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Time for Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." -Galatians 5:1, 13-14

So our theme for this advent season is titled In the Fullness of Time, and we're using that printed resource, so the inserts in the bulletin that the litany was on will be our call to worship each Sunday in this season, and I know we ran out of them last Sunday. And so there are additional copies of the devotional booklet that begins today at the back, feel free to pick one of those up if you did not get one, but we'll be using this series and it's drawn from some of the writings of Roman Catholic priest and theologian Henri Nouwen, he taught at Notre Dame and Harvard and Yale, and later in his life, he retired and lived in a community among developmentally and mentally challenged adult men, and that was how he lived his life, he engaged with people, and he was a prolific writer and helped, I think, unfold and expound upon theological and particularly spiritual issues in a way that was very accessible, his writings are very popular, and so in that devotional, in addition to the Scripture, in some reflection, there will be excerpts , some of his writings, but the series is titled in the fullness of time, and that title actually comes from a verse of Galatians a little bit earlier in the letter than what we actually had read this morning from Galatians Chapter 4, verse 4, it says, But in the fullness of time, when the fullness of time had come, God sent His son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as children.

So if we wanna put this verse in our modern parlance, it would be something like, at just the right moment, God decided to send his son.

And so as we go through this series, each week, we'll be looking at what does that mean, the for us then, if God decided to send Jesus into the world at just the right moment, how does that impact us, what are the things that that does for us?

And so this morning, the first aspect of that that we have before us is this idea of freedom now, as citizens of this country, Freedom is something that we hear a lot about, and it's a good thing. We have some wonderful freedoms, we have the freedom of assembly, the freedom to worship as we choose, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and we could go through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and list out many of those freedoms that we enjoy as Americans, but we also have to recognize and understand that even as wonderful as those freedoms are, many of them come with limits, there are consequences with that freedom of the press should they choose to print things that are untruthful or antagonizing and inciting people to unrest.

That freedom of speech we have is great, but speech that would be considered hate speech is not protected, making threats against the President of the United States is not speech that is protected, and so we recognize and understand that as wonderful as our freedoms are, there are limitations in which those freedoms are bound. And as much as we have embraced and reflect that in the way that our lives, these freedoms that we have as Americans, that's not necessarily one in the same with the freedoms that Paul is talking about. Paul begins this reading that we had, and I'll say Now, I selected these readings because I see these as being kind of the crux of what we're talking about. While Galatians Chapter 5-1 kind of stands alone by itself, it's kind of a hint from what Paul is talking about at the end of chapter four, and if you were to go back and if we were having a lot of time to read through this in sequence, at the end of chapter four in Galatians, Paul is making a contrast between the two women that Abraham had children with, his wife Sarah, who had Isaac, who was the son that God had promised, but also he had a son by Hagar, his wife's maid servant who conceived and bore Ishmael.

Well, Ishmael was the firstborn, the first born of his wife's servant or slave, and then Isaac, the second born of his free wife, and Paul makes this contrast about what it means to be free in a slave and goes through all of this contrasting what it means for the people of Israel. And part of that that Paul doesn't get into, but as part of that story of the people of Israel, is that when we looked at the Exodus story a while back, you may remember that the people of Israel were in bondage and in slavery in Egypt, and God called Moses and said, Moses, Go to Pharaoh and say, Let my people go.

Let my people go. Set them free. And so Moses goes and does all of those things and leads the people out of Egypt, and we've got that wandering in the wilderness and the pillar of fire and going through the Red Sea, but at a number of times throughout that Exodus... Well, the people of Israel had that very well organized. Back to Egypt committee. They kept grumbling and complaining, saying, You know what, we're free, but we're hungry, but let's go back to Egypt. He brought this out here into the wilderness to die and let's go back to Egypt, and they kept pushing and wanting to go back, and so this pivot in this story in Galatians 5:1 is where Paul then basically tells them, Look... Here's part of your story. You've got Abraham and Sarah and the promise that God had made them. But then he says For you, for you people that I'm speaking to, for freedom, Christ has set you free. So stand firm therefore, and do not submit to a yoke of slavery. Part of it is his story, he's telling them, remember your story. Remember those people that Moses led out of Egypt, they willingly wanted to go back and submit themselves to that yoke slavery. Well, as we move forward through Chapter 5, after that first verse, the next 11 versus in that chapter, Verses 2-12, he talks about this contention that's going on in this community of Galatia, where there are missionaries that have come and been pressing and pressuring the people saying Look, that's great that you're converting to Christianity, but Christianity is for Jews, and so if you're gonna convert to Christianity first, you have to convert to Judaism.

