Monday, July 8, 2013

The Truth behind Freedom

Preached on Sunday, July 7, 2013

Scripture readings: Deuteronomy 10:12-22; John 8:31-36

Photos from June 2013 Vacation
Shaniko, Oregon and the Drive toward Klamath Falls, OR
A warlord in central Asia liked to play the part of a judge. When prisoners were brought to him for a decision he would condemned them, and he would offer them this choice: the firing squad, or the black door. Most chose death by firing squad, even though they were never told what was on the other side of the black door.

A visiting general watched the warlord at his game, and asked him what was on the other side of the black door. The warlord answered, “Freedom, and only a few have been brave enough to take it.” (Timothy J. Helm, “Parables, Etc.”; May ’85)

Jesus promised to give freedom to those who follow him, hold onto him, listen to him, believe in him, trust him, walk with him, and do what he teaches. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

The surprise is that some of the people who had the most problem with this were the very people who believed in him. Why would the people who believed in Jesus, even for only a short while, not want to know Jesus’ brand of truth and experience Jesus’ brand of freedom?

When Jesus told them that they would know the truth, the message was clear that he thought they didn’t know the truth yet. They believed in him without truly know who he was. They believed in him in the belief that he would turn out to be something that he had no intention of being.

As Jesus spoke to them, they felt tricked. They felt that, with Jesus, they were the victims of a bait and switch scheme. When they believed in Jesus, they did it in order to buy a ticket to a destination of their own choosing. Instead, Jesus refused to give out any tickets except to his own destination.

They knew what they wanted. They wanted Israel to beat and rule the Romans. They wanted Israel to be the kingdom of God in the sense of being the boss of the world, and they would be in on the bossing. That was their truth. That was the truth that would make them free to be free with the kind of freedom they wanted. They thought that Jesus could make this happen. They thought that believing would pay the way for this ticket.

Instead, the freedom of Jesus was a ticket to an unknown destination. The only clue about that destination was Jesus himself. Did Jesus seem like the kind of guy who would let them be what they wanted to be, and let them have what they wanted to have?

Jesus was like a black door to them. He wasn’t to be trusted if they couldn’t depend on him to lead them on their own terms. Jesus offered them a truth that was on his terms. They would have to let Jesus always be Jesus and nothing else. And Jesus offered them a freedom that was probably going to turn into the freedom of being like Jesus and nothing else.

The truth was that Jesus didn’t accept the way they wanted to take him. He intended to be something quite different. And Jesus clearly had ambitions for them that were not to their liking. They didn’t understand Jesus and they didn’t understand what Jesus wanted to do with them. Jesus was a black door to them.

Jesus saw a truth about them that they didn’t want to see, and he wanted them to see this truth that they could not accept. Jesus had come to save them from a reality that they were desperate to deny at all costs. In the end they would rather kill Jesus than face the truth and deal with it.

And that is what they did, and yet that is exactly why he came.

The truth they didn’t want to see was their sin and slavery. The truth was that his kingdom would only fight to topple the kingdom of sin and slavery and the power it had over the human race.

In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament sin is often something like finding that you have crossed a line that should not be crossed. It means finding yourself stuck in a place you should not be.

In the Greek language of the New Testament, sin is an archery word in which you miss the mark. You are both the archer and the arrow. You overshoot or undershoot. You veer to the left or the right. In the end, you find yourself stuck in a place where you should not be.

In both cases you find yourself outside of your true home. You find yourself outside your true mark, your true place; the place of the prize, the place you belong. You find yourself outside of true freedom in a place you should not be.

Jesus used the image of slavery for this. The slave looks at free people without having the power to be one. The slave is on the wrong side of a line, or outside the mark. The slave can only look at freedom from the outside.

The Ten Commandments show us what true freedom is, as much as they show us what the outside looks like.

There are the commandments about the slavery of having other gods, and the slavery of making images of God. These commandments are meant to protect the freedom of having a God who is everything that God can be: the God of gods and the Lord of lords. (Exodus 21:1-7, Deuteronomy 10:17)

Deuteronomy says that we have a God of “great and awesome wonders” who wouldn’t be anything less; a God to fear, and love, and serve, and walk with; a God to hold on tight to, with all our heart and soul. How can we be happy with a God who is anything less; a small god who bargains, and negotiates, and changes his mind, even to suite us?

So many times, in our desire to be free, we have made choices that trapped us and hurt others and ourselves. The commandments tell us of the danger of seeking a smaller god who will let us be free. Jesus promises us the freedom given by the infinite God of gods and Lord of lords.

The law of the Sabbath is God’s protection against the slavery of not being able to rest, and not being able to enjoy and take pleasure in his gifts and his world. Sabbath is the freedom of rest, and peace, and appreciation, and thanksgiving. It is about joy and pleasure. (Exodus 21:8-11) It is about praise. (Deuteronomy 10:21) We are truly free when we can stop and count our blessings. In Jesus, God gives us everything we need. Only in Jesus can we be truly free.

