October 18, 2017

The Homily

SlaveSale“I set my people free. I will come to Mount Zion.
I will come to those in Jacob’s family who turn away from their sins,”
announces the Lord. (Isaiah 59:20, NIRV)

Then Zacharias, his father, filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking like a prophet, said, “Blessings on the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has turned his face towards his people and has set them free!” (Luke 1:68, Phillips)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1. NIV)

In May, 2011, I traveled to Ohio for a reunion of the high school radio program I was part of as a student, then as a teacher. One of my classmates from, well, many years ago—we’ll call him “T”—told me what about where his career had taken him. T was always out front when it came to computers and technology. Now, he was using it in a very, er, unique way.

“I work for a security agency,” said T.

“The NSA, right?” I asked.

He just smiled. “My job is to monitor phone records and emails for terrorist activities.” He went on to talk about the frightening things they came across in their surveillance. So when it become public that the NSA was spying on, well, everyone in the world, I wasn’t surprised.

Lately, however, I’ve been wondering if giving up our freedom and privacy is worth whatever gains the NSA says they are making. What if we were to shut down all of the domestic spying the NSA performs in order to regain our freedom? Yes, perhaps we would be opening ourselves to acts of terror. No one ever said freedom comes without a price.

But this is not a discussion of the political ramifications of domestic spying. It is about our spiritual freedom.

In the great Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, we witness what took place in order to pass the 13th Amendment, the act that outlawed slavery. The war was all but won, the South devastated. The Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime act, and Lincoln feared (rightly) that once the war was ended he would no longer have the power to enforce freedom of slaves. He insisted on the passage of the Amendment before he would negotiate a peace settlement. Yet even his own Cabinet argued against this radical step. After all, they said, if the slaves are freed, they will want to be “franchised”—given rights, including the right to vote. And what white person was willing to have blacks stand as equal in power with them?

Lincoln paid for the 13th Amendment with his life, but the law allowing slavery was erased. and freedom was proclaimed. In doing so, it destroyed the economy of the South and began 100 years of intense racial strife throughout the nation. No one every said freedom was to be born lightly.

In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Brooks Hatlen has been in prison most all of his adult life, more than 50 years. Then, his sentence ended, he is released back into society. But it is a world he has never known. He is most comfortable in prison with its rules and regulations. Freedom scared him so much that he strung a rope in his room and hung himself. Freedom is uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

The Israelites had spent 400 years as the slaves of the Egyptians. They knew nothing else. They cried to the Lord for freedom, but when it came, they weren’t prepared for what it would cost. They had to leave the familiar and journey with God through the desert. They lacked the food they were used to (leeks and garlic) and water (until God provided it from a rock). They found freedom a prison, complaining all the way. Freedom, unlike slavery, demands faith.

It is for freedom, wrote St. Paul to the church at Galatia, that Christ set us free. Yet we, like the Galatians, are very foolish in our desire to return to the prison of the law, to the slavery of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The freedom of grace found in Christ is too much for us. Give us rules. Gives us a list of what to do and a longer list of what not to do. Let us be in control of our lives, and let us expect God to be pleased with us when we follow these lists. Accepting the freedom Jesus offers is just unnatural. It is scary. It is just too much for us.

We desire the law to tell us what to do, but the law brings death. Jesus is Life. The freedom he brings is not to bring us back into slavery. It is so we can be truly free. And we are. We are free from the law. We are no longer slaves to sin.

Let me say this clearly. If you are trying to please God by what you do or don’t do, you are living as a slave. Jesus’ broken body and shed blood alone provides for our eternal life, nothing that we do or don’t do. All we can do is receive this life by faith. If all we do is trade one set of rules for another, we remain slaves. God has opened the door for our freedom. Will we be foolish enough to stay in the dark of the prison of the law?

Yes, it is a dangerous world out there. If we did not have the NSA spying on us and on others, some bad people might commit horrible acts in our land. But do we want to give up our freedom? Yes, freeing the slaves at the end of the Civil War caused great upheaval. But should we have continued to treat people as property? Yes, prison does feel safe at times. But we were not made to live behind bars, even bars of rules and regulations. The Promised Land awaits, but we will have to leave Egypt and travel through the desert to get there.

Robert Capon says it so well.

“…there is therefore now no condemnation for two reasons: you are dead now; and God, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has been dead all along. The blame game was over before it started. It really was. All Jesus did was announce that truth and tell you it would make you free. It was admittedly a dangerous thing to do. You are a menace. Be he did it; and therefore, menace or not, here you stand: uncondemned, forever, now. What are you going to do with your freedom?”

