(Jeremiah 28:5-9, Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18, Romans 6:12-23)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/TE5fruZsqY4)
40‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
This morning we gather yet again to celebrate our nation’s gaining freedom from the tyranny of Britain. In a way, it seems odd that we would celebrate something that happened so long ago. We don’t know what it was like to live under the conditions that the colonists lived under for so many years. We don’t know the injustices imposed on our ancestors so long ago. We don’t know what it was like being governed unfairly by a people so far away. Because we don’t know these things, it’s kind of strange that we celebrate year after year our nation’s gaining its independence. Our current relations with Britain are certainly friendly and cooperative. WE weren’t set free from British tyranny! In fact, we like our British friends! So why continue to celebrate the event?
Perhaps because we are celebrating more than just an event. Perhaps it is because we are celebrating an idea, a concept that undergirds the event. Perhaps because we are celebrating the gift of freedom. We are celebrating all the gifts that come out of freedom. We are celebrating the gift of being able to live as God wants us to live—free. Freedom is a glorious gift! The ability to say and do whatever you want, to go wherever you want to go, to act however way you want to act…this ability is something that we, as humans, have always highly valued. Indeed, it something that even God has highly valued since the beginning of creation. God is unlike a lot of creators. God created bestowing free will on his creation. God brought forth life blessed with the ability to choose to serve him. Many creators don’t bless their creation with such a gift of choice. They want slaves who must serve and obey. But God valued freedom and designed his creation to live freely.
And God has a long history of supporting freedom. Scripture attests to many instances in which God breaks down barriers that limit freedom, most notably the Egyptian slavery of the Israelites. Time and time again, God saw us abusing our freedoms and the freedoms of others. Time and time again, God had to intervene in history and reminded us not to abuse freedom. Freedom IS important to both God and to us!
So what does freedom and the celebration of freedom have to do with our readings assigned for this morning? In our first passage, we again heard from the prophet Jeremiah but this week we’re not focusing in on the suffering he was asked to endure. Instead, we hear of an encounter he had with a fellow prophet named Hananiah. Jeremiah must have felt a kinship with Hananiah since he compares their prophecies to those of prophets before them, claiming they were all about “war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms.” He goes on attest to the authenticity of prophecies of peace. Why were such prophecies authentic to God? Because freedom, God’s freedom, is found during times of peace. There is no freedom in war and famine and pestilence. There is only sin and death. Prophecies of peace are ultimately prophecies of freedom so they must genuinely come from God.
It is in times of peace that freedom rings the truest. It is in times of peace that covenants are made between God and his beloved people. The covenant God made with David to keep his descendants on the throne forever was a mighty covenant that has guided us for many years. We cling to such covenants for they show us the steadfast love of God. We boldly sing with David, “I declare that your steadfast love is established forever, your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.” Covenants allow us to live freely and happily with each other and with God.
Even greater than God’s covenants in allowing for freedom is his promises. His promises to us open doors to new and everlasting life. His promises make way for hope to be born. And there is no greater promise in all of scripture than the promise found and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus IS the new life, the new freedom…the life freed from bondage to sin and death! Each of us is born into sin. We are born with sinful natures and our bodies eventually die. We can’t escape sin and death in this world. But we can escape bondage to sin and death. Jesus promises new life to those who believe in him. Jesus gives new life…new hope…new righteousness with God! Paul tells us, “and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” Through Christ, we are freed to serve God and God alone and we are made holy in our service.
And not only God but our neighbor as well. In our passage from Matthew, Jesus encourages us to serve and welcome our neighbors. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has set us free from the sin of selfishness and pride. He has made us both master and slave, “lord of all and servant of all,” as Luther explains in his treatise, “Freedom of a Christian.” This is the great paradox of freedom: we are free to do and say and be whatever we want but we must never forget the impact we have on others. In all our interactions, we are representing Christ our Lord. He is Lord over all of us. His way is the good way, the right way, and we are merely reflecting his way in all that we do and say. We serve him and him only and so doing we are freed to love as only he loves. There is great freedom in being a Christian, perhaps in the way that you wouldn’t expect.
You see, God is all for freedom! God sent his Son to live and die for us so that we might be free, truly free! Freedom from sin and death is much more precious than freedom from a tyrannical country. We celebrate our country’s independence not because of the opportunities it afforded the colonists but because it was built on a concept that we, and GOD, hold so very dear—the concept of freedom. Let us celebrate this concept…this gift…this treasure as we
go about the festivities of this weekend and the days ahead. Freedom is a gift that never stops giving! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.