One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in Deuteronomy:
1When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, 5you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The LORD brought us out of
God gives freedom. The whole story of the Exodus tells us that God had made a covenant with the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. Those descendants were down in
But it is, in a sense, a terrible thing to be part of God’s people. Freedom given from God is not freedom to do as we wish. It is freedom to be what God intends us to be. The people of
But something happened in exile in
So was the Passover. Every year the people would gather and remember that God had set them free. No matter how awful daily life might be, God was still a God who brought liberation.
But freedom always exists within bounds. I remember hearing James McCord when he was president of Princeton Seminary preach one time that God was not only a God of liberation. God did not simply lead the people out of
People drive up the street I live on with stereos that have massive bass speakers in their cars. They turn the music up loud and the bass reverberates through the neighborhood. My house shakes and I can hear the bass notes even with the windows closed. Now I like loud music as much as the next person. But when in my house I want to hear my own music, not that of someone driving by. Fire and police sirens I understand. They are necessary. So are train whistles. But as nice as the driver with the bass booster is to share his music with me, I wish he wouldn’t. He probably claims to have the freedom to play the music as loud as he wants. What about my freedom to be at peace in my house?
And if we all thought we were free to do as we wish the roads would be a colossal mess. If we all thought that we don’t have to stop at stop signs or at red lights traffic would be so snarled that no one would ever get anywhere! (Oops, I forgot: there must be a new law I haven’t read that says that four cars can turn left on red!)
I’m going to come back to the limits on freedom. There is another freedom that is important: the freedom God gives in Jesus Christ.
Jesus came and taught the way of freedom. He lived the way of freedom. He died and rose again to set us free. And curiously the way of freedom for Jesus was the way of obedience to the Father. We are set free from the powers of sin and death because Jesus chose to obey the Father, to allow himself to be arrested, to die in our place. Jesus shows us that the way of freedom includes the way of obedience to the Father.
Martin Luther puts it this way:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all. Martin Luther, A Treatise on Christian Liberty)
As Luther points out, this sounds like a contradiction. It isn’t. God made us for freedom. Jesus died to set us free. But Jesus didn’t die so that we could do as we please, totally ignoring God. As Paul says in Romans, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2 NIV)
I spoke previously about the covenants God makes. God always acts with grace first. Then God calls people to be the people of God, to be holy, to live for God. Our freedom then is to be dedicated to serving God.
That is freedom for the people of God. What about freedom for others? Contrary to what Christians did for more than 1500 years, we cannot impose obedience to God upon others. There are at least two kinds of freedoms in a free society. There is the freedom of the people of God, which is freedom to serve God. There is also freedom for everyone. When Christians come to legislate in a free society they cannot impose their beliefs on others as law. We must make a case that the laws we propose, (and this must be true for all), are good for all no matter what people believe. In a sense we could say that law is based on freedom. One cannot kill another because killing takes away the freedom of the other to live. One cannot pay another substandard wages because the worker deserves the freedom to live and eat. Law must be for the good of all the people. Christians cannot impose, say, attendance at Christian worship upon others.
The problem with freedom in
The same is true in the PCUSA. We have taken on the language of rights, the watchword of the Enlightenment. People say they have the right to be ordained. No one has the right to be ordained. God calls people to particular tasks and gives people the gifts to enable them to carry out those tasks. Many tasks demand a certain amount of holy behavior. A congregation should not call a pastor who openly has a wife and a mistress. Yes, I know, there were people in the Old Testament who had concubines. In fact it was even a habit that was not ruled out among Christians in the early years. But we have come to see that God calls most men and women together to be one, to be married. One cannot be one with more than one other person. Check out the stories of those in the Old Testament who had more than one wife! Everyone man who had more than one wife or wives and concubines had troubles.
In the Church we have freedom within limits. We are free to serve God. Even if we are oppressed for our faith we are free because Christ has made us free.
Let us so live that our freedom shows that we love the Lord with all our hearts, minds and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. That is true freedom.