“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
the Apostle Paul – Galatians 5:13-15
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;…” Deuteronomy 30:19
We, Homo sapiens, are unique among all God’s creatures. Only we have been imbued by our Creator with the gift of freedom. We have been endowed with the exhilarating and exhausting, liberating and demanding freedom to choose. We are free to make complex choices and ethical decisions so critical that they may determine the difference between thriving and declining, living and dying. And in this lively season of Easter the Church celebrates our freedom from the bonds of Sin, the ultimate freedom that releases us to graciously and boldly serve Creation in the manner of the Servant Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
This unique freedom, however, is not to be confused with what many folks claim as their “God given freedom,” a term often used to defiantly and angrily assert one’s personal liberties. The freedom that comes to us from God through Christ and his Spirit is a far cry from what far too many people interpret as their personal right to do as they please whenever they please no matter the harm it may cause to the common good. From the very beginnings of Christianity folks have misinterpreted and misrepresented this idea of God given freedom. It is a common theme in Paul’s epistles to the early Christian congregations. In today’s world if we are going to preserve both Creation and Democracy, both of which are in dire straits, we are going to have to come to grips with the true meaning of “God given freedom.”
Among all the peoples of the world, those of us who live under the system of governance known as representative democracy have an extra measure of freedom that those living under non-democratic governments do not. Of all the systems of government humans have concocted over the millennia of civilization, authentic and fully functioning democracy remains the form most user friendly to the exercise of freedom of choice. It is when a democracy becomes user un-friendly, corrupted and dysfunctional that true freedom is jeopardized.
For those who comprise the living body of Christ on earth, authentic Christianity, faithful to the example and teachings of Jesus the Christ, is the ultimate mountain top experience of freedom. The Apostle John writes in the 8th chapter of his gospel account: “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
The servant story of Jesus the Christ and the body of believers that embrace the saga, is a tale of ultimate freedom. But it is a freedom born of and anchored by the Cross. It is a freedom deeply at odds with individualistic notions of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Dr. Bruce Longenecker, the W. W. Melton Chair of Religion at Baylor University, sums up the Christian understanding of freedom and free choice when he states: “Christians have been set free from the enslavement of chaos-inducing self-interestedness in order to allow the self-giving Christ to become incarnate within their own self-giving way of life.”
Not unlike democracy gone awry, it is when Christianity becomes un-Christlike, corrupted and dysfunctional, that one’s understanding of “God given freedom” and one’s practice of freedom of choice is compromised and returned to the slavery of “chaos-inducing self-interestedness.” With the recent decline and malpractice of both democracy and Christianity at home and around the world, humanity and all God’s creation are two steps closer to a precipice that has never before been faced. The cursed chasm of climate chaos lies just ahead. The leaders we choose and the choices we and they make now and throughout this decade will seal the fate of our descendants and all living things. Be blessed or be cursed. Live or die. The choice is ours, and it is imminent.
So, what does it mean to “choose life” right here and now? How might we practice the freedom for which Christ has set us free? I suggest that it begins by acknowledging in one’s head and feeling in one’s heart that, as Greta Thunberg has so often warned, “Our house (the planet) is on fire.” And it begins by remembering the sage words and warning of Ben Franklin that we’ve mentioned in past posts. When asked what form of government the founders created, he replied, “A Republic, IF you can keep it.”
If a critical mass of humanity does not sense and believe that life on earth as we have known it and American democracy as we have experienced it are both in crisis, then we are knocking at death’s door. Unless key decision makers in government and private business sectors choose to honor people and planet over power and profit, then we are electing and enabling cursing over blessings, certain death over sustainable life. Given where we now are in practicing our freedom of choices, the prognosis frankly is grim.
So it is that in the spring of the year of our Lord, 2022, with Easter-like signs of renewed life blossoming all around in my part of the planet, I pray for hope, enlightenment, discernment and bravery. I pray for hope to spring eternal in the hearts, minds and spirits of all God’s children reborn in the baptism of the life-giving Spirit. This Spirit is the very same breath (ruach) of God that blew over the waters of Creation and breathed life into being.
In the midst of:
- an ongoing, death-dealing pandemic
- Putin’s vile and abhorrent annihilation of Ukrainian citizens
- attempts across the land to disenfranchise voting rights and alter election outcomes
- apathy and disinformation regarding global warming/climate crisis
- (the list goes on…)
I pray for openness that the empowering Spirit of Pentecost may like a mighty wind blow into our minds and hearts, dispelling our prejudices and penchant for tribalismen while enlightening our gift of freedom to wisely and bravely choose life over death. I pray for the enlivening Spirit of gentleness like a spring breeze to lift us above the clouds of rancor, divisiveness and disinformation that rain down gloom and doom, death and destruction upon Creation. May it be so.
Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness
by James K. Manley
Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness calling and free,
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness,
wind, wind on the sea.
1You moved on the waters,
you called to the deep,
then you coaxed up the mountains
from the valleys of sleep;
and over the eons you called to each thing:
“”Awake from your slumbers
and rise on your wings.””
2 You swept through the desert,
you stung with the sand,
and you goaded your people with a law and a land;
and when they were blinded
with idols and lies,
then you spoke through your prophets
to open their eyes.
3 You sang in a stable,
you cried from a hill,
then you whispered in silence
when the whole world was still;
and down in the city
you called once again,
when you blew through your people
on the rush of the wind.
4 You call from tomorrow,
you break ancient schemes.
From the bondage of sorrow
all the captives dream dreams;
our women see visions,
our men clear their eyes.
With bold new decisions
your people arise.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.