Friday, June 25, 2010

Summoned to Freedom


"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).  

In tonight’s epistle reading Saint Paul speaks of slavery and freedom.  Two realities that are deeply imbedded in the American consciousness.  He writes “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  This of course means that we were once under the yoke of bondage – enslaved to the power of sin, death, and the devil.

Yet, the various accounts of the false teachers of this world would have us believe that we are born free apart from God’s good and gracious will. They would have us believe that we are not captives. Not born in slavery – with mercy, grace, light and life from the womb. Free to choose our own paths in life, to choose our own destinies, and to follow our dreams. It is understood that we are immediately born in a marvelous freedom – having favor with God and his mercy. These truths are held to be “self evident” and supported by an Almighty, sovereign, and providential God. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Enlightenment writer, taught the world that man is indeed born “good,” so long as he is born in a state of nature. The natural man, through his instinctive will and evolutionary spirit is pure and good – not enslaved but in perpetual light.

Yet, God’s revelation does not support this for we were once enslaved to the yoke of bondage. And we were once orphans, estranged from our heavenly father. The English writer and poet D.H. Lawrence once wrote that the more one speaks and thinks of freedom, the louder the rattling of his chains becomes. Though, Lawrence was no Lutheran he taps into an element of truth which every man and woman intuitively knows deep down, though he might spend a lifetime trying to deny it - that we are not born into freedom. This is that we are not born and brought into this world as sons but rather enslaved to the darkness and evil principles of this world. We are born in too much pain. There is too much strife in our lives. Too much misery and anguish. Too many dark and hopeless days. Too much depression and agony in the family.

As Christians we all bear the marks of the yoke of bondage.  We go about anxious about many things.  Anxious about our work – anxious about whether God will provide for us in our latter years – anxious whether God loves us at all.  There is too much rattling of our chains.

Our personal histories bear witness to the yoke of bondage in this world. Our relationships to even our dearest loved ones bear fractures of the bondage that sin brings. Fractures of selfishness, hardened hearts, anger, and all sorts of grievous offences to one another. It is a world marked by sin and decay. And we are dying sinners in this dying world. Dear Christians, how often has it seemed that dark times have overtaken us?

Dearest Christians, the Lord never leaves his people but he looks down from heaven and beholds us and his pity awakens. He loves his church and his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. For when the fullness of time had come, He sent forth his Son, born of a woman as you were, born into this world - your world and its evil design - under the same binding law in which you find yourself. He came not in what appeared to be a victory march of a great military hero to be highly esteemed but descended into His baptism to share in your heartache and lowly estate. And our estate is the suffering of bondage – suffering from our own sin. To confound the wisdom of this world God’s victory march was up the dusty path to Calvary to make things new.

For Jesus, in God’s work on the cross, has restored the relationship intended for us in paradise. He has violently destroyed the old ways of this world and ushered in a new world. No longer are you ruled by the law of the flesh and its sinister power. Beloved, He has given you a new world in himself. He became a servant to all. He fulfilled the law and destroyed its powers. He was crucified with the weight of the world’s sins, burying every grievous crime in the deepest caverns of the earth. He arose spotless, free, and in glory so have you in Holy Baptism. For this reason we can say in every trouble, prayer, and thanksgiving ‘Our Father!’ And he sees you and declares ‘hear is my dearest child with whom I am well pleased.’ 

Yet he is not distant. He is not away in heaven at the outskirts of the universe. For heaven has come near. The Son has been sent. Heaven has come down to earth, on earth as it is in heaven, through the birth of a virgin. And tonight we pray with Simeon “My own eyes have seen the salvation.” 

Do not submit again to anxious worry – and the yoke of spiritual slavery.  You have been summoned to a life of freedom.  Free to worship him without fear and holy in His sight.  Saint Paul writes 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. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

And this lovely Gospel, that is Christ, comes into our ear through the work of the Spirit, creating this very church – her pews – and her altar.  The triune name has been sent into our hearts and has now overtaken us. And this is the new canon, that God came to break the shackles of this world – He comes to break the yoke of slavery.  He comes to gently wake you from a nightmare that has long since ended in the waters of Holy Baptism. And he wakes you with the opened eyes of faith – which no longer see and hear rattling chains but rather the incarnation of God in their neighbor. 

Tonight you are sons and daughters to your heavenly Father who has come to you in the Lord Jesus.  For freedom Christ has set you free.  Free to have a quiet night and peace at the last.  And to herald His love in the morning.  In the name of Jesus. Amen.   

1 comment:

  1. some of this has been on my mind, mostly with regard to politics. The founding documents don't hold up theologically. Perhaps we are all created equal, though "equality" is not exactly a scriptural principle outside of Christ. But we are endowed by our creator with rights? "Rights" is anything but a scriptural concept. We are not entitled to anything. We are certainly given much, all out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy and without any merit of our own. I'm not sure endowed is the best word, however. We are not given once and then left to continue on our own steam or the steam of that first investment(gratia infusa). Were it not for the Lord's mercies, we would be consumed. How can we honestly say we have the "right to life" when we confess that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away? The Liberty, as you point out, does not come generically at birth nor does it come through the government, the king, the will of the people or any such "power." It comes through Christ, something far different than the generic god of our founding fathers. The pursuit of happiness is the most confused notion of all.

    All these things are admirable, and I think they're good foundational principles for a society and government. The trouble comes with invoking this "God" character. I don't have much confidence in the theological aptitude of our founding fathers. It makes me even more uneasy when I hear them invoked as "strong Christian men." What a mess we have. Christ have mercy, indeed!

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