Freedom to Love

July 2, 2017

Series: July 2017

Category: Faith

Passage: Galatians 5:1-13

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Since it is the July 4th weekend, I have had several patriotic songs rolling around in my head over the last few days.  One theme that I have noticed running through them all is the theme of “freedom.”  That makes sense.  Freedom was one of the founding ideals of this country.  And it definitely shows up in our country’s patriotic songs.  For example …

“The Star Spangled Banner” (the last line)
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave

“You’re A Grand Old Flag”
You're a grand old flag, you're a high flying flag,
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of the land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.

“America the Beautiful” (Lots of verses on this one!  One of the verses ends this way …)
America! America! God shed God’s grace on thee
‘Till selfish gain no longer stain the banner of the free

“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”
My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing … (skip to the end)
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When singing these songs, there is no doubt that freedom is important in this country.  We see it also in the Bill of Rights.  The very first amendment to our Constitution spells out the freedoms that were important to our country’s founders … freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government to right wrongs.

I will say, though, that when I read and hear the news stories from around our country these days, I’m not sure how confident I feel singing about it being the “land of the free.”  Certainly, we have many freedoms here that people in some other countries don’t have.  However, it seems to me that freedom in the United States is very dependent on your skin color, and your income level, and your educational background, and your religious beliefs.  Depending on who you ask, you would probably get a wide range of opinions about how much freedom Americans actually have.

Because it is the 4th of July weekend, and I have been thinking about what freedom really means in this country, I read with interest this passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  “For freedom, Christ has set us free.”  Rob and I say this almost every week as part of the assurance following our Community Prayer.  “In Christ you are forgiven … you are set free.”  Does that sound familiar?

But what exactly is this freedom that we speak about so regularly?  In some sense, it is a freedom from … a freedom from sin, from our mistakes, from our bad choices.  In Christ we experience the freedom of knowing that those things need not rule our lives, for our God is a God of abundant grace and forgiveness.  But, as Paul reminds us, we have also been given a freedom to … Christ has set us free to love.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself – the whole law summed up in a single commandment.

I can’t help but wonder if freedom in our country would look and feel a little differently if everyone lived into that freedom to love.  If everyone used their freedom not for self-indulgence, as Paul reminds us, but for love.  “Till selfish gain no longer stain the banner of the free.”  I wonder if the author of “America the Beautiful” was quoting Paul?

What would freedom look like in our country if we were able to love each other regardless of our skin color or our income level or our religious beliefs.  Not ignoring our important differences, but realizing that those differences should not be barriers to love. 

The Psalmist we heard from this morning definitely understands what it means to receive the freedom of God’s love and care.  We do not know the specifics of this Psalmist’s plight, but it sounds like he was battling some illness or malady that left him close to death.  “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me.”  This was not a man experiencing freedom.  How often have we felt like this?  Perhaps not having a near death experience, but snared or encompassed by something that was holding us down?  Somehow prevented from living in freedom?

What did the Psalmist do in his time of need? “I called on the name of the Lord.”  And what happened? “When I was brought low, God saved me.”  The Psalmist experienced a freedom from death and a freedom to new life.  And how does he respond?  With love.  “I will love the Lord,” he says.  “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”  Have you ever experienced that kind of freedom?  Knowing that God walks with you through your darkest nights?  Calling upon God and realizing that God has been right there with you the whole time?  Being so overwhelmed by God’s love that you can’t help but shout with praise?

In just a few minutes, we will remember and experience this together as we drink from the cup of salvation.  The cup of the new covenant.  The cup of forgiveness and of love.  The cup of freedom.  When we drink from this cup, we remember that in freedom Christ has set us free.  We remember God’s abundant and unconditional love for us and our own call to love.  May we not just drink from the cup, but may we take this cup and what it represents and claim it as our own.  May we take this cup of freedom into the world and show what it means to love as God loves.  For each one of us has been set free to love. 

Let’s sing together -
I will take the cup of freedom and love in the name of God.
I will take the cup of freedom and love in the name of God.