Let us come together today with a deep longing for the freedom that the Spirit brings — freedom to be the kind of people God made us to be, freedom to love the way God made us to love — and, in doing so, let us enjoy the light and peace of God as we bring that same light and peace to our world.
Almighty, eternal, and life-giving God, be our guide and our comfort this morning. Lead us with your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
“O Worship the King” — Robert Grant; Performed by Chris Tomlin (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
O worship the King, all glorious above
O gratefully sing His wonderful love
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise
O tell of His might, O sing of His grace
Whose robe is the light and canopy space
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm
You alone are the matchless King
To You alone be all majesty
Your glories and wonders, what tongue can recite?
You breathe in the air, You shine in the light
O measureless might, ineffable love
While angels delight to worship above
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend
This past Sunday, I preached on Paul’s notion of freedom. Freedom is a central concept for the apostle. Many of his letters are dedicated to the idea that only in Christ are we truly and finally free. But, freedom for Paul isn’t absolute freedom. It’s not a license to do whatever we want. In fact, Paul ironically describes freedom in Christ as slavery. “For you were called to freedom,” he tells the Galatians, “only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
When it comes to the Bible’s stories about freedom, the ancient Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt takes the cake. Even the promise of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are meant to echo that story. In Matthew’s Gospel, the parallels between Jesus’ story and the Old Testament’s tale of the great exodus are made explicit. God saves the holy family by telling them to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15), just as God saved his people so long ago by sending them to Egypt in order to escape a great famine (Genesis 46). King Herod seeks to kill all of Bethlehem’s boys under the age of two (Matthew 2:16-18), just as Pharaoh sought to kill all the Hebrew boys so many generations prior (Exodus 1). Moses somehow escapes Pharaoh’s fearful jealousy (Exodus 2), just as Jesus likewise escapes the jealousy of King Herod (Matthew 2:19-21).
We talk a lot about God the Creator, but start reading through the Bible and soon enough you’ll realize that God is more often described as “Deliverer” and “Liberator,” especially after that first exodus. Consider Psalm 18:2-3, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.” Unsurprisingly, Jesus gets the same sort of praise heaped upon him, too. After he’s presented in the temple, a holy man named Simeon picks the boy up and announces out loud, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32)!
However, for all the Bible’s talk of God as a God of liberty and freedom, we are never led to believe that this freedom is open-ended or even quite like what we would consider freedom today. It’s not, in other words, independence. Right after God frees the Hebrews from Egypt, he starts giving them commands, and the first place he leads them is Mount Sinai, where he hands Moses two tablets of stone with a binding law code etched into both of them. These become the famous Ten Commandments. All this to say, the Hebrews didn’t escape Egypt and become independent. They were freed from one ruler, Pharaoh, only to find themselves beholden to another, God. In the same way, Jesus tells his disciples that his freedom isn’t independence. “If you love me,” he explains in John 14:15, “you will keep my commandments.”
What are we to make of this? How do law and freedom go together? The answer lies in what we are freed for. The ancient Hebrews were set free to worship God as he should be worshiped, and they were set free to love as God made them to love. This is why the Ten Commandments are all relational commands. They tell us how to love God and each other well. God frees his people not to be independent, but so that we can love to the fullest. In this sense, our freedom isn’t about us — it’s about others.
Richard Rohr puts it this way:
“When our ego or small self is in charge, we are not free; we are being ordered about by our preferences, our likes and dislikes. Is it really liberating to believe the world revolves around us or conversely, that we must hold it all together? As we engage in contemplative prayer and allow God to transform us through great love and great suffering, we are reminded of our inherent connectedness. We are liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow separate from everyone and everything else, including God.”
Strangely enough, the greatest freedom we can experience is not independence but dependence — dependence upon God and dependence upon each other. No wonder, then, that Paul sums freedom up with the word “love.” There’s no freer thing than that.
Holy God, give us the grace and strength to love and to be kind to everyone we come across today. Make us like your Son through the power of your Spirit so that we can be your people to your world. Amen.
– Richard Rohr, “Authentic Freedom,” Center for Action and Contemplation, January 19, 2021, https://cac.org/authentic-freedom-2021-01-19.