The command to honor father and mother protects us from the slavery of thinking that what made you and shaped your life has nothing worthwhile to give you, and you owe nothing to it. The freedom to honor those who have been a father and mother to you, and even to honor those who did the best they could even when that doesn’t seem like much, is the freedom to say that you have something to give because of what was given to you. (Exodus 21:12)

Because of whatever shaped your life, because of those people who shaped your life, you know something that no one else knows. You have something to give that no one else has. This is the freedom to say that God never makes junk.

The commandments give you the freedom that comes from knowing that the lives of all people are holy, because they are made in the image of God. (Exodus 21: 13) Freedom comes from knowing that all relationships are holy and that they are not to be betrayed, because they give us a way of knowing the God who created us for a relationship with him. (Exodus 21:14) Freedom comes from knowing that the truth is holy because God made all things real, and God’s reality is not to be tampered with or broken by lies. God’s reality is the solid ground that we explore and build our life on. (Exodus 21:16)

Freedom comes from knowing that it is good for you to have what you have, and being truly glad for having it, knowing that you can make good use of it. And the same freedom comes from knowing that it is good for others to have what they have, and to be truly glad for their having what they have, and not needing to have it yourself. This is the freedom protected by the commandment, “You shall not covet. (Exodus 21:15, 17)

Slavery means looking at these great freedoms from the outside. Sin, in our deepest nature, makes us such slaves. Knowing the truth means knowing that God sets us free.

God bases his gift of freedom on real actions that he undertakes for our sake.  “He is your God who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” (Deut. 10:21) It is the nature of the God we meet in Jesus to be the instigator, and actor, and achiever of our freedom. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

We are not made free by the inspiration of fine words spoken by the Lord, or by his best wishes for our success. We are set free by the direct actions of the Lord, who led his people out of slavery in Egypt in a real journey through a real wilderness to a real Promised Land.

We are set free by the real, direct actions of Jesus on a real cross, truly dying for our sins. He truly died like a slave, on the cross, to take our slavery away. He took our place so that he was the one looking in from the outside, on the cross.

In our reading from Deuteronomy, Moses lets up on the language of slavery, and he simply calls God’s people aliens. Aliens are also people on the outside looking in. Moses told God’s people to remember the truth that they were once aliens, because the truth about being alien gave them the task of bringing others in; bringing them into the freedom of the people of God.

The Lord did real things for his people and he wanted them to remember this so that they would be motivated to do real things for others. The Lord who came to Israel in Egypt, and who came to us in Jesus, wants us to bring outsiders in. Who are the outsiders you know? Maybe there are people that you know you don’t know, and your job is to find a way to bring them in.

The Lord wants us to make slaves free. Who is living like a slave that you know? I mean, who is trapped, who is drudging, who is struggling?

Part of the glory of God is to do real things to bring outsiders in and make slaves free. This is the freedom of God.

If you want to have the freedom that Jesus died to give you, then be givers of freedom and guides to bring the outside in. Then you will have the freedom of being sons and daughters of God. You will be brothers and sisters of Jesus. No one is truly free until he or she is as gracious as God is gracious.

We are a nation with a story and a mission, to bring the outsiders in, and to set the slaves and the oppressed free (except those for those who were brought here to be slaves but, hopefully we have gotten beyond that). Our founders believed that maintaining a land of freedom was like offering a door to the world.

Freedom was the door to go through, in order to find out who you truly are in the sight of God, and to find the life you were created for, instead of someone else having the power of telling you who you are supposed to be. Because of the influence of the gospel and the Bible in early America, our founders believed that freedom was the door through which people could discover their identity as creatures made in the image of God. We are set free when we hear Jesus tell us, through his cross and his resurrection, who we really are

There were people listening to Jesus (and even believing in him) who decided that this freedom was not for them. They didn’t want Jesus to tell them who the really were. I wonder what became of them.

 Knowing the truth isn’t the same as knowing a thing, or an idea, or a fact. Knowing the truth means knowing Jesus, because Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) What Jesus says about “if you hold to my teachings (or to “my word”)” tells us to hold onto him, because the most important teaching of Jesus are about who he is, and what he will do for us and through us.

Faith is a way of holding Jesus so that we can know him. That is the truth behind all freedom.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed the Jews who listened to Jesus' words in Jn. 8:31-32 thought in terms of political freedom, and said they had always been free (8:33). When Jesus told them they were still slaves of sin, and that his freedom was freedom from sin (8:34-36), they became defensive, even slandering and plotting against him (8:37-59).

    The truth was that they were enslaved to their faith in their nation and its ruling fathers (who led the way in slandering and plotting against Jesus). Only by focusing only on Jesus are people set free from such sin (false faith).