“Freedom in Christ” (A Sermon for Independence Sunday)
John 8:31-32 and Galatians 5:1 (TEV)
By Pastor John Gill
There is a story about a conversation between an American woman and her British friend. She asked him, “Do the English have the fourth of July?” With a perfectly straight face, he replied, “No madam, we go straight from the third to the fifth!”
The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. It is always a time of family gatherings, cookouts, and fireworks! But most of all, it is a time to reflect on the meaning of the freedom which we enjoy as citizens of this great country in which we live. “Independence Sunday” really is NOT an official day in the church calendar, yet I have always chosen to observe it on the Sunday leading up to the Fourth of July. That’s because I think it is important that we, as citizens BOTH of the Kingdom of God and the United States of America stop to give thanks for our blessings as a nation. And we certainly have been blessed!
I’m sure everyone here remembers why we celebrate the Fourth of July. It was on that date in 1776 that the British colonies in America signed “The Declaration of Independence.” It took great courage for those delegates in Philadelphia to put their names to a document that would have become their “death-warrant” had the revolution failed. They were willing to put their lives on the line because they believed in “freedom.” Without their vision and courage, we would not be a free and independent nation today. We owe those “founding fathers”( and “mothers,” no doubt) our national freedom!
In drafting the Declaration of Independence (and later, the Constitution), our founders were declaring the freedoms that all people are entitled to – many of which you may have memorized in school:
First, in the Declaration of Independence, we as a people declared “freedom from oppression.”
The British king George at the time was seen as a tyrant in dealing with the Colonies. A large portion of the Declaration is actually a laundry-list of complaints against the oppression of the British throne. So, the first freedom we celebrate on the Fourth of July is freedom from oppression.
The second freedom we celebrate on Independence Day is “freedom from fear.”
Citizens should not have to live in fear – either fear for their personal safety or fear from their government. All people are entitled to live in peace and security. Therefore, the second freedom we celebrate this Wednesday is freedom from fear.
The third freedom granted us by our founding fathers is “freedom from want.”
Everyone should have all the necessities of life. In a civilized country, all its citizens are ensured the basics: food, shelter, security, equal opportunity, the right to due process, and so forth. As Americans, we celebrate “The American Dream” – a vision of a land where everyone is granted equal access to the essentials of life, where all are given a fair chance to succeed, and where no one is left behind – an American community. It’s a wonderful thing we will celebrate on Wednesday – “Freedom” – freedom from oppression, fear, and want.
But the Fourth of July is also a time to evaluate how well we are doing at realizing the freedoms we so proudly declare. We’ve had 242 years to work on that vision… “to form a more perfect union” – 242 years to make those freedoms a reality.
So, how are we doing? Sometimes we succeed – sometimes we fail. It’s a mixed grade.
To be honest, I don’t think we are doing as well as we should. We have trouble living up to the high ideals we have set for ourselves. It’s thee steps forward, and two steps back. No matter how hard we try, it seems that we just can’t get it right!
In Sydney, Australia a number of years ago, a desperate prisoner finally succeeded in escaping from jail. He scampered up into the underpinnings of a delivery truck that had stopped briefly in the prison warehouse. He held on desperately as the truck driver drove out of the prison. Not long later, the truck stopped again. The prisoner dropped down to the ground and rolled out from under the truck to “freedom” – only to find himself in the courtyard of another prison nearby!
Oftentimes, it seems that, when we think we have achieved freedom, we find that we have only exchanged one imprisonment for another. For instance, we proclaim that we are free from oppression – and it is true that we are no longer oppressed by any foreign power. But we are NOT free from other forms of oppression by any stretch of the imagination! Whole segments of our population continue to be oppressed because of their racial or ethnic background. In our quest for the “good life” we are oppressed by greed and materialism and consumerism that leave us bankrupt. And in our personal lives, sin and addictions of many kinds often hold us hostage, preventing the freedoms we long for. No, we are NOT free from oppression – not really.
And, it is our hope and prayer that we be free from fear. It seems that every generation of Americans has had to deal with fear, including our own. At times, we were frightened by warfare or by terrorist attacks, at other times by economic hardships. But in some ways, today I think there is more fear than ever in America. We live behind locked doors, afraid to go out after dark. We are suspicious of our neighbors, especially if they look or believe differently than we do. Millions of homeless, the working poor, and the elderly just can’t make ends meet and live in fear of tomorrow. And parents fear for their children’s safety and wonder if our children will have a future in an America that has lost its moral compass. No, we are NOT free from fear, either.
And certainly, we are not free from want! While many in America are better off financially today than in the past, the gap between the rich and poor is the widest it has ever been in our nation’s history, and the gap continues to grow. Even as the homeless, the working poor, and the elderly are struggling to survive, many in our government areworking to reduce funding for programs that form a safety net. Demands for assistance from charities and churches is growing rapidly and is far greater than churches and non-profits can adequately meet. Millions of our citizens still cannot afford even the most basic healthcare, playing Russian Roulette with their lives. In America, we are certainly NOT free from want, either!
No, we are not yet REALLY “free.” As much as we honor and revere the great documents of our nation’s birth, the truth is that no piece of paper and no government can guarantee “real” freedom.
Let me give you an example: On January 1, 1863, the “Emancipation Proclamation,” signed by President Abraham Lincoln, declared that all slaves were to be set free. Yet it wasn’t until two years later that the slaves in Florida were, in fact, set free. You see, just because it says on a piece of paper that we are free, doesn’t make it so. Our founding fathers could only lift up the IDEAL of freedom, and leave it up to future generations to make that freedom a reality. And history has proven that each generation of Americans has FAILED to achieve “real” freedom.
There is only one source of “real” freedom, you know – and I believe that the reason we as a nation have NOT lived up to our potential as a free society is that we have NOT turned to the “source” of all freedom. Jesus himself said it best: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And who is the Truth? Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
We as individuals and as a nation do NOT know the “Truth.” We do NOT obey the teachings of Jesus. We have turned our backs on God. And therefore, we are NOT free!
It shouldn’t be any mystery why we are still oppressed in so many ways, why we are trapped by our fears, why we are not satisfied in life. Jesus showed us the way…but we haven’t followed, and as a nation we’ve paid a great price.
But we’re not the first nation to fall into this trap. The nation of Israel also struggled to be faithful. 2 Chronicles 7:14 records this – “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land.” Or, put even more succinctly in Psalm 33:12 – “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
You see, until we as individuals and as a nation return to God… until we KNOW the Truth… until we OBEY the words of Christ, we will NEVER be free!
In one of the congregations I have served, we had a group called the “Continental Singers” come in a do a concert. Their program was entitled, “Set Them Free.” And the theme song for their concert contained these important lyrics: “Freedom, people cry for freedom. But freedom without Jesus is just another wall. Freedom, give the people freedom. Give the people freedom, or they’ve got nothin’ at all.”
This Wednesday on this Independence Day, as we celebrate “freedom,” let us remember that freedom without Jesus – is meaningless.
As Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1 – “Freedom is what we have – Christ has set us free! Stand, then, as free people, and do not allow yourselves to become slaves again.”