What will you do with your freedom?

Let us pray.

 

 

Comments

  1. Amen!

    But are you sure you’re becoming Roman Catholic, not Lutheran?

    Just checking….

    • Muff Potter says:

      Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. Jesuits have never been afraid of protesting U.S. military policy. Protestants on the other hand have always been a bit squeamish in this regard, and will usually side with the Pentagon and their handlers from the private sector who need to sell their wares. It might be high time for more of the Protestant clergy to start asking how a hellfire missile fired from a drone at a 67 year old grandmother and her grandchildren picking okra in Pakistan makes us safer from terror.

    • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

      Those of you who have this cemented belief / opinion of what Catholicism is all about are blinded by that very same piece of cement to be able to see with the eyes of your spirit what you choose not to even venture to see or discover.

      If you are trying to please God by what you do or don’t do, you are living as a slave. Very true. The motive for what we do or don’t do should never be to earn our Salvation because that was, is, and always shall be ONLY possible through Jesus. So, all Ye Protestants, this is the belief of the RCC and always has been and always will be.

  2. Sorry Jeff, I haven’t commented on your journey to becoming RC – because I can’t quite understand why someone would voluntarily become part of an organisation that imposes so many rules in order to please God. Which makes me wonder about this piece on freedom…..it seems you want freedom on one hand but don’t know what to do with it when you have it. I get that your journey in evangelicalism has not been a happy one and perhaps your struggles haven’t been understood well. I’m not convinced that the RCC is a place for someone who believes in the freedom of the gospel as you’ve outlined in your piece.

  3. Seneca Griggs says:

    “Let me say this clearly. If you are trying to please God by what you do or don’t do, you are living as a slave. Jesus’ broken body and shed blood alone provides for our eternal life, nothing that we do or don’t do. All we can do is receive this life by faith. If all we do is trade one set of rules for another, we remain slaves. God has opened the door for our freedom. Will we be foolish enough to stay in the dark of the prison of the law?”

    Well said, Jeff, well said.

  4. “God, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has been dead all along.”

    God of the living, Living God, you are indeed dead. It’s your deadness that makes it possible for you to forgive completely, and to forget completely. Without your deadness, your forgiving and forgetting would not be possible, and so nothing new, nothing free, would be possible.

    But all things are new, all things are free, all is grace, and this can only mean that you forgive and forget utterly, and so you must be utterly dead.

    I thank you and exalt you for your deadness, Oh Lord. I, too, am dead, because you have made me so through your Word, and through Baptism; teach me to live into my deadness that I, too, might forgive and forget completely, and so know the newness and freedom, the grace, into which I have died, and been born.

    In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

  5. Actually, Robert, I think Jeff is more Episcopalian…;o)

    • Well, Jeff is Episcopalian in a very Lutheran way, like Capon, as opposed to an Oxford Movement way, which would be more like Roman Catholicism.

      I’m sure it’s delightful for Jeff to have us analyzing and discussing his religious positions as if he’s not even in the room.

      But I guess that just comes along with being a figure of such public prominence.

      • I’ll cover my ears so you can talk about me …

        Yes, I will make an awkward Catholic. Kind of like the current pope …

        Ah, God does have a great sense of humor, does he not?

        • I know the Cathars got a big laugh from that Pope Innocent III.

          • petrushka1611 says:

            +1

          • And the Catholics were laughing their heads off while being thrown out the windows of Prague, not to mention the happiness English Catholics delighted in while being persecuted, disenfranchised, and marginalized for centuries by the Anglicans. Honestly, how could any of us ever belong to any organization if we insisted on perfection for all the centuries of its existence? How can you identify with the US, since it once allowed slavery?

          • flatrocker says:

            And Thomas More laughed his head off at Henry’s stand up routine.

            Next example please….

          • Well, it was an inside joke when little Joan of Arc went from immolated heretic/witch to canonized Saint in five easy centuries.

            Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em to you posthumously.

          • Damaris,

            Now that’s a very good question.

            Believe me, the irony that the person most instrumental to the establishment of the communion I belong to was a manipulative monster who terrorized the senior clerics of his nation into submission to his schism is not lost on me.

            No one will ever mistake Henry VIII for a prophet of God. Which is fine with me, because it means that no one will ever hang on every word he said as a word from God, the way many seem to cling to the words and theological perspectives of Martin Luther. The Anglican Communion got its start in the mire of tawdry human desires, the tawdry desires of a king.

            But it is not defined by those tawdry beginnings; the lotus grows in muddy waters. God is the gardener, and the growth of the Anglican Communion has, in its best moments, exhibited a grace-filled conciliarity that I love, and that I think is unique.

