3rd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 8) LSB #’s 913, 698, 685
Text – Galatians 5:13
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
USING OUR FREEDOM
People who live in the United States hear a lot of talk about freedom. It is one of the founding principles of our nation. We defeated the British in the Revolutionary war so we could exercise freedom. Yet, our nation itself has struggled to give freedom equally to all people. We fought a civil war to end slavery & grant freedom to the people who were enslaved.
In spite of all the talk in our nation about freedom, in spite of all the history that has revolved around the concept & practice of freedom, much of the time people skip right over defining what they mean by the word freedom. For all the time & energy spent on discussing it, you’d think every American should be able to give a sound definition of the word.
If I were to ask, “What is the definition of freedom?” that may strike you as an easy question to answer. So, think for a moment – “What would you write down as a definition for freedom?” Keep in mind that in the very beginning, Adam & Eve had the freedom to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil. They also had the freedom not to eat of it.
You know how that turned out. And the concept of freedom has been greatly confused ever since. As much as Americans talk about, or celebrate freedom, the vast majority of us have no idea what it means. Members of the church at Galatia had the same problem, therefore St. Paul writes to them in the hope of helping them understand.
Yet, because of our sinful nature, in this life, we can never live truly free lives. It will always be a constant struggle to do so, whether we realize that or not. Every one of us needs regular instruction in what it means to be free because our very own sinful nature wants us to be enslaved. So often today, when people think they are exercising their freedom they are instead acting as slaves. In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Adam & Eve by urging them to use their freedom in disobedience to God’s instruction. In their choice to disobey their Creator they put themselves into slavery, & submitted to Satan as their master.
Did the Devil warn them ahead of time, that slavery would be the result? Does he warn you, ahead of time, when you are being tempted to ignore the instruction of God? An evil master never sounds a warning about the suffering to come. Jesus is also a Master, but He is a Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. He does warn us of the dangers ahead.
Thus St. Paul begins chapter 5 of his letter to the church at Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, & do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV) If you caught the grammar in that sentence, it is telling us that we are responsible if we make the choice that throws us back into slavery.
After about 4000 years of history, millennia filled with the violence & suffering caused by man’s sin, God the Son came in human flesh in order to set all of mankind free. He lived a perfect life so we could receive credit for that. He made the payment that erased every one of our sins. To top it off, His body was raised from the dead as the beginning of the new creation.
In believing that, & in trusting that, you are set free from the slavery to sin & guilt that you were born into. Now that your Creator has saved you from an eternity of violence & suffering, you no longer have to worry about doing this, or not doing that, so you can enter heaven. God’s Son has given paradise to you as a gift. He has set you free from sin & shame.
The question now is, “How do you live?” How do you put that freedom to work? How does the new creation live in you? God tells us, by way of St. Paul, to use our freedom by serving one another through love. Satan tempts us to use freedom to serve ourselves. What he doesn’t say up front is that in serving ourselves we actually become his slaves. In serving ourselves we are pulling the old, broken & twisted creation out of the grave. In serving others we are simply doing what comes naturally to the saintly nature. Or, as Paul put it, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, & you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 ESV)
As children of God, it is the Holy Spirit that animates us, empowers us & when we are tired & frustrated lifts us up as on eagles’ wings. That comes not from slavery, but from freedom. Here’s where our misguided definition of freedom comes into play & confuses us.
Because of our nation’s history, we naturally think of freedom in political terms. Because we are sinful, we think of freedom as the right to choose what to do with our lives, what to do with or to our bodies. We think of ourselves as totally autonomous creatures that have the “right” to do whatever we choose.
I’ve never heard anyone who supports abortion bring God’s design into the debate. They don’t make any effort to publicly consider God’s will. For people who are pro-choice it is all about the freedom of a woman to decide what happens to her body. They do not concede any role whatsoever to The Creator.
Nowhere in Holy Scripture does God abdicate those rights. Do you sense a feeling of irritation in your sinful nature? Yet, God had Isaiah write these words, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” (43:1 ESV) Those words drive our sinful nature crazy. It’s why the theory of evolution was put forward – to disguise the obvious truth that we are not our own.
Our Lord did not create us for corruption & evil. He created us for truth & beauty, but falling to Satan’s temptation, Adam & Eve shattered what Yahweh had so lovingly built. Even though we still see beauty in God’s creation, we also see unimaginable evil. That evil is not limited to unbelievers. Children of God also cause incredible harm because we do not understand the gift of freedom that Christ has given to us. We end up using it as an opportunity for the flesh, rather than to serve one another through love. A direct example of that has been given to Christians right now by our Supreme Court.
The overturning of Roe vs. Wade will present opportunities for the flesh & it will present opportunities to serve one another. How will you respond? There’s the temptation to vilify people who have had abortions. There’s the temptation to despise people who are celebrating the death of children through abortion. Hatred does not turn people to Christ.
There are also an unlimited number of opportunities, through love, for serving one another. From Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, we collected diapers & baby wipes to donate to a local pregnancy center. That is a very safe way of supporting mothers, fathers & children who are in difficult circumstances, but would not rather choose abortion.
Personally befriending single mothers, before & after they give birth, is a more difficult & time consuming way to serve one another. However, the rewards of loving in that way can be much greater than the rewards for simply donating diapers.
Raising your children in a home that is intentionally, & daily, focused on Jesus Christ will help them to be better parents one day. Volunteering at a pregnancy center, advocating for adoption, donating financial resources to organizations that do those things, all of them are ways to address the current situation that God has presented to us for serving one another through love.
You see, true freedom has nothing to do with politics. True freedom is actually the opposite of total, personal autonomy. True freedom is not about being free of any sort of earthly master. True freedom is about an honestly free & joyful conscience that is unafraid of the wrath to come. True freedom is being able to do the Godly thing, no matter the cost here on earth.
Nothing of this life is ours anyway. All that we have is on loan to us from the heavenly
Father, or, as the song lyrics say, “We give Thee but Thine own Lord, whate’er the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” (LSB 781:1) Since nothing of this life is ours, children of God are free of the slavery that possessions would chain us to.
Still, living in this corrupted world, even as God’s children, you & I constantly face two dangers: 1) using our own works to justify ourselves before other people & before God; & 2) misusing our Christian liberty to live in sin. St. Paul encourages us to use our freedom through love to serve one another instead. Exercising that kind of freedom never harms anyone.
That is what the saintly nature desires to do. It is good to be reminded of it, especially as our Independence Day celebrations are just around the corner. Christ has given us freedom from a bad conscience even though we daily sin much. That gift was not given so that our lives can run amuck serving our every dream & fancy. Our lives are not our own. We belong to God.
In the Gospel reading we heard that Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem. That means He focused totally upon the mission He was to accomplish there, through love to serve sinners. Jesus traveled there, focused upon His suffering & death, & focused also upon His resurrection. He served us in this way that we might have our sins forgiven & join Him in heaven.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead with now perfect human flesh, so shall we. We can rest at night, no matter what we have done, because repentance takes us back to our Savior who washed away our sins. We can rest at night in spite of the horrors of this life, because we know that the life to come will have no sorrow & no tears.
With nothing to lose from this life, we can use our freedom to deny ourselves & to serve others through the love that almighty God provides us with each & every day. Amen.
May we Thy precepts, Lord, fulfill & do on earth our Father’s will as angels do above; still walk in Christ, the living way, with all Thy children & obey the law of Christian love. Amen. LSB 698:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet