In January 1941, when the flames of war were consuming Europe and the Far East, President Roosevelt addressed Congress. In that address, he said some things about freedom that has echoed down through the years.
The address, now known as the “Four Freedoms” address, contained these words:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want -- which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear -- which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor-- anywhere in the world.
Roosevelt’s hope for these freedoms would be tested 11 months later when Pearl Harbor Naval Base in the Hawaiian Island would be attacked and our nation would become involved in World War Two.
What makes someone seek freedom at any cost? I can remember hearing stories of people who risked life and death to cross the Berlin Wall. I can recall the images of the boat people back in the 80’s and 90’s who built flimsy life rafts to help them leave the shores of Cuba. But why? Why not stay?
What drives people to flee in the middle of the night from the place where they were born; from their work; from their families?
To me, freedom is a light that attracts those in darkness seeking to be free, and free in different ways.
And the link between freedom and light is a common theme in our national rhetoric. The late Ronald Reagan said, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”
This image of the “shining city upon a hill” is Biblical in origin as Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
This image was also reflected in a sermon written by Governor John Winthrop aboard the ship, Arbella, in 1630. In this sermon, ‘A Model of Christian Charity,’ Winthrop lays out a vision of how Christian charity (or love) needs to operate in the ‘new world.’
He speaks of the need for justice and mercy to be at work in the affairs and relationships of those who seek to live in a “new” England. And he concludes with the challenge and caution that “we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” This image has since become a part of many Presidents and presidential contenders’ remarks and vision.
So what does this have to do with freedom and communion?
Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (ESV)
What is “the light of life?” Salvation is the “light of life!” In being “the light of the world” we shine out the grace and mercy of God through our personal relationship to Christ as we demonstrate an increasingly godly character and in the actions based on the grace and mercy of God as practical evidence of that godly character.
Communion is a reminder of how this salvation came to be: not based on our works but on the grace and mercy of God. It is also a reminder that Christ’s salvation is our freedom from sin and alienation from God.
We have celebrated this weekend the political freedom that came 133 years ago when a group of men felt it was time for a new nation and a new form of government.
And in the formation of this new government, a new freedom would be offered and, over a decade later, codified into a document we call the Constitution.
With these new freedoms came, however, a new set of responsibilities because Freedom does have important responsibilities:
1. The responsibility to vote
2. The responsibility to be involved
3. The responsibility to care
4. The responsibility to serve
5. The responsibility to respect
Too often our insistence on freedom has led to a self-centered “what’s in it for me” mentality. Yes, freedom has many great benefits. But the freedom that we remember this weekend has many important responsibilities as well.
Jesus Christ set us free from sin. But this freedom from sin is not a freedom to do anything we want once we have confessed our sins and accepted Christ’s salvation. We have a responsibility to live like Jesus Christ because we are part of the body of Christ, the church.
To be free in Christ has its own set of responsibilities as well:
1. The responsibility to love
2. The responsibility to be holy
3. The responsibility to give of our time, talents, and money
4. The responsibility to obey the Lord, no matter where, no matter what.
As we conclude this July 4th weekend and this worship service, I would have each of us to consider that freedom is both a necessity and a responsibility.
Freedom is necessary for human life to improve. For example, without the freedom we have had what kind of scientific research would be possible that has improved our quality of life over the years? Without the freedom we have had what kind of educational achievements would be possible that has allowed us to make possible new discoveries and find new frontiers of knowledge?
Freedom is also necessary for our inner transformation. For without the freedom from sin through Christ’s saving act on the cross, what kind of life would we be living today? Without the freedom that Christ brings, who of us would be here this morning worshipping the Lord who makes us free indeed?
I am grateful for the political freedoms that we have today. I am more grateful for the spiritual freedom that we have had through Christ.
As we prepare to take communion together, let us do so with thanksgiving. Amen.
Roosevelt speech: RESOURCE: World Civilizations
Reagan ‘city on a hill’ speech: