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The Spirit of God in Daily Life: In Liberty

July 3, 2011
Sermon:  The Spirit of God in Daily Life:  In Liberty
Text:  II Corinthians 3:17

 

 Responsive Readings:

Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.
Leviticus 25:10
 
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
II Corinthians 3:17
 
 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.
Galatians 5:1
 
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in selfishness; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Galatians 5:13
 
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as an excuse for evil; live as God’s servants.
1 Peter 2:16
 
 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Ephesians 3:12

 

Our topic today is The Spirit of God in Daily Life: In Liberty.  Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence?  Take time to read it.  One of the most radical documents you will ever read, the Declaration of Independence was written by people who were saying, “We are through with our government.  We are declaring our own independence.  We want to create a new nation and break with tradition.”

Some students in the Midwest decided to conduct a survey.  They printed out copies of the Declaration of Independence on a computer without any of the familiar fancy scrollwork we generally see on this document.  The students printed it in Word format, clipped it to a board, and took it to various shopping malls.  When asked to sign the document, the great majority of people refused, saying it was too radical, too reactionary.

Have you ever read the Constitution of the United States?  I suppose it and the Declaration of Independence are two of the most cherished documents in our nation.

A recent article about the Constitution in Time Magazine received a lot of reaction.  The front cover, which is always provocative, pictured the Constitution going through a paper shredder.  The question asked was “Does It Still Matter?”  I found the article to be very enlightening.  Though some say that the United States is in a constitutional crisis, Richard Stengel, the author, disagrees.  He points out that the Constitution has always been at the center of debate from the very beginning.  Even the framers of the Constitution were not sure that it was such a good idea.  Benjamin Franklin, in his eighties, wondered if it would even work.  James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had strong issues with the Constitution.  Some even thought that the presidency was unwise and that America really needed a king.  Others said that this document had within it enough flexibility so that it would work.  The Constitution ensures the freedoms we hold dear as a country.  Right away, the document was amended, giving us what we call The First Amendment.

I would suggest that if you have a little time tomorrow, look at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  If you have never read them, doing so will be an eye-opening experience.

Tomorrow night, I plan to watch on television some of the great performances that occur on the Fourth of July.  I will particularly enjoy seeing Keith Lockhart, a Furman graduate, leading the Boston Pops Orchestra.  The Fourth of July is a wonderful time in which our country celebrates its freedom.

With that in mind, I want to share a story with you, a story you know, a story you have heard repeatedly.

A certain man had two sons.  The younger of the sons said to his father, “Father, I want all of my inheritance right now.  I want everything I have coming to me.”  This request was very disrespectful.  In the time of Jesus, a son could not receive his father’s inheritance until the father died.    It is as if the son were saying to his father, “Drop dead.”

The Scripture says that it was only after a few days that the reluctant father granted the son’s request.

You know how this story continues.  Scripture says that the son went away to a far country and spent everything he had in riotous living.  I am not sure how far away that country was, but I do know it was a long, long way from the values, customs, and teachings of the father.

This impetuous son, once he spent all of the hard-earned inheritance his father had given to him, found it necessary to get a job.  He began slopping hogs for a Gentile farmer, a rock-bottom state for any Jewish boy.  At one point as he was standing in the pigsty thinking of eating the food for the pigs, the Scripture says that he came to his senses.  I, too, have prayed before that my children would come to their senses.  Every parent has done the same.

When this son realized the mistake he had made, he thought, I am going back home and tell my father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Take me back as a slave.”  The son rehearsed his speech and began the journey back to his father’s home.

As soon as he got close enough for his father to see him and recognize that familiar gait, the Scripture says the father ran out to greet his child.  He hugged him and kissed him.  The son began reciting his rehearsed speech, but before he had a chance to say that he would accept the position of a slave, the father cut him off, saying, “Bring a ring and a robe.  Let’s kill that calf that won the blue ribbon at the fair last year.  Let’s celebrate.  This son of ours was lost, but he has come home.”

Waiting in the wings was the older son who refused to celebrate his brother’s return.  The father, who had hoped and prayed that his younger son would come home, now had to go out on the porch and deal with this sibling’s bitterness and anger.  Just about the time parents get one of their children fixed, another one breaks loose.

