Sunday, June 30, 2019

Proper 8 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The apostle Paul writes, to the Church in Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”  These words were written a little less than two thousand years ago, and have had many different translations and interpretations over those two millennia.  By themselves, those words can be used in a host of ways that Paul never anticipated or meant.  In fact, as we come into the shadow of the civic observance of the United States’ Independence from Great Britain, we see the word ‘Freedom’ plastered ad nauseam.  Freedom celebrations.  Freedom branded fireworks.  Freedom sales happening everywhere from car lots to butcher shops.  But what in the world does the word ‘freedom’ actually mean, and perhaps more precisely what does it mean to have ‘freedom’?

I remember a time I was having a conversation with one of my mentors throughout the years, and we were discussing a recent meeting were a couple of the participants had exchanged words that almost led to a fight.  I can’t remember exactly what I said to my mentor, but I will never forget the sage advice I was given.  I think I might have said something like, “Finding the exact right comeback to an insult feels really good.”  What I was told was that, “In those circumstances, if it feels good, you probably shouldn’t say it.”  Now this mentor wasn’t restricting me or telling me that I would be in trouble if I did indulge my desire to have the last word.  But he was teaching me what it means to have freedom.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

The Apostle Paul explain further in that letter to the Galatians.  “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.”  Freedom is having the door of possibilities opened to you, and the path of the follower of Christ is making the right decisions with it.  There is that age old adage that has applied to science, politics, and maybe even religious practice that while we are so concerned with how to do something, no one stops to ask if we should.  Paul tells us that what we are supposed to do with our freedom that Christ has won for us is to turn it over to another.  We are to be slaves to one another.  We are to live as Christ lived, putting his life into the hands of others, while those same others put their freedom in our hands.  This is an intertwined knot of mutual support and love as Christ commanded us to be.  We are free, and we put that freedom to love and good, not to the darkness of self-indulgence.

Jesus knew this all too well as he turned his path towards Jerusalem.  Our reading from Luke is placed near the end of Jesus’ ministry.  He is headed to Jerusalem for the last time and he knows what waits for him and what must be done.  Dr Justo Gonzalez, in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke writes about this passage, “It is also important to realize that in setting his face to go to Jerusalem Jesus is making a decision that many Christians through the centuries would have to parallel. It is a decision to confront the powers of oppression. This is never an easy decision.”  This quote is hard, because the rub comes in understanding that while Jesus did confront the powers of oppression, his victory for us isn’t the way we want it to look.  We want Jesus in his glory, ruling the world, throwing down the oppressors immediately.  Just like the Devil offers to Jesus in the desert.  The Devil says he will give Jesus all authority on earth if he but worships him.  But what good is authority without freedom?

Jesus was neither powerless nor clueless.  When he’s on the road to Jerusalem and the Samarians refuse him a place to stay, his disciples ask, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” but Jesus declines the offer.  The disciples know the kind of power that Jesus himself is capable of; Jesus has the freedom to use that power however he chooses.  But he doesn’t choose to rain fire down on those that do not offer him hospitality.  He instead moves on.  Jesus is teaching his disciples and those that want to follow him that the path that leads to the Kingdom of God is one that requires detachment and dedication. 

Jesus knows that the greatest reward comes at the end of it all.  He has the freedom to turn away from Jerusalem, he has the freedom to claim authority over all creation before the crucifixion, he has the freedom to decide he needs just a little more time to teach the disciples before he leaves.  After all, they still think raining fire down on people is a good idea.  Just because it feels good, doesn’t mean you should do it.  If you want to follow Jesus, and I have to imagine that’s why you get out of bed on a Sunday morning to come here.  It’s not just to see my smiling face.  If you are here because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ then the path before you is clear.  Jesus asks of those that follow him to let go of needing to have it all.  Asks them to let go of indulging in the comforts of this world and instead to go out and proclaim the Good News.  Jesus expects his followers to make tough decisions, to let go of the past and embrace the beauty of the Kingdom to come.  And all of this has to be done without hesitation.  Once you put your hand to the plow, you have to move forward. 

This last week I found myself in a conversation with someone while I was out at the town square.  We talked about my job and where I was from.  Eventually the question I always get came up: how in the world did you end up here?  I told them that quite often when I explain to people where Mountain Home is, I add that you don’t get to Mountain Home unless you mean to.  You don’t really end up here by accident.  And that’s true of coming here to St. Andrew’s as well.  When you are in the work of ministry, you listen for God’s call and you go where you believe you are called.  You don’t go where it is most convenient, you don’t go where you already know a bunch of people, or where you already own a home.  You go where God calls you to labor for the Kingdom.

This applies to all of us.  We have the freedom to refuse.  God is not a tyrant.  I could have turned down the offer and kept my appointments the next week with a whole new round of interviews.  But that wasn’t what God was calling me to.  We have the freedom to do anything we please, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.  Freedom comes with responsibility, and the freedom that we are given through Christ comes with the greatest responsibility.  We are called to live in ways that glorify the Kingdom of God.  We are tasked, as followers of Christ to let go of the things of this world and rejoice in the beauty of the Kingdom at hand.  We are called to teach a way that doesn’t fit with what most of society agrees is great.  Every day we are offered a new opportunity to follow Christ or to embrace the evils of this world.  Thank God we have the freedom to choose.