Called to Freedom

Dear Congregation,

Greetings! As we approach this Fourth of July weekend. I do hope and pray that all is well with you.  Our national holiday will certainly be celebrated differently this year, as pandemic precautions have ruled out gathering for fireworks viewing and for other traditional ways people celebrate, such as picnics and concerts. But there is one thing that hasn’t changed— the value we place on freedom. For Christians freedom is more than celebrating our country’s freedom from British rule. It is living and celebrating every day the freedom Christ gives us to love and serve others.

July 1, 2020, marked the two-year anniversary of the day I began serving as your Interim Minister. I continue to be grateful for your call! July 4, 2018 was the first Sunday that I led worship at Christ Congregational Church as Interim Minister. I thought I would share with you part of the sermon I preached that day, as I think its message continues to be relevant, perhaps in new ways, even though much has changed in both in our country and our church.

God Bless You, and may God Bless America.

In Christ’s love and freedom,

Pastor Candy

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“Called to Freedom”

Candy Thomas

July 4, 2018
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

There was once a little boy who had (and loved) a pet goldfish. One summer, as he was packing to spend three months with relatives at the lake up north, his dad said, “Take this goldfish with you. I don’t want to take care of it this summer.” Every day the little boy watched his beloved goldfish swimming around and around in it’s bowl, and every day when he went to the lake to swim he thought of all the other fish with all their freedom. Finally he came to a decision.

He went down to the dock with his fish bowl and gave his fish a little talk. “Right now, you’re imprisoned in this small bowl, but I’m going to help you have all the space you want. You can eat well here and grow up to be a big fish.” But when he put the goldfish in the water at the end of the dock, it stayed right there. It just swam around and around, as if it were still in the bowl. The boy backed off, thinking the fish was attached to his shadow. But when he moved back to see if the fish had swum away, there it was— still swimming around and around! He tried throwing a stone into the water to scare it away, but that goldfish just kept swimming in circles.

The little boy finally went to bed, thinking the fish would be gone when he came down to the water in the morning. Problem: after breakfast the goldfish was still there, swimming around in the same circles. In total frustration, the boy sat down on the edge of the dock and thought, “That fish should be free. It has the whole lake to swim in.” Suddenly, he saw a big ripple in the water— a huge ripple. Gulp! A big bass swallowed his little goldfish. Moral of the story: Claim your freedom!!!

Claim your freedom. That sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? After all, none of us is wearing handcuffs or leg chains or bright orange prison overalls this morning. We live in a country dedicated to freedom, as we are reminded each Fourth of July when we have a holiday and watch the fireworks light up the sky. We value our freedom and have come to expect that we should have certain rights. We probably don’t see ourselves as goldfish in a bowl; we especially don’t see ourselves as goldfish continuing to act as if the restricting bowl were still there long after it has been removed and we have been given the chance for true freedom. And so I lift up to you, my friends, these thoughts about freedom for Christians that were shared by the Apostle Paul long ago in his letter to the Galatians.

Paul tells the congregation of the Galatian church that they have been set free by Christ. In Galatians 5:1 we hear, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Christ has set us free through his loving life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection, as surely as if he had tipped us out of the fishbowl into the lake of living water. But once out, it is up to each of us to stand firm and not submit again to the yoke of slavery. That yoke of slavery is a personal yoke, made up of decisions each individual must make for herself or himself. Someone else cannot enslave our spirits unless we permit that to happen; our bodies, yes, our spirits, no.

Addressing the members of the Galatian church, Paul focuses on the problems there between factions which disagree about the requirements for following Christ. One faction thought that Christians must first follow the Jewish law, which mandated circumcision for men. A second faction said, “no” those are the old rules, Christ has brought us something very new. The old rules simply don’t apply anymore. Paul writes in v. 6 that, “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” This is true freedom— freedom to love and to serve. I like this quote from a back issue of the periodical “Homiletics,” “We must be careful that we don’t define the freedoms we enjoy so much solely as ‘freedom from’ — forgetting that the real test of freedom’s value is how we use our ‘freedom to.’ The freedom to truly serve Christ.

The question is, “What prevents us from claiming this freedom as our own?” What keeps us swimming around in what we think are our old safe patterns with an ocean of freedom available to us? What keeps us stuck, easy prey for that largemouth bass, which could be a symbol for our never, ever, our whole lives long, accepting the gift of freedom we have been given by the one who set us free?

My sisters and brothers in Christ, I suggest to you on this warm July morning that what prevents us is simply ourselves. We do not seem to be able to believe the good news that has come our way enough to trust its truth and act upon it. We limit ourselves. We are the jailors as we keep ourselves in prisons with bars of our own making. We refuse to allow ourselves to trust in the power and truth of the Holy Spirit and to structure our lives around Christ’s new commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourselves.” Instead of looking at our lives through the eyes of the world, measuring success by material goods, worrying about how others see and judge us, we are called only to love and to serve. It sounds so simple, and yet we all know that it’s not easy.    

Paul lists all the things that get in the way. He puts them under the heading of “Works of the Flesh. These are destructive ways of being and relating to others. Yes, freedom is interpreted by some people as license to do exactly as they please. They abuse the freedom they have, perceiving it their right to break the rules that hold them back from doing what they want to do, interfering with their personal happiness. They see themselves as the center of the world, with the rest of the world revolving around them. This selfish view of freedom is definitely not what Paul has in mind when he writes of Christian freedom.

Paul writes about the tremendous change Christ has in store for those who freely bind themselves to him. They do not need external laws to control their behavior for they are grounded in Christ’s commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I read a story once attributed to J. Walter Cross. He tells of flying a kite with his son in southern Florida during some windy weather. The wind was strong, and the kite grew smaller and smaller as it tugged against the string. The harder the wind blew, the higher it rose. Then there was a sickening snap! The string had broken. The kite was free, but it was no longer soaring higher. It was tumbling, falling crazily to dash itself against the ground or become tangled in the trees. What kept the kite airborne was the restraint of the string. When that was lost, the kite was unable to fly.

We are never freed until we are restrained by something that pulls us higher and higher. It is not the absence of restraints that makes us free. There is no freedom in life until one belongs to God. Every other form of it is an illusion. We find the freedom to achieve the greatest desires of our lives only when we live in that relationship. When we bind ourselves to Christ, then we are free. Each of us has been given the key to unlock the door of our own personal prison that limits our discipleship and our opportunities to do God’s work in the world. That key is Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God!

Let us pray. O One who frees us, we often live lives in bondage. Release us. We often feel tied, caught, chained by the circumstances of our day or our own inertia. Take the key of Christ and unlock these locked doors. Set us at liberty and enable us to be at the tasks of opening prison doors for others. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.