            At first, I just intended to make an observation about how hard it is to assess God’s sense of humor by the character of any particular Pope. I got a little carried away after that. My apologies to you, flatrocker and all other Roman Catholics.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            No one will ever mistake Henry VIII for a prophet of God. Which is fine with me, because it means that no one will ever hang on every word he said as a word from God, the way many seem to cling to the words and theological perspectives of Martin Luther.

            Don’t forget John Calvin.

            The Anglican Communion got its start in the mire of tawdry human desires, the tawdry desires of a king.

            AKA the Anglican/Catholic split was obviously political, not theological. (Even if some of the others’ theological was a coat of paint over the political.) Just as the Episcopailian/Anglican split was due to American independence; once the Thirteen Colonies broke away from England, their Anglican churches could not longer be truly Church of England. Theology played a minor role.

          • Not exactly right, HUG.

            There had been loud noise in the English Catholic Church (for a century or more before the schism) about seeking independence from the overly politicized Vatican, which routinely made political and religious decisions and rulings damaging to English interests. Strictly speaking, a lot of the impetus for change was political in nature in good part because Rome was playing a loaded political game by being both the main religious and political power broker in Western Europe. There were a good many arms that Henry VIII did not have to twist too hard, or at all, for their owners to come on board in support of his declaration of independence from Rome.

            I think this political struggle for national religious autonomy from Rome had a very theological side to it, and that Henry, in serving his own narrow interests, was also inadvertently serving the national interests of England by making it free from the heavy handed interference of Rome. This freedom from unwarranted and unjustified Roman political influence could only be had by first making England religiously autonomous from Rome.

            The theological issue has to do with where the boundaries should be drawn between state and church authority.

          • In other words, though the human motivations for the English schism were in significant ways bad, God worked through those highly imperfect motivations to achieve his purposes.

            Anyway, that’s what I believe, along with many other Anglicans.

  6. And we’ve been given freedom from forced labor on Maggie’s Farm of Religious Justification;

    The entire human race is profoundly and desperately religious. From the dim beginnings of our history right up to the present day, there is not a man, woman, or child of us who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired from our side, by our efforts. Whether those efforts involve creedal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements—or whether they amount to little more than crassly superstitious behavior—we are all, at some deep level, com­mitted to them. If we are not convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, we still have a hard time shaking the belief that stepping over sidewalk cracks, or hanging up the bath towel so the label won’t show, will somehow render the Ruler of the Universe kindhearted, softheaded, or both.

    But as the Epistle to the Hebrews pointed out long ago, all such behavior is bunk. The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins, nor can any other religious act do what it sets out to do. Either it is ineffective for its purpose, or the supposedly effective intellec­tual, spiritual, or moral uprightness it counts on to do the job is simply unavailable. The point is, we haven’t got a card in our hand that can take even a single trick against God. Religion, therefore— despite the correctness of its insistence that something needs to done about our relationship with God—remains unqualified news: it traps us in a game we will always and everywhere lose.

    But the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is precisely Good News. It is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has simply called off the game—that he has taken all the disasters religion was trying to remedy and, without any recourse to religion at all, set them to rights by himself. How sad, I then, when the church acts as if it is in the religion business rather than in the Gospel-proclaiming business. What a disservice, not (only to itself but to a world perpetually sinking in the quagmire of religiosity, when it harps on creed, cult, and conduct as the touch-stones of salvation. What a perversion of the truth that sets us free (John 8:32) when it takes the news that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8), and turns it into a proclamation of God as just one more insufferable bookkeeper.

    The Parables of Grace, chapt. 3

  7. Jeff,
    It has been a while since I saw Shawshank, but didn’t he only attempt to hang himself?

    Also, talking about being dead is only have the equation, the other half needs to be stated as well. We are alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  8. I meant to say half the equation.

  9. “If you are trying to please God by what you do or don’t do, you are living as a slave. Jesus’ broken body and shed blood alone provides for our eternal life, nothing that we do or don’t do.”

    Amen, Jeff.

    Christ is enough.

    He is enough.

  10. Jerry Goodman says:

    This is a thinking post. For example, I have never climbed mountain peaks. It seems easier to follow the tracks of another instead of attempting a climb that no one has gone before that is marked. I would think it easier to follow rules than faith as God tells us. The great faith unkown – that is the challenge.

  11. Jeff
    I am really loving your Sunday posts. Very refreshing! Thanks h

  12. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

    Those of you who have this cemented belief / opinion of what Catholicism is all about, I challenge you to consider you may be blinded by that very same piece of cement to be able to see with the eyes of your spirit what you choose not to even venture to see or discover.

