A Sermon for Covenant
“Could It Be That We Are Really Free?”
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
June 30, 2013
Kyndall Rae Renfro
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Could it be that we really are free? Really and truly free?
This is the daring, risky, potentially-liberating-but-mostly-terrifying-and-probably-uncomfortable question which this text begs us to ask. For a perfectionist like me, who has made it a life habit of feeling guilty just for living and breathing, the idea that I might be truly free sounds simultaneously too good to be true and too radical to be practical.
I mean, it’s in the Bible—we were called to be free, even—but surely this freedom must have a quite limited scope. If I answer the question, “Are we really free?” with too much enthusiasm or too LARGE of a yes, won’t I betray myself—not as Bible-believing Christian who takes these words to be true—but as a possible heretic/rebel/hippy/liberal?
We’ve been talking all along in the book of Galatians about the issue of whether the new believers had to adopt Jewish custom and how Paul does not want to see anyone building walls of division between neighbors depending on who chooses what. In this chapter, Paul expands on this theme, so that we come to see our freedom in Christ does not revolve around this singular matter of Jewish-Gentile relations but is in fact, broad and comprehension. The initial concept with which he began his letter is expanding, exploding right into the ordinary stuff of our daily lives.
Are we really free? Really and truly free?
And if you answered that question, YES, what would that mean for you, right now? What would you allow yourself to do with a Big Fat Yes? What guilt would fall away? What fears would be able to die peaceably? And how would it help you understand, or accept, your neighbor?
Of course, there are limits to this freedom—you aren’t to use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. Instead, you are to use your freedom to serve one another in love. The connation here is one of slavery—you are enslaved in love to others, which is a powerful image that nearly negates the idea of freedom altogether, does it not? How can you be both free and enslaved?
First let us acknowledge there is a certain enslavement that can happen in the name of “love,” which is really a distortion of love, by which people remain in bondage to people who continue to abuse or misuse them, and let’s be clear that this is not ever, ever what we mean when we talk about Christian love that binds us to others. Toxic relationships aside, what does enslavement mean in the context of Christian freedom?
I recently wrote about this on my blog, that perhaps freedom in God, freedom in Christ, is a little bit like the way a tetherball is “enslaved” to the pole. When you first begin to experience the real breadth and depth of your freedom in a new way, it feels like you are flying, maybe even flying frenetically out of control. But you’ve got something that keeps you connected to the ground. You are free, but you are grounded. You are flying, but you can’t spin off into oblivion nor crash into the dirt. You can move this way, then that way with freedom and spiritual dexterity, and while it’s a whole lot of fun, it’s really not about all about you—you are connected to something bigger than you. Love is the thing that binds you, God is the pole that grounds you, but it would be a sad existence indeed if you were granted all this leeway, but you spent your life hanging limp beside the pole, a nervous paralytic, afraid to move.
The Scripture text gives us wonderful good news in this regard because while it warns us not to use our freedom to indulge the sinful nature, it also insists that the desires of the sinful nature are obvious. Ob-vi-ous. Which means, according to the dictionary, “Easily perceived or understood; clear, self-evident, or apparent, predictable and lacking in subtlety, evident, manifest, plain.” Which means my hyper-active conscious can take a nap. A long, guilt-free, loudly-snoring, even-drool-if-it-wants-to nap. What a relief!
There are times, of course, where we stumble, trip and fall right into obvious acts of sinful nature, but since those things are obvious, we can (theoretically) readily identify where we have harmed our neighbor, ask forgiveness, and step back in the line with the Spirit. We do not have to carry around guilt and worry about incidents and feelings and decisions where there wasn’t a clear infraction.
The bad news of this text is that the Spirit is in conflict with the sinful nature. The good news is that it is pretty obvious which is which, so we can all chill out. The other good news is that you were called to freedom, that love is the defining guideline, and that the very Spirit of God is there to help. All-in-all, the good news far outweighs the bad news.
I want to read you a poem I was introduced to this week. It’s written by Kaylin Haught, (and just to forewarn you, she talks to God in this poem, and when God talks back, it’s in a female voice.) Anyway, here it is:
God Says Yes To Me
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
Just in case you were feeling a little bit jolted by the poetic reference to God as she—God, can we call you both Father and Mother? I think I’m hearing a yes on that. Yes, yes, yes. I mean, maybe so, if we really are free.
Freedom is risky business—just look where it might take us! Painted nails, bad grammar, a few unorthodox names for God alongside God’s unorthodox pet names for us. I know, I know, I know, it’s bothersome and could get us into hot water really fast.
Could it be that we are really free? Really and truly free?
It’s safer not to ask.
It’s easier not to ask.
It’s more acceptable not to ask.
The simplicity of the answer, for those who do dare to ask, is beautiful. The answer is YES, and the YES is large. The YES is accompanied by some basic, obvious, things: Freedom is never about biting and devouring one another, not ever, ever, ever. It is not okay to destroy another person—that would be freedom gone awry—the worst kind of bondage, an enslavement to our smallness. Freedom thrives in the context of love.
There are plenty of things that muddy the waters of simplicity—so, this, then, is the essence of true religion, the repetitive return to the obvious: realigning with the Spirit again and then again—not in angst but in gentle freedom, the clearing out of that which hinders, the movement towards that which looks like God.
When in doubt about what God looks like, move towards these things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Against such things, there is no law. There is only a big fat YES waving over them like a banner, calling you deeper and closer and freer.
Could it be that it is really is that deliciously simple? Could Paul, with all his intricacies and strong theological opinions, really be laying it all out so sweet and clear? Could it be that we really are free? Could the answer be yes to all these questions?
May we live into the YES of God, may we walk in step with the Spirit, may we live as those who belong to Christ. Amen.