is so adamant that the Galatians and all who are Christians walk by the Spirit and live by the Spirit. The freedom we have as Christians leads us into lives of faithful loving service after the example of Christ. May it be so in our living. Amen. 

About Rev. Harry Brown