Freedom to Follow

Sermon offered:
June 30, 2013, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Year C
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21, Psalm 16, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62
St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church, North Port, Florida


This Thursday we’ll be celebrating Independence Day – and there’s a good chance that somewhere along the line we’ll be remembering that famous declaration that says

“We hold these truths to be self evident:  That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – that among these are “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  In a single word — — — we’re celebrating our freedom.”

Are you looking forward to the big celebration – the fireworks, maybe a parade –  –  – Do we have a 4th of July parade in North Port?  I’m finding it really rather exciting to hear about how the community of North Port does national holidays.  In many ways North Port feels a lot like the small town I grew up in during the early 1970’s in southeast Ohio.

When I was a kid, I belonged to an organization called Up with People.  We got together to rehearse and choreograph music that was patriotic and community building – the message was always very positive and spirited.

Every year, one of our biggest performances was at the city 4th of July celebration at the high school football stadium – and, of course, there was a fantastic fireworks display at the end of the evening . . .

One of those Up with People songs has been ringing in my mind all this week – the words are

“Freedom isn’t Free — Freedom isn’t Free —
you’ve got to pay a price, you’ve got to sacrifice –  –  for your liberty . . .”

The one constant theme at all our national holidays – a common reminder – is that there is a cost for our freedom – It involves sacrifice.

Freedom has cost many human lives . . . and we’re spontaneously reminded that the true and proper response to the gift of our political freedom is to express our gratitude for those who have sacrificed – and continue to sacrifice – – –  those who paid the price, first to win our freedom – and then to protect our freedom whenever it’s threatened.

So while we’re looking foreword to July 4th and to celebrating the political freedom and civil liberty we enjoy in our nation –  —  the scripture readings this morning are also about freedom and sacrifice.

The scriptures focus on spiritual freedom – the freedom of Jesus and His kingdom – a heavenly and eternal kingdom  – as opposed to an earthly one.  And the sacrifice involved here is Holy Commitment.

It’s common to assume that freedom means being loose and unattached. It may seem that freedom involves giving in to any immediate desire or impulse that catches our fancy.  Some people go so far as to think they will lose their freedom if they commit themselves.

But this idea of freedom is what Paul calls “gratifying the desires of the flesh” – he actually calls this slavery – not freedom!  We start to know true freedom only when we start the process of holy commitment – giving ourselves away in love – loving our neighbors as ourselves . . .

In the gospel reading we hear that Jesus has set his face on Jerusalem – he is committing himself, at this point, to the journey that will take him up to Jerusalem, . . . to his death there up on the cross, then to his resurrection, and then to his ascension – rising up in his ultimate glorification.

And to his would-be followers that he meets on the road to Jerusalem he begins to reveal that there is a holy commitment required to be a follower – to be a disciple.

First Jesus comes to a volunteer who says, “I’ll follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus makes it clear what that will mean –  –    It means radical discipleship – no shelter, no home and no family. . . “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

We’re reminded here that following Jesus may mean letting go of the attachment to the worldly places we call home. On the one hand we know that the security we feel in an earthly home is really a limited security . . . and that our spiritual home in Jesus is the only true and lasting security we’ll know in the long run. But when the temptation arises, when we’re looking for cover, we’re faced with the question: Should we consider going back?

To another man that Jesus meets on the road he says, “Follow me.” But this man has an excuse – he says “Let me go bury my father – I need to take care of cleaning up some leftover concerns back there. Then I’ll catch up with you.”

We’re reminded here that we, too, may still be looking to the past — clinging to the past. Maybe we’ve brought some extra baggage with us on this journey of discipleship, and maybe we need to cast it aside.

Sometimes we assume that resentments and remorse from the past are dead and buried – but then they show up again, very much alive . . . still thriving as a recurring parasite living somewhere deep inside our inner lives. And here we’re reminded that following Jesus means letting go of attachments to the past. Jesus asks us to proclaim the kingdom of God by following Him in the present moment.

And then Jesus encounters another man. He’s not yet quite ready to follow either – he asks for a bit of time to say goodbye to family and friends.

So what about family and friends? We depended on our family, friends, peer groups – and they depend on us.  To a large extent, they provide us with our worldly identity.  And here Jesus is not necessarily asking us to leave family and friends, but he’s asking us to claim a new eternal identity — as Sons and Daughters of God. We’ll begin to take on this Divine identity as our loving relationship with Jesus grows deeper and deeper.

Through all this we learn that following Christ means making a faithful commitment – that true discipleship requires Holy Commitment.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this “the cost of discipleship”

(Do you know about Bonhoeffer?  He was a German pastor who stayed in Germany to lead the “confessing” church in Nazi Germany.  He stood quietly yet effectively in opposition to Hitler’s regime and ended up becoming a martyr in this mission).

Here’s what Bonhoeffer says about the costly grace of true discipleship:

“… it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs . . . Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart.  Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him, it is grace because Jesus says ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”

Obeying the call to follow Jesus requires Holy Commitment – holy commitment is the meaning of traveling the way of the cross.  But the good news for those who are willing to commit  – is that being yoked with Jesus . . . sharing the load with Jesus . . . is easy – and the burden is light.

True freedom comes to us through the grace of God – it is the gift of God – –  –  but it is, indeed, NOT free.  It comes with a cost – and that cost ultimately takes the form of a cross . . .

Let us pray:

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom:  Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might – and the Cross – of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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