From the Pulpit

Posted 7/15/99

We celebrate on Independence Day the great freedom we have…

By Mike Orthel

Pastor, Kalona Mennonite Church

We celebrate on Independence Day the great freedom we have to work and play in …

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From the Pulpit

Posted

We celebrate on Independence Day the great freedom we have…

By Mike Orthel

Pastor, Kalona Mennonite Church

We celebrate on Independence Day the great freedom we have to work and play in whatever fashion we choose. But how “free” are we? We like to say our freedom of speech does not extend to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater if it is not true. It has been determined that the peril in which other patrons would find themselves due to such an act would justify remedy in the courts and likely due punishment of the perpetrator. Many point out how we are a society governed by law and the law is of the ultimate importance. Ultimately, to the degree we are law-abiding citizens, we are “free” to do our thing!

In principle, this may be true. I’m not sure it has always worked. And to paraphrase a line in a movie I once saw, “Our system may not be perfect. But of all the systems of government in this world, there isn’t a better one.” I’m not writing to justify or defend our legal system. It is the concept of what makes us free that intrigues me on this weekend of our Independence Day celebration.

I remember a hymn we sang in church in the years of my childhood. “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free. Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be. I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand; imprison me within thine arms and strong shall be my hand.” I was always intrigued by the paradox these words present. Freedom implies a non-captive state-the ability one has to choose from the options of life without coercion or demand from others. And yet the words of this hymn, written by George Matheson in 1890, and inspired by Ephesians 3:1, imply that we are bound by our faith to teach the world the framework in which we are free.

The Apostle Paul characterized himself as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ” for the sake of the Gentiles. His life was bound by his determination to teach the world the ways of Jesus so that all may know salvation in him. Paul had choices many others did not have by virtue of his being a citizen of Rome. He had standing and authority that would have kept him free and out of trouble with the law if he so chose. But to do so would have denied his calling by Jesus and thus, by this Spirit, he had no choice. He was free to be bound to his evangelistic task. He had no other choice, really.

Jesus preached a similar freedom. In dialogue with the Pharisees recorded in John 8, Jesus defends his radical claim to “being the Light of the world.” The Pharisees challenged his teaching, saying he was the only one who thought that way. But Jesus, in essence, says that God verifies Jesus’ claim by making Jesus who he is. His very being (ethos, character, lifestyle, compassion, etc.) concurs in his claim. And ultimately, he declares, “If you hold my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

It’s an important teaching and one relevant to issues of freedom even in this day. Freedom is embodied in who we are and how we live. Freedom is a community thing. We are free only to the extent that we allow others to choose freedom in the same manner we do. If we look at freedom as an individual’s issue, we no longer can know all the “laws” regulating such freedom. But freedom, taken from a community point of view, looks at freedom from the perspective of how others are affected by our liberty— i.e. yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

Jesus says freedom is rooted in truth, not in regulations or rules. And dealing openly and truthfully with each other leads to justice and mercy that goes beyond the letter of the law. Our legislators recently decided that we should restore moral order by posting the Ten Commandments in our schools. While I’m not necessarily against allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments on the walls, I believe it is much better to embody them in our lives. It is better to teach the wisdom and truth contained in the principles taught by the decalogue, than to simply demand blind obedience without understanding. It is the truth that will keep us free.

Jesus taught that the greatest of all commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your hearts, souls, minds and strength. And he went on to say the second commandment is as important— “that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.” Perhaps these are the commandments that really ought to be posted, for if we were held captive by these teachings, we would be truly free at last.

May God’s richest blessings help us to realize the freedom we have to be bound to the one who is our Lord and Savior. And may we turn our lives over to that one, Jesus Christ, so that we may be free from what blinds us in our everyday lives and thus truly live as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God. Grace and peace to you.