The older son felt that this hullabaloo about the prodigal son’s return is unfair.  He even said to his father, “I have always been with you.  I have worked hard and done everything you have told me to do.  My brother went away and wasted his inheritance.  Now you throw him a party.”

The father explained, “Don’t you understand?  He was lost, but he has come home.  We need to celebrate.”

You may be a little puzzled about the reason why I shared this story today.  What in the world does it have to do with Independence Day?  Here is my take on it.

We can lose our freedom two ways.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence included a sentence in the document that offers me some concern.  The sentence talks about having “unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit to happiness.”  The first two-thirds of that phrase is very good, but I am not so sure I buy the last third.  Some people in this world believe that their chief freedom is to pursue happiness, meaning that they can do whatever they please.

The younger son had the attitude, Nobody is going to tell me what to do.  I have freedom, and I am going to do whatever I want to do.  Free at last!  Free at last!  I will spend money even if I don’t have it.  Nobody is going to give me orders and tell me how to live my life.  Look where that freedom landed him – in the bondage of a pigsty.

Is that really freedom?  Does that attitude of self-indulgence lead us to true freedom?  No.  Having the sole purpose of pursuing happiness and thinking we can do whatever we please are ways we lose our freedom.

The other way to lose freedom is by being so high-bound and legalistic that we become enslaved to the law.  The older brother, who showed no mercy and no grace, was high-bound in legalism.

If we do not enjoy freedom, we cannot grant it to anyone else.  We deprive others of their freedoms because we think that life is all about the law.  The Apostle Paul wrote about how people had been enslaved to the law repeatedly.  He stated that Christ Jesus has delivered us from a vicious cycle of sin and death.

Jesus had to contend with this legalistic attitude of the Pharisees.  Did they give him a hard time!  He was not like John the Baptist who lived an ascetic life.  Jesus sat down and enjoyed a good meal, one that was more like an Episcopalian meal, with his disciples and anyone else.  He was criticized for doing so.  The Pharisees asked him, “How can you associate with people like this?”

We must understand that pure freedom does not exist.  We are all in bondage to something.  In fact, the freedom of choice is really the freedom to choose our bondage.  We make a decision to whom or to what we will give our lives.  We can choose to give it to self-indulgence as the younger son did, or we can give it to legalism as the older brother did.

As far as I can tell, we have only one way to gain our freedom.  Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.”

A yoke is that wooden neck brace that extends across the neck and shoulders, providing support when carrying a load.  The yoke of slavery can weigh us down.  Another view of the yoke in the New Testament comes in the teaching of Jesus:  “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden.  And I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  We can choose to give up the yoke of slavery, the yoke of self-indulgence, the yoke of legalism and take upon ourselves the well-fitting easy yoke of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Doing so will connect us to him, bind us to him, place us under the load with him.  We find our freedom in Jesus Christ.

We do not find freedom apart from any authority.  We do not find freedom in submission to just any authority.  We find freedom only under the authority of Christ.  Look at the responsive reading from I Peter 2:16:  “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s servants.”  We see a great contrast in this admonition.  “Live as free people…”  We want to do that.  We want to celebrate life as free people on the Fourth of July.    The part that reads “but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil” suggests that the evil can be self-indulgence or legalism.  Finally, we are told to “live as God’s slaves.”  What?  Scripture is telling us to live as free as slaves?  That is what it says.  You see, in Christ Jesus, we choose the yoke that we will wear.  That yoke of Christ is our bondage.  We choose to be servants of Christ instead of servants of the self or servants of the law.

Paul writes in II Corinthians 3:17, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Freedom is certainly not free.  It comes at a high price.  On this weekend, we remember those who have sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy.  No sacrifice is greater than the sacrifice to Christ. Our freedom in Christ cost him his death on the cross.  That is where perfect freedom comes.

We believe in freedom in Christ Jesus.  That is the only way we can have true freedom.  That is the only way we can ensure liberty and justice for all.

Do you really have freedom?  Do you have the freedom that only Christ Jesus can give?  Have you acknowledged him as the Lord of your life?  If you have never done that, could I invite you to make that decision?  Accept Christ as your Savior.  Some of you have gone a long way away.  You know you need to come back home.  Others have been living in legalism.  You know you need a big dose of grace and mercy in your life.  Whatever decision God lays on your heart, we invite you to respond.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© July 2011
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