Well, what was the sign of membership for men, particularly in those Jewish communities about with circumcision, and so these missionaries were coming and saying, if you're going to be Christian, you have to first be circumcised to become Jewish, and then you can become Christian. And Paul goes on and talks about, Wait a minute, you've already been set free by Christ, you're being called to faith, and yet you're submitting yourself to that law, you're submitting yourself to those rules and regulations, you're putting that yoke upon yourselves... And that's not God's intention. That's not God's plan for you. And Paul butted heads with a number of these people that had these differing views, because Paul's point was this freedom in Christ is like no other. Again, we value and appreciate those freedoms that we have, the freedom to go to the polling locations and cast our ballot for the candidate that we would like to see in any particular office, we have the freedom to leave here today and go to the place that we choose to have lunch and choose what we want off of that menu, we're free to do so many things, but this freedom that Christ is calling us to is so much more, it's not just about us having independence to determine when and where in what we do with our lives, Paul's words in that first verse, for freedom, Christ has set us free.

Again, we have all of our history and our understanding and definitions of what freedom means for us as citizens of this country, but Paul's idea of freedom is so much more...

For freedom, you've been set free, and there's a part of it that when you hear that, you think, Well, wait a minute, what does that mean? For freedom, we've been set free, but we have to understand what Christ has freed us for is to step into and live into the freedom that is God's... That God is defining that. Freedom, not us, it's not our opportunity or occasion to say, Okay, freedom for me means getting to do this and that, and not having to do that and not having to do that, but rather God is saying, I've got my understanding. My definition of freedom, you've been living in bondage to law, to the society your a part of, to your own ideas and expectations, you've got all of these things that are controlling your lives, determining your lives... I was telling you, you should do this and not do that, but God saying, my idea of freedom is so much more... So when Christ has freed us, and particularly what Christ has freed us from, are all of those other things, they offer us promises that are either empty or fall short of what God has in mind, because God's plan for this freedom that we have is to be a part of what God is doing in bringing salvation into this world, it would be easy for us to try and hold on to that definition, that freedom means getting to do what we want, but Paul addresses that again a little bit later in what we've heard, after he goes through this whole thing about putting another yoke on yourself and the argument about whether you should be circumcised or not, he then in chapter 13, in verse 13 says, For you are called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only Don't use your freedom as an opportunity of self-indulgence.

Once again, Paul saying this freedom that you are called into, this freedom that you are given the opportunity to live in is not about you, it's not about indulging yourself and satisfying your own wants and wishes.

This freedom goes so much further, he says, but through love, become slaves or servants to one another, for the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Now, it seems a little bit of an oxymoron that Paul is proclaiming, you have this freedom in Christ, you have been set free. Now, make yourself slaves to one another, when he just got done saying, don't submit yourself to a yoke of slavery, but this is a way of embracing the life... Well, that Christ Himself lived a life of humility, a life of service, a life lived out in radical acts of love, in loving one's neighbor. One of the definitions that I ran across for freedom in one of my commentaries said that freedom is liberty from law, Liberty from the legalism and checkpoints of do this, don't do that, and following these rigid laws, it's Liberty from the law, but it's tempered by love of neighbor, it's kind of like those limitations on some of those freedoms that we have as Americans, we can say what we want, because we have that freedom of speech, but when our speech hurts others, when our speech impinges upon the rights and freedoms of others, we've crossed the line.

