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Freedom Isn’t Free

July 4, 2010
Sermon:  Freedom Isn’t Free
Text:  II Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1, 13; I Peter 2:16; Ephesians 3:11-12

 

Responsive Reading: 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
We were called to be free.
Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Live as free people.
But do not use your freedom, as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

 

What a special day this is, the Fourth of July, Independence Day!  I have recently gone back in my memory and recalled the celebration of this holiday with my family.  For a long time, I thought all the hullabaloo on July 4th was because my mother was celebrating her birthday.  She was, in fact, a real firecracker.

The larger Neely family used to celebrate the Fourth by going to a farm in the Walnut Grove area.  We had a wonderful picnic that included fried chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad, the best coleslaw you ever tasted, soggy tomato sandwiches, a big banana pudding, and blackberry cobbler.  We just ate and ate.  It is the way I kept my figure for so long.  Then we would swim in a pond that was so muddy it turned us yellow.  We had to take a shower when we got out of the water.  A few tried to fish, but the fish were not biting very much when all those kids were splashing around and laughing.  After dark, the uncles would shoot fireworks.  There was a little bit of flag waving, but it was a special day simply because everyone took the day off from work, which was unusual in our family.

Today is that kind of day.  You have already made plans about how you are going to celebrate this holiday.  Some of you will spend the day rather quietly, while others will gather with family and friends.  You will probably eat good food, and you might hear some good music.  I look forward every year to hearing John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” and seeing a few fireworks.  From the top floor of the hospital last night, I could see fireworks from Barnet Park’s Red, White and Boom event and from the Cowpens Battlefield.  It was quite a festivity.

This particular Sunday of the year can be one of the most difficult Sundays on which to preach a sermon.  It could be very easy if we took only a short-sighted view and gave in to the temptation to focus only on the patriotic spirit.  On a day such as this, we could easily lose sight of the fact that we are here in this Sanctuary to worship, to remember our Lord Jesus Christ.  While we love our country and want to commemorate this day, we have a higher priority as Christian people.  We are to look carefully at the Scriptures about freedom, reflecting on what God intended for His people in times past and to see clearly what God intends for His people in this day and age. 

It will surprise some of you to hear me say that the gospel of Christ is really not about our American identity at all.  Freedom is certainly an American value, but it is not an American idea new to the American colonies.  The signers of the Declaration of Independence did not come up with a new concept.  The notion of freedom is very old, embedded deeply in our Scriptures.  It is an important biblical principle.  

The story of the Hebrew people is about God’s intervention in the lives of people who were in bondage.  God spoke to Moses at a bush that was burning but was not consumed, “Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go.”  Moses led those people into liberty though it did not seem much like liberty at first.  They endured years of wilderness wandering but finally entered the land of promise. 

Jesus talked about freedom and modeled for us a life that was lived freely before God.  In the Gospel of John, he said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). 

The Scriptures in our responsive reading today, all from either the pen of the Apostle Paul or the Apostle Peter, are about freedom in circumstances very different from our own.  What is the nature of this freedom they write about in these passages?  Do you remember what the world was like when those great apostles wrote these words?  Do you remember that a Roman emperor, late in the first century, demanded that he be called “Lord”?  Do you remember that Christians were being persecuted and that Paul and even Peter were at one time both imprisoned?  They write, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Consider our country’s history.  Even at the time that our Declaration of Independence was signed and the colonies declared their freedom from the British Empire, some people in this country were already living in bondage.  Many of those same signers of the Declaration owned slaves.  Freedom was a new idea for this country, but not a new idea in the world.  Freedom was only partial freedom at the beginning.

In his book The Freedom of the Christian, Martin Luther wrote about a very strange paradox in Christian life.  A Christian is perfectly free, subject to none.  At the same time, however, a Christian is perfectly dutiful, a servant of all, a subject to all.  Both Paul and Peter used the phrase “live as free as servants.”  It is a strange way to talk about freedom, but the truth is that our freedom frees us to choose whom we will serve.  We are to serve God first, but we are to serve others as well in the act of love. 

