Freedom Is a Four Letter Word - Love

There's a story told by Leith Anderson about Abraham Lincoln that goes something like this:

"Abraham Lincoln went to visit a slave auction one day and was appalled at the sights and sounds of buying and selling human beings. His heart was especially drawn to a young woman on the block whose story seemed to be told in her eyes. She looked with hatred and contempt on everyone around her. She had been used and abused all her life, and this time was but one more cruel humiliation. The bidding began, and Lincoln offered a bid. As other amounts were bid, he countered with larger amounts until he won. When he paid the auctioneer the money and took title to the young woman, she stared at him with vicious contempt. She asked him what he was going to do next with her, and he said, "I'm going to set you free." "Free?" she asked. "Free for what?" "Just free." Lincoln answered, "completely free." "Free to do whatever I want to do?" "Yes," he said, "free to do whatever you want to do." "Free to say whatever I want to say?" "Yes, free to say whatever you want to say." "Free to go wherever I want to go?" She asked with skepticism. Lincoln answered, "You are free to go anywhere you want to go." "Then I'm going with you!" she said with a smile.

Of course, we can't be sure that such an encounter ever took place between Lincoln and any such slave girl. It is probably part of the process by which we make legends out of our leaders. But the story nevertheless demonstrates for us an important dynamic on the road to true freedom and through the Lincoln "character" we see an amazing attribute of God and godly people.

I'm almost certain that this story may give you pause as you think about what was given, freedom to do whatever you want, freedom to say whatever you want, freedom to go wherever you want. For those who are chomping at the bit to get out from under parental or educational rules - you may rejoice at the prospect of such a gift. And for others of us who have seen too much of life, we know that unbridled freedom can bring tragic results. So, while we are certainly excited about our own freedom we fear what others might do with their freedom and begin to erect fences and establish guidelines to protect us from someone else's freedom.

Written for the cause of separation from England, our Declaration of Independence did not give us absolute freedom, it simply said we had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That we have a right to a government that will effect these ends. One legal definition of liberty in fact is this: a system of laws which leaves the citizen entirely master of his own conduct, except in those points in which the public good requires some direction and restraint in order to promote the greatest moral and physical welfare of the community.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians chapter five tells it in another way, "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. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Two flags, two expressions of freedom, two sides of a mountain - the goal is always wider than one person, one community, or even one nation. The prize shall always be to serve all of humankind.

Today our country is 228 years old. In the course of human events, that's a long time for one government, one country to remain free and yet we are but a child when you compare us to Egypt, China, Japan, Rome and Greece whose people span thousands of generations. Yet, our country is spanned by only four lifetimes. When Thomas Jefferson died, Abraham Lincoln was a young man of 17. When Lincoln was assassinated, Woodrow Wilson was a boy of 8. By the time he died Ronald Reagan was a boy of 12. When you think about it, that boggles the mind. So much has been accomplished in so few years, so much exploration, so much expansion, so much growth, so much discovery in medicine and science and technology.

The freedom that we won 228 years ago opened the floodgates of possibility, it freed the human mind and hands and resources for its creative center to bring about comforts and pleasures hardly dreamed possible by the founding fathers. We have grand reason to celebrate and celebrate we should for we have accomplished much. We have been richly bestowed with gifts beyond measure by God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen. And science daily discovers those things that have been unseen since the beginning of life.

But our celebration must be tempered by reality. With such great gifts comes even greater responsibility and not just diligence in defending and protecting those gifts. Our nation is at a pinnacle but we have not yet reached the tallest peak. We must strive for wisdom. And yet all around us are dangerous valleys. Though we have made great strides in medicine, we know we have unleashed scary side effects that must be overcome. In technology we have opened new avenues for evil to have access to our lives. In productivity we have amassed great waste products that threaten our well being. By our amazing growth we have destroyed our resources. By our rise to power we have created deadly enemies.

We are a great nation, but we must keep our eyes open. We must not be consumed by self preservation. We must not allow ourselves to become too proud. We must listen to Lady Wisdom. We are at an extremely critical point in our history. Many great empires made it to this juncture but they did not pay attention to the cracks that were forming in their foundation. And they fell.

Paul was very much aware of the dangers of freedom because they were plaguing even his small churches. He warned of the works of the flesh. He said, do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. He listed things like fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.

The story I read to you at the beginning is a story about us and our creator. God gave us complete freedom in everything except the laws of nature. Tampering with those we shall reap the consequences and we know this is true for we have done it. In fact, we have also - unwittingly - made ourselves slaves to our possessions, our technology, our fortunes, our sexuality, our pleasures. We want to have unlimited access to all of these things and so many, many of us have become slaves to our own freedom. Those who fought for our freedom did not intend for us to indulge but to work and strive to make all men and women free. Jesus Christ did not die to save his followers only but to bring God's love to all the world.

Freedom brings great responsibility. Paul pegged it when he said, it was a call. Freedom is a duty, not a right; it is work, not a vacation; it is diligence, not relaxation; it is a choice to take on a burden - the burden of the cross.

Paul said, "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. It is like the slave girl when given complete freedom chooses to follow Lincoln. We choose to follow in Jesus' footsteps, willing to die for the good of all. We automatically think of dying in war, willing to kill and be killed for a cause we believe in. But perhaps it really means dying to oneself, giving up those delights of the world that keep us from seeing the true plight of people, from hearing the cries of the everyday person not just the bravado of the governments.

I am brilliantly wearing the colors of our flag because I want to make a point. So many of us place flags on our cars, in our yards, in our windows to declare our patriotism, but we don't walk the walk. In our enthusiastic display we sometimes alienate and deny freedom to many. Displaying the flag is awe inspiring as long as you live the life. It is not easy living both a Christian calling and being a patriotic citizen. It calls for careful consideration of every vote you vote and every action you take.

I have placed the flags, symbols of our being Christians and Americans beside the baptismal font to remind us of our amazing gift and amazing responsibilities. For in baptism we are baptized into Christ's death that we may have a life like his. As Christians in a free land, will you rise to the challenge that is before you? We were graced with our freedom for a purpose - to carry God's love to every one of God's children, to bring freedom to those oppressed and in captivity.

May God continue to bless our land and our people. May we not be a nation that only waves its symbols, but a people who live its principles and honors its creator.


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