And I think that definition helps us as Christians to recognize that this freedom that we have, this freedom in Christ is one in which we're to go about acts of charity and kindness and compassion, free from the law. But tempered by love, love is kind of the guide that says, Oh wait a minute. Here's the boundary, here's the limit of where this freedom takes me, and the commentary that I found most helpful in my reflecting upon this this week was by a theologian whose last name was Kozer, I believe it was. And he said there are two things that we should really keep in mind about Paul's idea of freedom, he says the first is accepting the liberating work of Christ means rejecting any other offer that might promise ultimate freedom in security, rejecting all others. Because the truth of it is that most of us are probably not gonna be faced with the decision or the pressure to be circumcised, or not be circumcised, but rather the yoke of slavery that may be the temptation or the pressure that's put upon us, is to... I'll submit ourselves to an ideology or a self-help practice that offers to make everything right in our lives.

Or maybe a security that is pitched to us saying, You know what, if we could double our national defense, then everything would be good in this country and in the world, whatever it is, there are constantly things around us that are bombarding us and presenting us with ideas and thoughts and views that promise ultimate security as he suggests, but fall short.

And he went on and said, The thing is, the person who trusts the faithfulness of God is in a position to take risks about everything else in life, when the risks are valid expressions of Christian freedom. He said, They're not those... Obviously, fool hardy risk, it's not about going out and being an extreme athlete, climbing mountains, jumping out of airplanes and scaling cliffs and things like that, it's not about taking fool hardy risk.

It's about taking risks that are in line... And valid expressions of Christian freedom. Expressions of what it means to participate in the building up of God's kingdom, of taking the risk to show compassion to a person that others have rejected or may be fearful of, to extend a kindness... When you're not sure how it will be received to take a risk, as Jesus did, to give of yourself in a way that might be uncomfortable, because that's the thing, his second point that he said we need to remember is that following Christ isn't always easy. In fact, at times it's downright difficult. At times, it will put us at odds with other people and particularly the culture around us. And so he says, Don't view Christian freedom as a privilege that's granted to an elite few because it's not a privilege at all.

I mentioned it in Bible study on Tuesday, that I would probably quote it here and I'm going to... If you've ever seen the Spider-Man movies in the first one, after Peter Parker's been bitten by the spider and is discovering that he has these abilities, his uncle, who is killed a short time later by Robert robbery,had told Young Peter, with great power comes great responsibility. The thing that Kozer pointing out to us is that as Christians with this freedom that we have in Christ, it's an obligation that entails an enormous responsibility, we have been called to this freedom, we have been granted this freedom to go forth and to be the people that God has created us to be empowered by His Spirit to make a difference in this world, the freedom that we have is to receive that gift of the spirit and to do the things that would raise eyebrows and make other people think, What in the world are they doing? But friends, that's how the world gets changed, that's how lives get transformed, that's what drives someone like Mother Teresa to go to the slums of Calcutta and go through the streets, picking up the dying impoverished people and loving them until they pass on. It's the thing that inspires people to go and make a difference by serving in places and to people that desperately need to know what love is all about.

And we may ask, what is it then that we're to do? And again, if we spend some time looking at these chapters from beginning to end, we would see that in the latter part of Galatians 5, Paul gives us that answer, that's where we find His listing of all of those fruit of the spirit, the ones that are painted on the back of our wall, love, joy, peace, patient, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The freedom that Christ offers us is to receive the Spirit and allow that spirit to work and to move our lives and manifest these gifts that can and will be tangible demonstrations of what it means for us to love our neighbor, and to do so in a way that honors and glorifies God.

Friends, that is the freedom that Christ is offering us. It was in that fullness of time that God recognized that the timing was right for Jesus to come and to preach and to teach and to demonstrate a different way of being, a different way of living, a different way of engaging with other people. It's a freedom that is rooted in love, and it is that freedom that we have to love courageously and to love boldly for the sake of God's kingdom, it was in the fullness of time at that right moment that God sent Jesus...

And friends, as I look around the world today, it is the right time for us to embrace that freedom and go forth and love in a way that honors God, because that can and will make a difference. Amen.

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