How many times do we hear the explanation, “I demand my rights”?  We believe that freedom means having conditions just the way we want them.

A social studies teacher instructing her class about the Constitution of the United States gave her students an assignment when they came to that portion known as The Bill of Rights.  As the class studied those first ten amendments, which delineate every freedom we are all to enjoy, she said, “For each amendment mentioned in The Bill of Rights, I want you to write a corresponding Bill of Responsibility.”  Think about her assignment, one that would be good for every American to complete.  Every right has a companion responsibility. 

Freedom is not a no-holds-barred open-ended freedom.  It is one that assumes responsibility.  Every time we have a freedom, we also have more responsibility.  This is the reason Scriptures tell us that we are to live as free as servants.  It is not as if we can be completely free from everything.  We choose the One whom we will serve.  For Paul and Peter, they encouraged early Christians to submit to Christ, to be servants to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul and Peter’s contention was that only then could true freedom be found: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as an excuse for sin or self-indulgence or as a cover-up for evil.  Live as servants of God.” 

Consider for a moment the freedom of speech and the responsibility that goes with that particular freedom.  If you want to conduct a little experiment in perfect freedom, no-holds-barred, give my dad a little Demerol and bring a cute nurse into the hospital room.  You will see the people around him trying to assume responsibility for the freedom he thinks he has to say just about whatever comes to his mind.  This silly little example illustrates the fact that our freedoms do not give us a blank check to do whatever we want to do.  Every single freedom has with it a kind of responsibility.

Our freedom really is not individual freedom.  It is freedom in Christ, and it has everything to do with how we live in relationship to other people.  Our freedom equips us to live in a compatible, peaceful, and self-controlled relationship with others.  Paul says that it means loving one another as Christ has first loved us.  That kind of responsibility is something that the Christian church needs to take very seriously. It is our responsibility to set the example in living out what true freedom means.  We must do that for our children.  We must do it for our fellow Americans.  We must do it as citizens of this world.  We are world citizens, after all.  Reinhold Niebuhr put it this way, “Love means being responsible, responsible to our family, to our civilization, to our history, and toward all of humankind.”  Christian freedom does not let us off the hook.  It is freedom to serve.  It is freedom to love.  It is freedom to do all that we do to the glory of God.  It is so important for us to celebration this as Americans; but for those of us who are Christians, it is equally important for us to remember that wherever we are in this world, this is the way that we are to live.

On a radio broadcast in 1956, Paul Harvey delivered one of his “Rest of the Story” pieces focusing on the Declaration of Independence.  I have shared it with you before, and I want to share an excerpt with you now.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

 Ben Franklin was the only elderly man among the fifty-six signers.  Eighteen were under 40; three were in their 20s.  Almost half were judges and lawyers.  Eleven were merchants, nine were landowners and farmers, and the remaining twelve were doctors, ministers and politicians.

With few exceptions, such as Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, these were men of substantial property.  All but two had families.  The vast majority were men of education and standing in their communities.

Each had more to lose from revolution than he had to gain by it.  John Hancock, one of the richest men in American, already had a price on his head.  He signed in enormous letters so “that his Majesty could now read his name without glasses and could now double the reward.”

Ben Franklin wryly noted:  “Indeed we must all hang together, otherwise we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

These men knew what they risked.  The penalty for treason was death by hanging.  It was principle, not property, that had brought these men to Philadelphia.  Two of them became presidents of the United States.  Seven of them became state governors.  One died in office as vice president of the United States.  Several would go on to be U.S. Senators.

All of them became the objects of British manhunts.  Some were taken.  Some, like Thomas Jefferson, had narrow escapes.  All who had property or families near British strongholds suffered.

Francis Lewis, a New York delegate, saw his home plundered and his state completely destroyed.  His wife was captured, treated with brutality, and died from abuse.

