Summary: On the 4th of July weekend, our minds our own our national freedom, but the Apostle Paul speaks about the more important freedom, the freedom we have in Christ.
Our Spiritual Independence Day
Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (NRSV)
July 1, 2007
As we come together this morning today, the word that is on our mind is “freedom.” It is a word which, in our context, brings up images of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, the Declaration of Independence, the founding of a new nation out of former British colonies, and so many others.
One of the issues with which this new country struggled was slavery. Some signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave holders and the words, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was applied unequally. Not all of the inhabitants of the new United States of America were equal in the sight of the law. Not all of us were given the full advantages of the blessings of liberty. It took almost a hundred years to blot the peculiar institution of slavery out of the nation’s practice, and yet still today we struggle with the remnants of individual and institutional racism. In many ways, we still struggle with Martin Luther King’s vision of a society in which a person is not judged by the color of his or her skin, but by the content of his or her character. We struggle, but we still push on.
I believe that all of us in this room today would agree, however, that freedom is good and slavery is bad. Freedom and the blessings of liberty are ideals for which this nation has fought and bled. Slavery is a gross injustice against which the nation engaged in a great civil war. Freedom is a blessing. Slavery is sin against God and humankind.
Today, as we approach the birthday of our nation and the celebration of liberty enshrined in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and others, I wanted to spend a few minutes with the Apostle Paul who calls us back into slavery; a slavery of love to each other as a testimony to the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Strangely enough, we are to use our freedom to become slaves. This is an alternative freedom not practiced all that well. You see, freedom for Paul means becoming a slave to each other and a slave to Christ. That is a definition of freedom that we don’t understand very well. For many of us, freedom means something completely different.
I was surfing the Washington Post online the other day and found an article in the archives that was published back on September 14, 2006. The title of the articles was, “When Malls Stay Open on Sundays, the Pious Party.”
The article mentions Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Daniel Hungerman of Notre Dame who have published a paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research titled, “The Church vs. The Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?”
According to these scholars, when states eliminated blue laws - those laws prohibiting the sale of non-essential goods on Sunday – church attendance declined by 5%, from 37% to 32%. At the same time, alcohol and drug use increased significantly among young adults. The really fascinating data shows that these increases were greater among church goers than for those who never went to worship services. The suspicion is that time spent at the mall increases one’s exposure to sinners, and we Christians are not all that adept at handling temptation.
With freedom comes great responsibility. How many of us, with our newly minted driver’s licenses in our pockets, discover the hard way that we don’t handle our freedom very well. I remember my very first car date. It was in the fall of 1969. I had obtained my driver’s license two weeks before and still had my temporary license. In those days, we had temporary licenses until they could send out the real ones in the mail.
So I was in my dad’s 1963 Olds 98. Debby Gething was sitting beside me. I had the radio blaring, one arm around Debby, a coke balanced between my legs. Did you know that at that time, there was a four-way stop on the corner of St. Joe Center and Maplecrest Roads? Neither did I...until I blew through it at forty-five miles an hour, right in front of a Sheriff’s Deputy. Sometimes we don’t use our freedom very well.
How many college students, freshly free from their parent’s supervision, use that opportunity to learn how many shots of tequila it takes to get blind, stinking drunk? It happens. Sometimes we don’t use our freedom very wisely.
How many of our young people, free from the restraints of home, use that freedom to explore unbridled sexual activity, sometimes with devastating results? It happens. We don’t’ always use our freedom in a responsible manner.