Summary: A brief Fourth of July sermon on the meaning of the word "freedom" and some of its implications.
Freedom Isn’t Free Galatians 5:13
Introduction: As you undoubtedly know, Independence Day is near. People will be celebrating this occasion with barbecues, parties, musical extravaganzas and finally firework festivities. With all the celebration though, we sometimes forget precisely what it is we’re celebrating. There was a sweet lady who asked an English friend, "Do the English celebrate the Fourth of July?" With a perfectly straight face, he replied, "No madam, we go straight from the third to the fifth.” Independence Day fills our minds with symbols but we aren’t always clear what those symbols represent. Some young children were once shown a model of the Statue of Liberty and were asked to explain what she was doing. One child said, "She’s taking a shower!" Another said, "She’s raising her hand because she knew the right answer, but she was cheating because she had a book of answers in the other hand." Actually all the symbols we have such as the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Declaration of Independence are powerful images of the freedom we enjoy as Americans. We use the word "freedom" quite a bit in this country but little understand its implications. What is freedom?
What does this concept imply?
I. First, freedom isn’t license. Unfortunately for many people, the idea of freedom is associated with the license to do whatever you want. Too many of us tend to mistakenly assume that freedom implies no responsibilities. It reminds me of a lot of adolescents. Many junior highs will tell you they want to drive a car, but they don’t want the responsibility that comes with driving it. If they get into an accident and wreck the car or injure someone they want their parents to take the responsibility. Millions of teenage pregnancies suggest that many teenagers want the freedom to enjoy sex but they don’t want the responsibility of raising a child when pregnancy occurs. We adults want the freedom of quality life with pure drinking water, safe food, good roads, little or no crime, but we don’t want the responsibility of paying taxes to insure these blessings. Citizens of our nation want the right of free elections, yet many won’t even bother to walk across the street to vote. Freedom isn’t license. Freedom isn’t just doing what we want to do.
II. Second, freedom comes at a cost. Freedom isn’t free. It’s bought with a price. The freedom and liberty that you and I have to travel wherever we please, to worship wherever we choose, to think, say and yes even write whatever we like are all freedoms that were paid for by the precious blood of patriots and lovers of freedom from the Revolutionary War to the War in Iraq. We enjoy liberty today, because yesterday, men and women willingly sacrificed their lives. Too often we forget this in the excitement of the glimmer and explosion of the sky rockets and the waving of flags. Carl Sandburg, when presented the Gold Medal for history and biography by the Academy of Arts and Letters said: "We find it momentous that Lincoln used the word "responsibility" nearly as often as he used the word "freedom." The free people of the world of arts and letters can well ask themselves, every day and almost as a ritual: ’Who paid for my freedom, and what’s the price, and am I somehow beholden?’" The question isn’t rhetorical. It’s a burning, historical question. What’s the price of freedom? What does it cost us today? I suspect that from the previous inflationary decades it’s not only the price of our money that’s gone down in value. It’s also our estimation of the cost of freedom. We all desire freedom and liberty, but few of us want to pay the cost. Does freedom and liberty cost us anything? Does it require anything of us? Many years ago there was a meeting of the Senate Crime Committee in which crime boss Frank Costello was asked the question, "Realizing all that America has done for you, what have you ever done for America as a good citizen?" Costello didn’t have the slightest idea what was meant, and after deep thought, he lamely answered, "Well, I...I paid my taxes!" We all know that there are many things, besides paying taxes, that we can do as individuals and good citizens, to uphold the magnificent traditions of America. Freedom comes at a cost.
III. Third and finally, freedom comes with responsibilities. With our freedom comes certain responsibilities. Our freedom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We’re a part of a larger community, a larger society which is held together by a nexus or web of social obligations. The problem we have as a nation is we’ve lost all sense of community. The old idea of being an American has been fragmented into dozens of smaller ethnic groups whose loyalties are pitted against each other. Today we have African-Americans, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, German-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Polish Americans and the list goes on and on. Now don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful to celebrate your ethnic heritage. Everyone should be proud of their ethnicity whether black, white, brown, yellow or red. The problem comes when our primary loyalty is parochially centered with our own ethnic group and we set our ethnic group in competition with other groups. What does it mean to be an American anymore? Do we have any social obligations as American citizens? I think we’re forgetting that we’re a part of a multi-colored tapestry composed of many different colored threads which coalesce into that beautiful work of art, we call America. Remove any of those threads and you take away from the richness of the tapestry. The truth is, we Americans all need each other whether black, white, brown, red or yellow. But too often we forget the tapestry and focus only on the threads. Try and remove the threads and the tapestry itself will unwind and unravel. I think that’s one of the things that’s happening to our society. We’re part of a community greater than ourselves and our own ethnic group, a community that comes with certain social responsibilities and obligations. That community we call America. None of us enjoys freedom without responsibility. Freedom isn’t really free. A certain dairyman objected to having his cows inspected for tuberculosis and ran the inspector off with a shotgun. In justification of his drastic action, he said, "I am free, white, and twenty-one, and no government official is going to tell me how to run my business." He forgot something. He forgot that his freedom to sell milk ends where the rights of babies to health begins. He needed to be told in the words of Paul, “My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.” (Gal. 5:13 CEV) Without a keen sense of social obligation, liberty’s in danger. We need to get back to the notion of community and the responsibilities and obligations that arise with that concept. One way we can do this is by teaching children in our public schools courses in citizenship and the social and moral obligations that notion entails. These aren’t religious ideas. These are ideas that are fundamental to the survival of any community. There are other ways too, in which we can nurture our democratic community. For a start, we could exercise our right to vote. We could also become more politically involved in the burning issues that effect all our communities: environmental issues, hunger, poverty, public housing, health care and so on. Anytime we work to better the quality of life in this nation we’re nurturing the democratic community. As Christians, one of the watchwords of our faith is the word covenant. We’re people of the covenant God made first with Israel and secondly with the Church through Jesus Christ. As Americans we’re also a part of a covenant that holds us all together into that rich tapestry of freedom that we celebrate on this fourth of July.