Thursday, July 1, 2010

John 8:31-41 - Sermon - Freedom, A Sermon for July 4th

John 8:31-41

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent & inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their happiness.

You all might recognize this, because it is the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. 234 years ago this was signed by those Founding Fathers who wished to shake off the British Empire and start a country here in the new world. They wanted to create a country that granted their citizens rights that did not have. People came to this new world for different reasons. Some came because they wanted land, wealth and opportunity. Some came because they were being persecuted in their land and so they came seeking religious freedom. Others sought out a place where they could find peace and others came simply looking for honest work. This hasn’t really changed over the years and people still come to our glorious nation for these same reasons.

We live in the most powerful, wealthiest, and influential nations in the world. I have had the pleasure of living and visiting in other countries and there is no other place I would like to call home. And let’s face it the best State in the Union for many reasons, one of which is that we declared our independence a whole year before the Founding Fathers did. There is no better place in the world where we can live as people endowed by their creator with inherent & inalienable rights.

We can come here today and worship freely, free to choose what religion we practice and one that is not dictated by the government. We come here today to worship a God who is all about freedom as well. As United Methodists we believe in free will. This means that God has granted us the gift of choice and we either choose to believe in God and to live as God commands, or we can choose not to. Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden, were first given this freedom and they thought they would choose to be like God instead of living like God has asked.

Free will is not the only way our God enjoys freedom. The Bible is littered with lots of stories about God granting freedom to his people. When his chosen people were slaves in Egypt he called a stuttering murderer to set his people free. God’s people found freedom through the Red Sea and into the wilderness for forty years until they could enter the promise land. Yet their freedom did not last forever. In 587 BCE they entered into a second exile, this type it was Babylon that took them over and moved them away from their land. Eventually they made it back and built the second temple. But then the Romans came in and kept them prisoners of this ruling nation but in their own land. This time God decided to free all of humanity by sending his Son into the world to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. They were looking for a militaristic messiah, one that would come with a sword and an army. Instead the world got what God knew they needed, a suffering servant and the perfect example of sacrificial and agape, or unconditional, love.

Here in America we love stories of people who use the freedoms found in this country to do something that changes the world. In 2004 a 19 year old Harvard student launched a website focused on being an social network for colleges. It started as only for Harvard and then the other colleges in the Boston area, then colleges all over the nation. Then finally they let anyone over the age of 13 on to the site. Now this website is used by over 400 million active users, it is worth an estimated $11.5 billion, and people spend over 500 billion minutes per month on the website known as Facebook. The CEO and co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg is only 25 years old.

Andrew was born in Scotland to a very poor family. As a family of weavers they were soon put out of business due to the creation of automatic looms, so in 1848 they emigrated to the US and arrived almost penniless to Pittsburg. There at the age of 13 he got his first job as a “bobbin boy” in a factory making $1.25 a week and by the age of 16 he got a job translating telegraphs for a railroad company. Through the years though he grew an appreciation for the railroads and a knack for business. Soon he found himself on the top of the railroad world with his investments in steel, railroad sleeper cars, and bridges. Andrew went from nothing to being the second richest man in his time and a philanthropist. Now there is a running joke about one of the concert halls he built to encourage the arts in New York City. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”

Andrew Carnegie and Mark Zuckerberg are classic American stories that we cherish as a nation. It shows what can be done by people who take the freedom our country gives us. It is something we all aspire to and it is at the heart of the American Dream. We as 2010 Americans look at freedom and we desire more of it. Yet our idea of freedom is not necessarily the same as the one God sees. The American idea of freedom is the ability to do whatever we want and to not have any demands on our lives. This is an empowering freedom because we are allowed to do whatever WE want and it is not dictated by others. It empowers the individual and gives hope to other people who want to aspire to do something great.

But that is not God’s understanding of freedom. God’s idea of freedom sounds strangely different than our American ideals. Geoffrey Wainwright in his book Doxology says this about human freedom, “When we turn from idols and commit ourselves to this God, we are offering ourselves to him in obedience for his service, which is perfect freedom.” He also says, “God is both the source and goal of human freedom.” The Biblical idea of freedom is doing what God wants, it is obedience. It is a life of pure discipleship.

As Jesus talked to the Jews who believed in him he had to change their worldview a little. For them they were part of God’s chosen people. They were decedents of Abraham. They did not understand Jesus when he said “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” They thought that since they were part of Abraham’s kin that they were already free. But Jesus takes them a little further down the road of theology. He tells them, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a song belongs to it forever.”

In essence what Jesus is telling them is that it doesn’t matter who your earthly descendants are. It doesn’t matter what nationality you are. It only matters that you realize what you are…a sinful creature, a slave to sin. The only way we are able to find freedom from sin, and find a permanent place in God’s family is through the Son, through Jesus Christ. We are free to choose to be a part of this Holy family or we choose not to, that is our God given freedom. But when we choose Christ we are pulled closer to God and are called to live out a life in obedience to God.

That is the major difference between the American idea of freedom and the reality of God’s freedom is that the American idea concentrates on the individual. It drives us apart from one another. It separates us from the flock and builds up Me, My, and I. American freedom is all about what I can do. The freedom found in God and given by God brings us together as humanity because it demands we follow God by loving God and loving our neighbor. God’s freedom, the freedom offered here on the table this morning is a calling to obedience. This freedom doesn’t give us the ability to do whatever we want but instead demands we do what God wants. We have the God given freedom to choose and we can chose to be like the Jews in this scripture, and turn away from Jesus. Or we can hear Christ’s warning, “you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word,” and choose perfect freedom. The Perfect Freedom found in turning away from idols and committing ourselves to God in obedience for his service.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

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