given on Sunday, July 5, 2009
Note: This is a short sermon because I had designated the day “Summer Short Sunday” emphasizing casual clothing and a picnic attitude. It was fun, but not very many shorts appeared.
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Did you hear that good news in the scripture this morning? This is our American birthday and our heritage as a free country is being celebrated from one glorious shoreline to the next. Families have gathered, friends have grilled, and strangers have stood side by side oohing and aahing at the fireworks filling the sky. But I bet very few heard the good news: 1 Christ has set us free to live a free life.
Paul wrote those words two thousands years ago, not one of America’s founders just 233 years ago. Paul wrote those words to a young church in Galatia who were fighting challenges all too similar to the founders of our country. But today, let’s look at our freedom and our responsibility as free Christians. Another words: “…take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.”
As I was reading these verses and considering what it means to live as freely as we do here in the United States, I wondered why in the world Paul would include a discussion on circumcision. It just did not make sense…until I read through the verses in the Message and the study notes. Circumcision was one Jewish law that no longer applied. Circumcision was simply a symbol of the old law and one that the new Christians no longer had to follow:
“Circumcision was a symbol of having the right background and doing everything required by religion. No amount of work, discipline, or moral behavior can save us. If a person were counting on finding favor with God by being circumcised, he would also have to obey the rest of God’s law completely. Trying to save ourselves by keeping all God’s laws only separates us from God (emphasis added).”
The new law, the good news, is that all we have to do to be fully free is to follow the one new law: love one another. How delightfully simple! How wonderful it is when a group of people comes together simply to follow this one law.
Regardless of all the laws or the circumstances or the wars or the poverty anywhere in this world, there is a simple, life-sustaining peace that comes from having faith in God and following his one commandment. There is no way that any earthly reward could come near the glory God has promised us if we accept his grace and love one another.
We are so blessed to live in a country where freedom of religion is protected. We have no reason to fear slavery because of our faith in God. We have no reason to fear persecution because of our faith in God. We have no reason to hide behind closed doors because of our faith in God.
Paul wrote his letters to encourage and to provide the new Christians hope in a world that practiced slavery, persecuted the Christians, and forced them to worship in secret. We have studied history and know how these practices have destroyed civilizations, cultures, not to mention individuals in their homes, in their communities, in their countries, and in the prison camps. True freedom comes with our faith in God.
The study notes for the final verses of our scripture outline this in a different manner:
“Paul distinguishes between freedom to sin and freedom to serve. Freedom or license to sin is not freedom at all, because it enslaves you to Satan, others, or your own sinful nature, Christians, by contrast, should not be slaves to sin, because they are free to do right and to glorify God through loving service to others (emphasis added).”
We are free, but freedom does come with responsibility. We must worship God, we must follow his commandment, and we must serve others. As Americans, we know that it takes voting, speaking out, standing up for what is right to preserve our freedom to be free Christians. We are to do whatever we can to spread God’s love. The more we serve, the more we spread God’s love, the more freedom we experience.
Listen to Paul’s words in Galatians 5:
13-15It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
These words apply today just as appropriately as it did when Paul first wrote them. One commandment, one single simple sentence: “Love one another.” I cannot imagine more freedom than that and I feel so fortunate that we can live in a country where that one law can meet or overpower any other man-made law anywhere.
The freedom we celebrate this weekend as Americans is just a glimpse of the freedom we celebrate as Christians. The fact that we are so blessed to live in a country that values our Christian freedom, or any other form of religion, frees us to follow that one law to love one another.
Paul said it; “Christ has set us free to live a free life.” As Americans we took a stand 233 years ago, and we must “…take a stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on [us]…” So celebrate America’s birthday, but do not forget your responsibility. Paul’s words say it all, and we are blessed to live in this country where we can practice Christianity freely.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for sending us your son to teach us how to be free. Thank you for showing us how to live life simply so that we can experience the peace our faith can provide us. Thank you for helping us to serve one another as we follow your one commandment to love one another. Thank you for our leaders who saw the value of living in a country that allows freedom of religion. Thank you for setting us free to live a free life in our free country. –Amen