Summary: Funeral sermon for Yvan Vital, Haitian freedom fighter. We lose our freedom if we allow ignorance and apathy to take us over; but to learn and to feel is to claim the justice that God will complete.
God has made us free. That’s the very essence of what God did when He created us. He made us free. He gave each of His creatures a measure of freedom, limiting them to a degree, of course, but nonetheless free. The eagle that soars in the sky, the great whale that plays in the ocean, the gazelle that trips lightly over the savannah, even the tall oak that, though rooted, strives toward the sun – each of these enjoys a measure of freedom. It is God’s gift; as Thomas Jefferson once said, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” If you deny that freedom, you diminish or even destroy life. But if you hold on to freedom, fight for freedom, you affirm life and you honor God. God has made us free. That’s the very essence of God’s gift of life.
And so your friend and loved one, Yvan Vital, was surely on the mark, investing his life in the cause of freedom. As an outsider to your culture, and as one with only a passing knowledge of your history, I cannot make comments on the politics of Haiti. I cannot speak meaningfully about that history, or about the political issues; but then Rod did not ask me here to provide a political lecture or a historical review. He asked me here to preach the gospel and proclaim the good news. Whenever I preach the gospel, I must speak about freedom. Whenever and wherever I proclaim the good news, I must speak of the liberty that our God has given. So today let me try to set into spiritual context the life of Yvan Vital, a man dedicated to the cause of freedom.
If you know a little about the earliest days of the Christian movement, you know that the apostle Paul found himself in a serious conflict. He found that he had a major quarrel with other spiritual leaders, both Jews and Christians, over the issue of freedom. This man, originally called Saul of Tarsus, had been one of the most rigid and aggressive leaders among the Jews. He says it himself – that he had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees, zealous, ardent, pursuing those who disagreed with him. Frankly, Saul must have been a horrible man to be around – aggressive, assertive, dictatorial, and ready to hunt you down and kill you if you crossed his path. Sound like anybody you know of? (Oh, I’m sorry, I said I wasn’t going to comment on Haitian history!).
But I’m sure you know the story about how the Lord Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus one day, and turned him around. Turned him totally around. And the one who had once persecuted the church of God now became its most effective missionary. The one who set out to destroy life now turned to building up life. There’s hope for anyone, even oppressive presidents! (Oh, there I go again, making political comments). Jesus Christ turned Saul into Paul, turned him around, and made this man who had once sought to destroy the freedom of others into a fighter for justice and a laborer for liberty.
This apostle, in the middle of a struggle against those who did not understand how free God wanted them to be, cried out, in his magnificent Galatian letter, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” For freedom you have been set free .. Do not submit to a yoke of slavery.
You see, alongside the great truth that we have been created to be free, you have to consider the awesome fact that sometimes we give up our own freedom. Sometimes we yield our freedom to forces that want to take it away. How can that be? How is it possible for someone in power to take away our liberty and we don’t even realize that it is gone?
I can answer that with two words, two alone: ignorance and apathy. Ignorance and apathy. If we do not know the truth and if we are beaten down so that we feel nothing, we are finished. We are going to be slaves. Ignorance and apathy are the factors that make us yield our freedom. By the way, did you hear about the poll-taker who was doing a survey on a college campus? He was asking the students a question – it might have been Georgetown, Rod. He stopped students on the campus and asked them, “Is it true that ignorance and apathy are the two greatest problems facing young people? Would you agree that college students are held back by both ignorance and apathy?” Do you know the answer he got from most of the students? “I don’t know and I don’t care!”