This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Monday, July 8, 2013
The Truth behind Freedom
Preached on Sunday, July 7, 2013
Scripture readings: Deuteronomy 10:12-22; John
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.