given on Sunday, July 3, 2011
Freedom to Serve
One more day before this country turns 235 years old. And isn’t it amazing how quickly the years pass? At least when we reach middle age, we start hearing the old adage that the years go past faster and faster. As a college kid, I remember hearing that thrown at me and I just laughed because no year really goes any faster than the 365 days there are in each year. Yet now I know the truth to that adage—the time, which is a relative term, does seem to speed up with each year that passes.
I wonder, does a country sense that too? Each time I listen to the news and hear that sense of urgency concerning the debt limit, the budget woes, the campaign process, and more, I get the sense that even our country is running out of time. But is it?
When our country was fighting for independence, John Wesley was fighting to keep God’s commandment alive—remember he died in 1791 and served only two years in the colonies from 1735-37 . Everything I have read and heard concerning Wesley, I believe he, too, felt that the years were getting shorter and shorter. There was a sense of urgency recorded by the biographers and theologians whenever they describe the fervor he exhibited in his ministry.
Today’s scripture may provide one more explanation as to why Wesley’s ministry seemed so desperate. Jesus tries to explain that each and every one of those who believe in him should serve others. He even tells us that God will judge each one of us based on how we have served: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (from the NIV)
Those listening to Jesus’ teaching continued to push for more clarification so Jesus outlined it very clearly:
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’ (from the MSG)
Eugene Peterson’s translation may be different than what we remember. He writes out the descriptors in very negative yet concrete words which is not the way I remember it, the verse is a clear call for specific actions. The verses emphasizes the idea that Wesley repeatedly demonstrated in his actions and in those words:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
These words answer Jesus’ commandment. When time comes for the final judgment, Wesley wanted to make sure that the disciples he lead to Christ could answer that they did do all they could for all that were in need.
Where is the connection to our American citizenship and the annual celebration of our country’s freedom? For me, there is no doubt in my mind that as an American, I can freely follow Jesus. The very reason I celebrate is that we rebelled from the constraints of a human, earthly monarchy and said we are free of that rule. We are free to follow God’s law first and foremost as individually as we wish to do. That makes us free to serve, free to serve God, free to serve a country who preserves that freedom, but more importantly free to do all that we can for all those that we can—regardless of the borders earthly governments have drawn.
The global acceptance of the American philosophy was cemented in a very dramatic visual form when the French gave the Americans the Statue of Liberty:
The Statue of Liberty National Monument officially celebrated her 100th birthday on October 28, 1876. The people of France gave the Statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. Over the years, the Statue of Liberty’s symbolism has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as this international friendship. (Accessed on July 2, 2011 at www.statueofliberty.org.)
Though the statue was a gift, it is the inscription based on the sonnet by Emma Lazarus (interesting side note—name Lazarus), written in 1883 independent of the statue, which echoes Jesus’ words and then Wesley’s words:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
(from “New Colossus”)
The connection is there. We, as American Christians, have a responsibility. We have the Greatest Commandment to follow. We have the easiest law there is. As long as we follow God’s law, we follow American law. As long as we follow God’s example, we become examples to others. As long as we have faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed, we can grow in God’s love. With God’s grace, his love and with our American citizenship, we are free.
We are free to serve, to love one another, and to make disciples of Christ. During the next year, we have the responsibility to do all that we can to make sure that others know God’s love. We have the responsibility to find all the means that we can to help others so they know they are loved. We have a responsibility to serve.
The battle to be free in America was not an easy one. Life is full of challenges, big and small. We have learned that with our faith, we can manage. In fact we learn that with God in charge, we are free to do whatever we can to care for one another.
Let’s use the year to find how to take even the smallest seed of faith and grow it into a fruitful tree. We are free to serve, we just have to identify the needs, find a means to meet the need, and then love enough to simply do it. Jesus made it simple. Wesley made it simple. We can make it simple, too, because we are free to serve.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Today we celebrate as a country.
And we celebrate our freedoms.
Today we witness to God’s love,
And we celebrate freedom through faith.
Today we recognize a world of needs,
And we celebrate the freedom to serve.
Today we thank you for showing us our way,
And seek your guidance.
Today, through scripture and prayer,
Renew our faith,
Renew our resolve,
To serve one another in love.