You Are Free To…

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 6C, June 30th, 2013

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For freedom Christ has set us free For you were called to freedom, brothers.  But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [Galatians 5:1a, 13-14]

In just a few days, we will be celebrating our American day of independence. Oh it’s true, we Americans, out of all of the other nations in this world truly love our freedom, and this love of freedom is personified in our great Declaration of Independence. But we Christians also love freedom; the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus! But I think, that of all the Christians, we Lutherans love our freedom the most. Why we even have a catch phrase that helps us remember just how free from, sin, death, and the devil we are. It goes like this: faith alone, scripture alone, and grace alone, all under the banner of Christ alone!

So as American Christians, we Lutherans boldly declare to our government and to the accusations of the devil and our own conscience, “Don’t tread on me; don’t mess with us, because we are free men and women.” But freedom, true freedom always comes with responsibilities, isn’t that true?

Well this morning let’s take some time to allow God’s Word to show us some of those responsibilities that come with freedom, by showing us some of the dangers of being free.

We all know that as Christians, we have been freed by the sacrificial life and death of our gracious God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Through His gift of grace, the tyranny of the devils, the cost of sin, and the certainty of death, have been defeated. We are told in the gospel, that we are not required to pile up good deeds in order to please and angry God. We have been freed from this false gospel with the true gospel: Jesus paid it all. He alone gives us salvation! Instead of working to please God, the gospel tells us that we already have God’s love, and now we are free to share that love with our neighbor. Is this the freedom that we are experiencing?

Let’s consider the different conflicts and problems that are in our lives. First, let’s look at our money. You are a free person; you may spend your money any way you like. You don’t need to buy your way into heaven; you don’t need to give all of your “treasure” so to speak to the church in order to appease an angry God. So with this truth being stated, how are you spending your money? If we were to do a pie chart on how you spend your money, what would the biggest slice in that graph show? Would it show that most of your money is going towards selfish, self-serving areas? If you truly are living as a man or woman who has been freed by Christ, shouldn’t we expect to see that freedom played out in how you spend your money? Shouldn’t we expect to see that the bulk of your money is being spent on others; on your family, your church home and to those less fortunate?

Ok, enough talk about money; let’s look at how we use our time and talent. Since we truly are freed from the terrors of the devil and our own conscience, where or on what do we spend most of our time and offer the most of our talent? Where are you dedicating your sense of peace and security; who or what organization is benefiting most from your passion, your talent, and your precious time? Is it spent on others or on yourself? Do you live to please God and your family, or do you find yourself dedicating yourself and your freedom in an endeavor to satisfy your own desires?

This is really the point that Jesus is stressing to the three hopeful disciples and to us in our gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62). The underlying questions behind all three conversations are: Have you really understood what it means to be my disciple? Do you understand that with great freedom come not just great joy, but hardship as well? Are you really willing to turn your back on what this world says is good and pleasing and instead receive as truth, the things that I say are God pleasing.

Another way to say this is, that the love of God is a proven possession of a Christian, when that love becomes evident in how he or she lives their life.

Christ truly has freed us from the burden of sin, and from our perceived need to earn God’s love and forgiveness. The gospel truly has taught us that the American way of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is not God’s way! Instead God’s Word says that if the Son has set you free, well then you are truly free! [John 8:36]

But sadly, many times this is not the image that we portray to those outside of the church. Sometimes our freedom leads us to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good in spreading God’s message of forgiveness. What I mean is, our freedom in living out God’s gift of complete forgiveness has the danger of tempting us to disengage from our community and surround ourselves only with other like-minded Christians. Instead of being Christ’s Ambassadors of forgiveness, we might be tempted to avoid our neighbors who are not Christians as if they have the plague. And if we do encounter them in a public forum, we may be tempted to quickly pronounce God’s curse upon them. This is precisely what James and John wanted to do to the people of the Samaritan village, who rejected Jesus. [Luke 9:54-56]

And how did Jesus respond to their zeal? Did He congratulate them on their righteous indignation? No instead, He rebuked them for having a judgmental heart. While it’s true that the villagers rejected Jesus offer to come into their midst, Jesus wanted them to see past this one time rejection, and to see the state of the Samaritans through the eyes of eternity. I believe that Jesus wanted James and John to honestly ask themselves whether they had done anything to win those Samaritans for Christ. Had they presented the gospel? Did they dedicate any of their time, talent, or treasure, towards opening relationships with the people of that Samaritan Village, so that they might open their hearts to hear the words of their Savior? Were they really willing to close God’s offer of repentance, faith, and salvation to them?

What James and John forgot was that Jesus’ great mission, which comes from the heart of the Father, was not to judge men, but to save them; to rescue them from sin and damnation and to then place them into a condition of permanent safety.

This week, many of us are saddened by our Supreme Court’s decision to strike down both the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, which also sought to define marriage here in California as between a man and a woman. If you are experiencing anger, I ask that you turn your fears and concerns over to the God, who has freed you and asked you to continue the mission of Jesus to save the world with the message of the gospel. I ask you not to pronounce curses upon those who support same sex marriages, but instead work to create relationships of trust with them. You will be able to do this if you avoid name-calling and instead embrace Christ’s call of repentance, and then live out your vocation as a free man or woman. Free to do as you like, but bound as a servant of Christ to speak and live out His truth in love.

For the sake of the church, and for the sake of our neighbors, even those who are militantly living a sinful life, we must learn and live out this simple truth: The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:14]

You and I are free; that is the truth. We are free as Americans to speak our mind and we are free as Christians to check out of the public discussion about marriage; to wipe our hands of the whole mess and let God rain down his fire of judgment upon our entire nation. If that is what you want to do, then as our culture says, “Go for it! Just do it! Don’t let anyone tell you what to do! You are the master of your own ship. Why you might even have the mindset to tell those no good sinners that this country was founded on Judea/Christian principles, and if the sinners don’t like it they can move out and leave! Or…

We could be led by Christ; go after the fruit of the Spirit, which “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5:22-25] Why not go for that? We are free! Just do it! Love and serve God and your neighbor by remembering how Christ loved and served you. Look to the cross and remember what the penalty of sin is… death! But then look to the empty tomb and remember what turning to Jesus in repentance means. Look to the font, to your own baptism and remember that you to were once caught up in the bondage of sin, but because Christ has washed you with water and His powerful Word you have been freed; saved from the tyranny of the devil!

True love is always directed at another. We see it expressed in how God operates. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [John 3:16-17]

You are a Christian. You are truly free, but you are also bound by love to the one who freed you… Jesus Christ! I pray that as this public discussion continues about what marriage is, about what sin is, that you would not shy away. I pray that you would continue the mission of Jesus by speaking God’s Word, both Law and Gospel. And that is exactly how we will close our message this morning. Please listen to these Words and let them transform you:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself, as He is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that Jesus appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Jesus or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as Jesus is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed (His Spirit) abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3:1-18] AMEN!

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