Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Freeom from... Freedom for
The third most remembered marketing slogan is American Express: Membership has its privileges... In other words, this is no mere plastic credit card, it is a sign of belonging and confers status. Perhaps we have learned that idea a little too well in our culture. We are always talking about our rights. Even church membership has become all about status, privilege, and perks. We are very clear about what we think the Church owes members but less clear about the responsibilities incumbent upon members. In Scripture, however, belonging is not about special privilege but about freedom to take on responsibility. We are not a privileged class but a people set free by Christ's death to live more fully the Christian life of sacrifice and service.
We heard this illustrated in the Gospel for today. Jesus speakes the Word of the Gospel that sets a person free from the fear of the Law. Those who listened to Jesus did not hear this. They claimed their privilege. "We are Abraham's children" – we are not “nobodies.” They saw their chosen-ness as something which elevated them above others. "We have Scripture and the Commandments" – but they did not know that Word or they would have actually heard what Jesus was promising. So blinded by a freedom defined by status, they did not see the freedom Christ offered as a path to service in which holiness becomes not merely duty but delight.
I wonder if we do not see our membership in the Church in the same way. We can talk all day on what the Church is to do for us but we are often tongue tied when it comes to what we have been set free to be and to do. When faith speaks the language of rights, it speaks with the self-centered voice of me. This is what I want. This is what I have done. This is who I am. But Jesus speaks of a radical opposite. For Christ freedom manifests itself in service.
The language of faith is not the language of privilege or rights but always the language of service. We are not set free for our own pursuits but for the new obedience of faith in which the Law becomes our guide and counselor. Faith does not run from responsibility but runs toward it.
Faith is never content with an exclusive relationship with God. Faith tells the world what Christ has done that all might become His children by baptism and faith. Fellowship is the language of faith – fellowship first made possible in baptism and expressed in our life around the Word and Table of the Lord. This is the vertical relationship with God which Jesus has made possible by His death and resurrection but it is also the horizontal relationship toward neighbor. Fellowship with God moves us from worship to witness. We cannot but share what we have been given by Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Without any merit or worthiness on our part, Christ served us with His life on the cross and now we gladly take up that banner of service and sacrifice.
Faith speak the language of truth – not an momentary word empty of lasting value but the living and powerful word that endures forever. Faith speaks the objective and unchanging truth of the Gospel in a changing world. Faith seeks the constant renewal in this truth. Daily we renew this life through our repentance from sin and joyful grasp of Christ’s forgiveness. A life made new by the means of grace is regularly renewed by the means of grace so that we may live this life fully – doing what Christ did for us, mercifully serving our neighbors as ourselves. The freedom of the Gospel shapes us for service. This is not some thing theoretical but the practical living out of faith in daily life.
The power of the Reformation lies not in the renewal of a special class of people who believe God owes them something; but in the common life of God's people strengthened and renewed around the Word and Table of the Lord for sacrificial service to our neighbors. Sin turned love into a fearful thing. What Christ did was to made it possible for us to love in word and in deed without fear of loss.
The Gospel has restored to us our service of praise and thanksgiving to God by loving and serving our neighbors as Christ has loved and served us. Now nearly 500 years after Luther issued a clarion call of reform and renewal, we find ourselves almost back where he began. We look at faith as currency to get what we want from God. We look at worship in terms of what we want or life. We look at the Church for what "it" does for us. We have exchanged His perfect freedom for the same old bondage to self. For freedom Christ has set us free. This freedom is not for trivial or selfish pursuit. It is for the great call of God to take what He has given and live it and give it to love others in His name.
We have come full circle. Like the Jews of old, we speak the language of rights, demand respect, seek to be noticed, and expect special treatment. The freedom we have been given was for the joyful surrender of self to love God above all and our neighbor as our selves. As Luther says, "That we may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom." We have grown far too comfortable with a membership that is about personal privilege instead of our joyful call to live in Christ and under Christ this mortal life for noble purpose.
To those confirmed today and those who sit with them in the pews, I say that membership is fresh out of privileges to make us feel better. You and I have been called by God, washed in Christ's blood, and set apart in faith to love and serve within limit, making Christ's work our joyful duty in faith. The Reformation never proclaimed a selfish freedom from service but the freedom to serve – rightly as response to what Christ has done for us - not as a means of obtaining righteousness. We are loved to love, forgiven to forgive, served to serve.
Now few of us parade our righteous before God as did the Jews to whom Jesus spoke and we are less likely to feel despondent by our guilt as in Luther’s day. Instead we seek God’s approval for the lives we live for ourselves and our pleasure. All are equal prisons for which Christ has come to set us free. That freedom always manifests itself in service – taking what God has given to us in His Son and serving others in His name with that same mercy, grace, love, forgiveness, compassion, and joy. So what will it be – a people enslaved to the moment and to self or a people set free for noble purpose? God grant us the faithful response. Amen.