July 3, 2016
Tomorrow is the 4th of July, the day we celebrate Independence Day in the US. On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer under British rule. Instead they formed a new nation - the United States of America.
Our national freedom is a cause for both celebration and for praising God. Let us pray that we always remain 'one nation under God' with liberty and justice for all.
But now let's take a closer look at personal independence, something we as individuals strive for our entire lifetimes. When we are first born, we are completely dependent. We cannot talk, we cannot walk, we cannot feed ourselves¦ All we can do is cry and hope that someone will take care of us. But within the first year we go from sitting, to crawling, to walking. We are on our way to becoming mobile and more independent, although we still have a long way to go. We cannot dress ourselves, prepare our own meals, or even open the front door! By this time Mom is starting to long for more freedom as well. When the day comes to start kindergarten, not only is the child on the road to more independence, the mom also has a newfound freedom - at least for a few hours a day. But there are many years of schooling ahead. Our greatest freedom during our school years is summer vacation. But even then, we are still under our parent's thumb. Oh, how we look forward to the day we will graduate high school, and then it is off to college. Ah, sweet independence at last! But then you discover you still have to do reports, and take tests, and keep your grades up. At least if you want to stay in college and get a degree before you enter the "real world". So you start to think it will be better once you are done with college, and get a good job, and your own place, and then you can live exactly how you want to live. Yes, that will be real freedom! However, with each new freedom comes new responsibility. Finding a job wasn't as easy as you thought, despite the college degree you worked so hard for. And when you did, the money didn't go as far as you thought it would. Now instead of having to get up and go to class every morning, you have to get up even earlier and go to work. Then, to top it all off, your girlfriend announces that she is pregnant. So much for the joy of freedom¦ Pretty soon you have a wife, a baby, a mortgage, a car payment, and no time or money left over to do anything you had hoped you would do once you got out of college. So you scrimp and you save, and you put away for your own child's college education - and for your retirement. Maybe then at last you can live the good life! That is until the doctor gives you the diagnosis you hoped you'd never hear. And your dreams of freedom and independence you had clung to your entire lifetime have vanished into thin air once and for all.
"Well, that was depressing", you say. And you might be thinking, "I bet now she is going to try and tell me that Jesus is going to make me free, like in the Gospel reading today (John 8:30-36), but I am still going to have all of the same responsibilities and restrictions that I do now. So why would I want to add having to come to church, and pray, and read the Bible, and worship God to all of that? Isn't there more freedom in just being an atheist?" Well, first of all, if you were an atheist, you probably wouldn't be sitting here listening to me now. But I used that as an illustration as to why some people want nothing to do with Christianity; because to them it is just more rules and restrictions on their already restricted life.
But let's look at it from a different perspective. In today's society, we live under many different types of laws, because without them life would be nothing but chaos. There are natural laws, societal laws, and legal laws. As long as we live in this world, even in the US where we have more freedoms than in many other countries, we are subject to laws. When the laws are broken, there are consequences. We don't always like them or agree with them. And sometimes it may seem that some people manage to get away with breaking the law without facing the consequences. But in the end, no one can break God's laws without facing judgment and sentencing, UNLESS Jesus sets them free; for without God's grace, whether we realize it or not, we are slaves to sin and death, as we heard in our Epistle reading (Romans 6:15-23). That is a miserable life and it leads straight to hell. And we cannot break free by ourselves. Our fate is sealed now and forever without Christ. We cannot lead a holy life without first being cleansed by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit living within us. No matter how hard we try on our own, we could never achieve the righteousness demanded by God, and our eternal fate would be separation from Him forever. Just as none of us can say we never broke a rule our parents laid down for us as children, none of us can say we have kept the Law as God's child. But God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to live a perfect life for us, and to die on the cross to take the punishment we deserve, and rise again to give us the promise of eternal life with Him. So when we put our faith in Jesus, He truly does make us free. Free to say "no" to the devil when He tries to get us to do something our flesh might want, but our spirit no longer does. Free to live a life for Christ, instead of being a slave to earthly desires that ultimately bring nothing but misery. Free to love, free to feel real peace, free to forgive others; freedom from fear and hate, freedom from depression and anxiety, freedom to enjoy life and all of the blessings that God has for us here, no matter our circumstances or our trials. So while 'being a slave to obedience that leads to righteousness' on the surface doesn't sound like freedom or independence, it is what brings real joy and true peace, both now and for all eternity.
So as you celebrate our nation's independence from British rule, I hope you will also celebrate your independence from satan's rule in your life, and your freedom from the law of sin and death. Instead, rejoice that God is a loving God, not a tough taskmaster, but one who holds out His everlasting arms for you to lean on (Hymn 133 UMH). Amen.