Freedom From, Freedom For

U.S. Flag on Spring Day

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery …. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. –Galatians 5:1, 13

On this Independence Day weekend, we are mindful of national events that are challenging our understanding of freedom. There’s the recent decision of the Supreme Court declaring same-gender marriage to be legitimate and constitutional. Some are rejoicing and others are mourning this new expression of freedom. There’s the case of the Confederate flag flying at a monument on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. Some say it’s a symbol of heritage, a fitting way to honor fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Others say it’s a symbol of treasonous rebellion and racial hatred, that it’s time for such a symbol to be relegated to a place only in history books.

Freedom is both a wondrous and troubling concept, and always has been.

The two verses I just read, from the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, represent a two-fold emphasis on the subject of freedom. First, Paul explains to his Galatian friends that they are free to give up a certain religious practice that had outlived its usefulness. In the past, the practice of circumcision had been a sign of faithfulness, but in the present was being used as sign of pride and exclusivity. This is the direction of verses one through twelve. Then, in verse thirteen Paul shifts course. Next, he encourages the Galatians to practice their new freedom in responsible ways that honor God’s great command to love neighbor, and display the healthy fruits of the Spirit. The two verses that introduce these sections remind us that freedom, then and now, has a two-fold nature. It can be defined in terms of what we can give up, but also in terms of what we can take on; freedom from some things, and freedom for others.

It’s interesting to listen to ourselves when we speak of freedom. To a child, freedom may be summer vacation, emancipation from the classroom. To a teenager, freedom may be a driver’s license or an extended curfew, anything that represents less control by parents. To a young adult, freedom is a job with income. To a middle-aged person, freedom may be completing college tuition payments. For someone approaching retirement, freedom may be release from an energy-draining job. For someone in senior years, freedom may be remaining in one’s home, and in control of one’s own schedule. The word “freedom” means different things to different people.

Sometimes, I think, we define it in negative rather than in positive ways. Many of us can easily list all the things we want to be free from. I want to be free from bothersome projects that chew up my time, free from flat roofs that leak during rainy springs and summers. But we have a more difficult time naming the things we want to be free for. Theologian David Lose writes, “The contemporary understanding of freedom misleads us into believing that, if you are lucky or strong or bold or beautiful and powerful enough, you can live absent any obligations, any commitments, any requirements whatsoever.”[1]

“For you were called to freedom,” says Paul. That’s one way of saying that freedom has a God-given direction. Exercising freedom involves moral decision-making that influences the well-being and happiness of others. Freedom, according to Paul, is for loving service that benefits the common good.

During my recent vacation in Michigan, I spent several hours at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. This was my fourth trip to a presidential museum. Some people visit every major-league-baseball stadium, but I think I’d rather visit every presidential museum. They’re like ballparks for history nerds.

The exhibit at which I lingered longest was the one detailing the events surrounding President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. Many of you remember this period, and perhaps you were surprised that Ford pardoned Nixon, so unilaterally and so quickly after assuming office. If you were disappointed, then you were not alone, as evidenced by the 200,000 letters received by Ford, some of which were on display:

  • “This letter is testimony to the depth of my disappointment in you …. I have felt such fury at being duped again I have made up my mind to use as much money, as much energy, and as much influence as I can to defeat anybody that has any connection whatsoever with the Nixon-Ford conspiracy.”
  • Frankly, as your classmate and friend, I am ashamed of you for having made a deal with “Tricky Dick” …. By your action you have made a mockery out of American Jurisprudence.”
  • (in all capital letters and underlined) SHAME, SHAME ON YOU! YOU HAVE MADE A TRAVESTY OF OUR “EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL.”

I relay this information to you not to defend President Ford. He defended himself, and, long ago, you probably formed an opinion of him. I understand that these letters were written during a dark hour for our nation, and I believe the authors were motivated by patriotism and love for their country. Yet, as I try to absorb this information, what amazes me most is that in the midst of that difficult time there was a person who was willing to do a job that most people could not have done, and that few sane, qualified people would have envied. He had been a football star, a war veteran, a successful attorney, and a U.S. congressman for twenty-five years. He might have decided that he had paid his dues and earned his freedom from difficult, distasteful tasks. But, for Gerald Ford, “freedom” was not just the right to “give up” some things, but also the freedom to “take on” others, not just freedom from, but freedom for.

As we celebrate freedom and pray for our nation, may we exercise our freedom in loving service for the common good.

[1] David Lose, “Freedom,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=486

Advertisements

~ by JohnH1962 on July 5, 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s