    Jeff said : “If you are trying to please God by what you do or don’t do, you are living as a slave.” Very very true. The motive for what we do or don’t do should never be to earn our Salvation because that was, is, and always shall be ONLY be possible through Jesus. No human being can earn their salvation. Protestants, this is the belief of the RCC and always has been and always will be.

    With that being said, and very much agreed upon, we are not puppets moving through our days as though attached by strings of grace. Puppets are not capable of loving, choosing, thinking, acting. We have been given a free will. With that free will we make a conscious choice to accept all that Jesus has done for us and make Him the Lord of our lives. This concept of Lord is foreign to the American way of life where historically our concept of freedom is about doing whatever one wishes as long as it causes no harm or infringement on the rights/freedoms of others. A lord in ancient and medieval times was : someone having power and authority over others; ruler; master, owner and head of a feudal estate. Someone to whom service and obedience were due, a person having the ultimate authority over his subjects.

    If we accept Jesus as Our Lord and Savior then He has the right, the power and authority to command us to do things. He has the right to expect us to obey Him. He owns everything we claim as ‘mine’. And Jesus exercised this right over us prior to His death and after His resurrection and continues to do so today, tomorrow and forever.

    True freedom is not being able to do whatever one wishes when ever one wants however one desires. Such a person is actually a slave of their own wishes, wants, feelings and desires.

    Rules and guidelines are part of the fabric of life, in families, cities, countries etc….God Himself in Jesus gave us a new law which Jesus said sums up and completes all the other laws… and that is non other than the two Great Commandments of Love. True Love is an action. it is something a person does, a way a person acts, how a person thinks, what a person says. These are all things we can choose to do, we can practice doing, we can improve at doing, we can grow in doing. Yes, and always yes, God’s Grace is part of our doing all this. However, we first have to want to, desire to, and then choose to do it on purpose, not because we feel like it, but because of our Faith and Love for God. Out of obedience to Jesus. His words remained the same prior to His Sacrifice and after His Rising. He used plain words that mean what they mean ; do this, command you, obey everything I commanded, etc.

    Before Jesus was crucified:

    Luke 10:25-28 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
    “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Jesus replied “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

    John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

    After Jesus rose from the dead:

    Matthew 28:16-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

    Matthew 22:36-40 Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    Being transformed by LOVE into Love, becoming vehicles of Love, living – thinking – breathing – being Love, is when we will know and experience the greatest Freedom. Life is a school of Love, the ongoing process of our Sanctification into the image of Jesus.
    I pray we all each and every moment surrender to this process with a continual ‘yes’ to God invading our lives.

  13. I noticed that the slave sale bill was for the location of Cape Girardeau, MO. 5 hrs. east on I-44 from my vicinity.

    • It’s actually on I-55 and a few hours away from I-44.

      It’s about 4 hours east of my vicinity. Our vicinities must not be far apart.

  14. Awesome post, Jeff! Continuing Michael Spencer’s legacy of Jesus-shaped spirituality, indeed!!!

  15. Christiane says:

    we WERE given the freedom to love our enemies instead of hate them, to do good to those who wronged us, to not be offended by personal insults from others, to escape the prison of materialism and try a simpler way of life . . . so many freedoms were were given by Christ . . .

    this world would keep us imprisoned in our own pride and self-righteousness, our own petty hatreds and our many fears

    the Kingdom of God offers us a better way and we can choose to begin living it now
    and DAISEY’s comments can help us to understand how this is possible

    we just have to remember that ‘freedom’ is a two-sided coin . . . there is freedom ‘from’ and freedom ‘to’ and through Christ, we are given that freedom which is not ‘of this world’, nor is it likely to be seen as ‘freedom’ by this world

    • I appreciate that last paragraph, and that is a more complete picture of freedom than both the post and some of the comments. Freedom “from” is freedom from having to win GOD’s approval, clearly set out by the post. Freedom “to” is a freedom to really live, to be fully human. Any theology that does not factor in our ability to make both God-trusting and selfish decisions does damage to that “freedom to…”, and to me is a truncated salvation message.

      We do not have to gain/work for GOD’s approval….. that now sets us free to really live: our choices to live have real meaning, they matter. I don’t find this in most of the “it’s all GOD” theologies, they render us passive and waiting for GOD to do what HE told us to do: choose this day WHOM you will serve….

  16. Well said. God could have prevented evil, be it terrorism or slavery, but only at the cost of our free will. It seems to me that we increasingly have that same choice to make.