William Floyd, another New York delegate, was able to escape with his wife and children across Long Island Sound to Connecticut.  They lived as refugees without income for seven years.  When they came home, they found a devastated ruin.

Phillips Livingstone had all his great holdings in New York confiscated and his family driven out of their home.

Louis Morris, the fourth New York delegate, saw all his timber, crops, and livestock taken.  For seven years he was barred from his home and family.

John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life to return home to see his dying wife.  While his wife lay on her deathbed, Hessian soldiers ruined his farm.  Hart slept in caves and woods as he was hunted across the countryside.  When at long last, emaciated by hardship, he was able to sneak home.  He found his wife had already been buried, and his 13 children taken away.  He never saw them again.

Dr. John Witherspoon, signer, was president of the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton.  The British occupied the town of Princeton, billeted troops in the college, and burned the finest college library in the country.

Judge Richard Stockton, another New Jersey delegate, had rushed back to his estate in an effort to evacuate his wife and children.  The family found refuge with friends, but a sympathizer betrayed them.  Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and brutally beaten by the arresting soldiers.  Thrown into a common jail, he was deliberately starved.  The judge was released as an invalid.  He returned home to find his estate looted and did not live to see the triumph of the Revolution.  His family was forced to live off charity.

Robert Morris of Philadelphia met Washington’s appeals and pleas for money, time and time again.  He sacrificed 150 merchant ships, depleting his own fortune.

Dr. Benjamin Rush from Pennsylvania was forced to flee to Maryland.  As a heroic surgeon with the army, Rush had several narrow escapes.

John Morton lived in a strongly loyalist area of Pennsylvania.  When he came out for independence, most of his neighbors and even some of his relatives ostracized him.

William Ellery, Rhode Island delegate, saw his property and home burned to the ground.

Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina delegate, had his health broken from deprivation and exposure while serving as a company commander in the military.  His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in the West Indies, and on the voyage he and his young bride were drowned at sea.

The British in the siege of Charleston took Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr., the other three South Carolina signers.  They were exchanged at the end of the war.  The British completely devastated their large land holdings and estates.

Thomas Nelson, signer of Virginia, was at the front in command of the Virginia military forces at Yorktown.  When British General Cornwallis and his staff moved their headquarters into Nelson’s palatial home, Nelson cried, “Give me the cannon!” and fired on his magnificent home himself, smashing it to bits.  He had raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own estates.  When the loans came due, a newer peacetime Congress refused to honor them, and Nelson’s property was forfeited.  He died, impoverished at the age of 50.

Of the fifty-six who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds.  Five were captured and imprisoned with brutal treatment.  Several lost wives, others entire families.  Twelve signers had their homes completely burned.  Seventeen lost everything they owned.  Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word.

 

The signers of the Declaration of Independence proved that they made no idle boast when they composed the magnificent closing line. 

Do you know what their pledge was?  “And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Scriptures say that we are called to be servants, and it is only in service that we find our true freedom.  We are to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are to serve our God.  Through the process, we are to become a servant people to those around us.  Jesus serves as our model, our example.  If we really want freedom, we have to discover that the only way to freedom is a life of service. 

Freedom is not free.  Think of the Lord Jesus.  He gave us freedom – freedom from the law of sin and death, from that vicious cycle that is hopeless.  How did he give us that freedom?  It is a free gift that is offered to all of us.  It is the gift of salvation, but you can see that the gift is very, very expensive.  Do not forget that collusion between the empire and the temple cost Jesus his life. 

On this day that we celebrate freedom as Americans, we should also remember as Christian people that this is our spiritual heritage.  It is a heritage that goes way back, much further back than the founding of this country.  It goes back to the cross of Calvary where the freedom that is ours was purchased by the death of Christ Jesus.  “For freedom, Christ has set you free” (Galatians 5:1). 

If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, July 4th is no better day to acknowledge that he is the source of your freedom.

 Kirk H. Neely
© July 2010
 
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