Saturday, June 29, 2013

For freedom Christ has set us free

Centuries ago and thousands of miles from here a group of men met in a small room on a humid summer afternoon and made a momentous decision: to declare independence from the legitimate government of their country. It was the 4th of July.

They said out loud what other people fought for, worked for, lived for, and died for: independence and freedom. They won their victory. The struggle continues. It continues today, under different names and in different places.

Sometimes it seems something small. Small to our eyes. Sometimes it seems far away.

Even this past week freedom has been gained and lost. Here in the States it now so often seems to be about individual freedom.

We often ‘declare our independence’ for self-centered reasons.

Or we forget how precious a gift it is, to be free.

Years ago I had a neighbor who read the local paper every day. Once as Election Day came near, I casually asked him, who would you vote for? And he reminded me of a reality, when he said in reply, I have not voted in my entire life.

Why was that? I knew why. He was South African and he was not White.

Today his sons are grown and they vote.

We have freedoms others can only imagine: freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of worship, freedom of speech.

The list goes on.

But the most precious freedom we have is freedom in the spirit.

For freedom we are made free. We have that freedom in Christ.

Through his work. His sacrifice. His life.

We are free – free not only from something, but also for something.

We are free – for the gospel, to build the kingdom of God, to live the message that Jesus lived.

We are made free for a purpose.

To proclaim the kingdom of God and to build it in our lives, our families, our homes, our communities, our world.

We build it – by how we act, with one another.

We show it – in the fruits of the Spirit. We show it in our actions, in our work.

In faith working through love.

Acting with patience, forbearance, gentleness, generosity, and hospitality.

Putting aside the shackles of slavery – the binding of our souls by intolerance, prejudice, gossip, slander, envy, jealousy, bad faith and worse dealing – we live into freedom.

And in freedom we begin to live into the kingdom of God.

It shows the ways we treat each other – especially behind each other’s backs. It shows in how we treat strangers – even when they do not know we are there.

It shows – in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – all the fruits of the spirit.

That is the good news we bear – the good news that for freedom Christ has set us free.

The good news that bears fruit – what we say and what we do that brings forward the kingdom of God.

Let us then lay aside lingering attachments to the life we have left behind – enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, – all the obvious works of the flesh – and those that are less obvious as well.

We know that badmouthing is negative prayer – we do not need to experience it again.

What we need to experience is the gift of grace – giving it, and receiving it again, in a cycle of love that we neither initiate nor conclude.

What we need to experience we also have the joy of sharing with others – that they too may know the gifts of the spirit, the fruit of the spirit, in working for the freedom Christ has given us.

For freedom Christ has set us free – not for our own freedom only but for the freedom of all.

That is what we celebrate today. That is what we are called to live into, tomorrow.

That is the work we are called to do. The work of faith – faith working through love.

Let it be so. Amen.


2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14. Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20. Galatians 5:1, 13-25. Luke 9:51-62.

"Badmouthing is negative prayer"--Paul Lee.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

the people we are called to become


A centurion, commander of a hundred soldiers, is a man familiar with authority. This centurion sends a group of Jewish elders to Jesus, to vouch for him and make a request. He does not come himself, he says, out of respect. His request is socially correct – even since it comes through people who have lower social status than he in the Roman order, but in Jewish eyes are worthy to approach the Rabbi.

Master come and heal my boy, my servant.

Notice that they, like he, are making a request, not for themselves, but for some one else. Every one in this community is looking out for someone else’s welfare, not their own.

But then the second group of messengers arrives: friends of the centurion, his social equals, who bear the message for him.

I am not – I the Roman official, the benefactor of the Jewish people – I am not worthy to receive you under my roof. But only say the word: let my servant be healed.

The centurion knows authority: he has it. And he had thought, at first, he knew whom he was addressing. But then it began to dawn on him just who he was dealing with.

He recognizes an authority like no other. And he is not trying to make a deal; he has nothing to offer. All he can do is trust – and let go, leave the matter in Jesus’ hands.

It is not about giving up his own authority, but about humility, charity, obedience, servanthood, gratitude, and awe.

At first he acted within his authority, in the context of the community, for a purpose greater than himself. So far he is laudable, a good man. But then he goes farther. He puts his trust, his faith, in Jesus, without condition.

This will not be transactional – Jesus does not, cannot owe him anything, and he can give Jesus nothing worthy in return. He is asking for grace; it is an act of faith.

The faith of the centurion is built on the faithfulness of God toward humankind, faithfulness represented in Jesus. That faith is not conditional, and it is not misplaced.

Awe, reverence, obedience, humility, joy, and peace – these are the fruits of this faith.

The centurion recognized in Jesus authority like no other. It is not something you can hold onto for yourself. Jesus himself did not hold onto anything. It is not that kind of universe. He himself shows us the way: putting faith in the Father, trust absolutely, that all shall be well, in the Father’s hands.


The church cannot become again what it used to be, but it can become the church it is called to become. We cannot, not any one of us, be again what we once were but we can become the people we are called to become.

A church is a community in which we can experience that transformation, the becoming what we are called to be, in the company of friends, and to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit, for eventually that transformation will embrace the whole world.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.  Amen.    (Ephesians 3:20, 21)