"For freedom Christ…"
Reformation Sunday; October 25, 2015
"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Freedom and slavery: these are themes that Paul writes about. In the United States, we talk about freedom a lot, but we have not been very good at agreeing on what we mean by freedom. And I have become convinced that a lot of the things we think of as signs of freedom actually have the potential to enslave us.
Let's think together a bit. What are some things in our lives that we think of as signs of freedom? And I mean actual things, not ideals such as freedom of speech or of religion. Do you and I own anything or have anything or use anything that makes us feel free?
Here is what folks said: car/vehicle, computer, credit card
What about it helps us feel free?
Vehicle: go where I want when I want. Have all my family together. Take others with me. Opportunity for self-expression.
Computer: contact with people all over the world. Instant access to information. Shopping without having to leave my house.
Credit Card: Buy things right away. Not have to carry cash. Shopping online. Access to more than I have right now when an emergency arises.
Now, how does having that potentially become a trap?
Vehicle: Debt (payments). Other costs: gasoline, insurance. Social entrapment: culture is car-dependent, so are limited if don't have a car. Time, money and energy spent on maintenance.
Computer: Time-waster (addiction). Isolation (impede in-person relationships). Social entrapment: limited options for those who don't have one.
Credit Card: Debt. Immediate gratification, so don't learn good habits.
Nothing about any of these things is bad in and of itself, but it becomes bad in its potential to enslave you. Paul's argument in Galatians was about the Law of God; it is not bad, but when you turn to the Law for salvation then you become a slave. You can read his argument for yourself, if you want; it's short and easy to read.
You and I struggle to have and to control the things in our lives and not let them control us. I continually struggle with food – some of you do, too – because I could easily dive into a box of doughnuts and enjoy that pleasure and sense of freedom. But I continually remind myself of a decision I have made and that I need to make over and over again: that I want to be healthy more than I want those doughnuts.
Someone who watches me refuse a doughnut may think I am a slave: a slave to a diet, that "I can't eat that." But that is not true. I am free from the allure of the doughnut, I am free from the tyranny of sugar, free to decide that a deeper happiness comes from long-term health than from a single doughnut.
Now, my choice to be free from the tyranny of sugar is not something I can maintain on my own. I have a good support-system that helps me, people who are struggling with me, a network that supports me. I am free, but I cannot maintain my freedom on my own. God gives me others to help me stay free.
Okay, that example may sound trivial, but I'll bet a lot of you can understand my struggle. And it is a good analogy for how I think about money. I tithe – give ten percent of my salary – to the Church not because the rules say that I ought to, but because by doing so I proclaim my freedom from the tyranny of money. And if you also make that choice, to give sacrificially, even to tithe, then we have each other's support and encouragement. Although it is a personal decision, we need each other's help to be able to stay free, to let our money show what we really care about.
My self-worth is not in my net worth. My value as a human being is in being a child of God in Jesus Christ, and so I don't have to spend my money on all the things that our society tells us are essential. I am free to tithe, to act out of a conviction that, just as a deeper happiness comes from being healthy than from a single doughnut, a deeper joy comes from belonging to God in Jesus Christ than from a bigger TV set.
The prophet Malachi used threats and promises to get the people to keep the covenant and give a tithe to the Temple (Malachi 3:8-10). Folks had slacked off, decided that they had too many obligations to be able to give ten percent, and also that it didn't make good economic sense to bring to the Temple a good lamb, one that would fetch a better price in the market. A lamb with blemishes is good enough for God. Sounds familiar. At home I need the newest and best microwave oven; my old cast-off is good enough for the Church. The church kitchen: where old coffee-makers go to die.
So the prophet said that if you give less than ten percent to the Temple then you are stealing from God and God will not take kindly to that. Threat. But if you give ten percent, then see how God will bless you. Promise. Well, lots of folks have taken the prophet up on that. He may have been right.
The Prophet used threats and promises. I prefer to affirm my freedom, my freedom from social expectation, my freedom from the ploys of advertisers, my freedom from our culture's dominant religion: consumerism.
Because for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Our freedom in Christ is to let our lives show what we truly care about.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Benson Presbyterian Church