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Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

We come into your presence with
hungry hearts
and thirsty spirits
and tattered souls.

You offer us truth that sets us free:
we did not make ourselves;
we do not keep ourselves;
we cannot save ourselves.

You offer us truth that sets us free:
we are wonderfully made in your image;
we are safely kept in your care;
nothing in all creation can take us beyond
your steadfast love and faithfulness.

So, we reach out to you.
We lay before you the concerns that bind our hearts.

Enfold us with your healing power;
pull us deeper and deeper into your transforming power;
nurture and nourish our souls till they shine with your love
and bless all whose lives we touch.

We ask in the name of Jesus,
your Way, your Truth, your Life.

Amen.

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A sermon on Mark 1: 21-28, Epiphany 4B

Jesus, it seems, is always on the move. By the time Mark gets to the 21st verse of the first chapter of his gospel, Jesus has travelled from Nazareth in Galilee, south to the Jordan River to be baptized, out into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan for forty days and forty night, and then back up to Galilee where he began calling his disciples.

When he called Peter and Andrew, James and John to join in his adventure, he did not ask them what they believed. He did not say, “Can you explain to me the doctrine of the Trinity?” He did not say, “Do you believe in the virgin birth?” He did not even ask them their position on important political issues: “Should health care be reformed? What is the best way to deal with criminals?” He just said, “The reign of God is at hand. God is up to something new. If you want to get in on it, follow me.” Then, off he went again, leaving the disciples to decide whether or not they would keep up.

Following Jesus, it seems is largely about being willing to be on the move with him. Are you willing to head off on a great adventure with him called ‘the reign of God’?

In today’s scripture, Jesus has already left Lake Galilee and has entered Capernaum. Mark says, “When the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue — the gathering of God’s people — and he taught.” It sound like a pretty ordinary thing to do. Jesus was a Jew and, on the Sabbath, the Jews gathered in the local synagogue. An adult from among them would read and teach from the Torah — the story of God’s actions among God’s people. So, when the Sabbath came, Jesus went to the synagogue. It sounds like an ordinary worship service on an ordinary holy day.

Except, that is not how the Greek actually reads. The Greek says, “When Jesus entered the synagogue, immediately the Sabbath came.” Jesus did not wake up on a Saturday morning and say, “It’s Saturday. I guess I’ll go to worship.” No. Jesus went to Capernaum, entered the synagogue and “immediately the Sabbath came.” Jesus is travelling on a great adventure and he brings the Sabbath with him.

The Sabbath is the seventh day of creation. For six days, says our story, God created the heavens and the earth. For six days, every time God speaks, new life springs forth. God speaks and something new happens. First, light separates from chaotic darkness. Then, dry land and the seas are put in their places. Trees, vegetation, animals, birds, sea creatures — all begin to join their voices to the song of creation. Then, God creates human beings, male and female in God’s image. Creation is a story of life, more life, life in profuse abundance. Part of being human is that we get to join the chorus of praise.

There are six days of prodigal creativity. Then, on the seventh day, there is a day of rest for all creation. Somebody has called the Sabbath “God’s greatest act of creation”. On the Sabbath, we get to stop working. We get to cease our striving for more and more. We get to rest from trying to put our world in order. Sabbath is a day of celebrating and enjoying God’s good creation.

Sabbath also became a day of anticipating that time when God will set everything right. One day, everything that has gone wrong with us will be put right: wounds will be healed; nations will live in peace; all the divisions among us — the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak the haves and the have-nots — will be done away with. All creation will be filled with rejoicing again.

When Jesus went to Capernaum, he entered the synagogue and “immediately the Sabbath came.”  It is an amazing claim. When Jesus shows up in our worship, he brings God’s life and joy and abundant creativity with him. Mark says that the people were amazed and astounded.

He had an authority about him that they had not experienced from their own religious leaders. He had energy that commanded their attention. This was not at all what they had come to expect in worship. Someone has said that, sometimes, our worship services are so dull and boring and banal, that people of the church merely endure them in order to get to the refreshments time afterwards. People come to encounter the living God. Too often they find that they have to settle for catching with with news about their friends’ latest cruise or golf game.

Jesus shows up, though, and worship becomes a place where something really significant happens, where life happens. It sounds like good news. Except, says Mark, immediately, a man who was deeply disturbed interrupts Jesus and yells out, “What business do you have with us Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you’re up to! You are the Holy One of God and you have come to destroy us.” (Mark 1: 23 -34, The Message)

In this place of God’s creativity and life-giving power, suddenly, there is great anxiety and fear. That is a pretty good description of what happens in us on a regular basis when we try to follow Jesus. Jesus invites us into the new creation God is making in our time and our place. He invites us into God’s transforming work in the world. At some point, we realize that God intends to transform the world by transforming us — by changing you and me. He intends to make a new creation by making you and me into a new creation in Christ.

That makes being a disciple of Jesus both very exciting and very frightening. Each of us has some areas of our lives that we hold onto tightly because they make us feel safe. They help us feel like we are in control. Maybe it is our possession, or our status at work or in the community. Maybe it is some pattern of behaviour that helps us cover over a deep wound in our souls. Maybe it is the lies we tell ourselves so we do not have to face a difficult truth. Whatever it is, it makes us feel safe and in control. Whatever it is, it also functions like a wall that keeps out new life and creativity and freedom. Inside, we are slowly dying.

Jesus shows up, brimming over with life and creativity, and we are afraid. We are afraid that, if we let go of the lies and the coping mechanisms, we shall be destroyed. We will be left with nothing. So, we resist. We push back against the newness that Jesus promises. The fears that we know seem safer than the new life Jesus brings.

Jesus commands our fears and anxieties, “Quiet! Get out of him! Get out of her!” Jesus speaks with authority. He speaks with the authority of someone who knows that nothing we fear in all creation can ever separate us from the powerful, death-defeating, life-giving love of God (Romans 8: 38 -39). That love has gone to hell and back for us. That love intends to lead us into joy and delight and great beauty. That love intends for us life, more life, life in all its fullness.

“Quiet!” he says to our fears and anxieties. “Get out of her. Get out of him.” It is a great gift to have someone with authority say to our fears, “Get out!” It is a great gift to tell them to quit possessing us, to stop holding us in their grip. This is good news because those words come from Jesus who brings God’s Sabbath with him: life, life and more life.

I invite you to take a few moments to become aware of your fears. Hear Jesus say to them, “Quiet! Get out!” Hand them over to God and let God carry them. Do it for a few moments here; then do it again and again throughout the week. Hand them over because that is the way you get to walk in the freedom and the joy of Christ’s great love for you. Thanks be to God.

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A reflection on Galatians 5: 1, 13 -25 and Luke 9:51-62

 

“For freedom, Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not submit yourselves again to the yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

Many people lead very busy lives. How often do you feel driven by a sense of having too many things to do and having too little time to do them in? Do you feel pulled between what you have to do and what you should do and what you want to do? Faced with unlimited options, do you feel tangled in a web of duties, obligations, commitments and desires?

If finding some balance were simply a matter of choosing the important things and leaving some unimportant things undone, most of us could manage that. However, life is often not that clearcut. So often the choices are not between the important and the trivial; between something that must be attended to and something that can be left for another time. You get caught between too many important duties and obligations and commitments, all of which have merit and legitimate claims upon your attention.

In Pastor, William Willimon tells of leading Bible study on temptation. He was trying to relate the topic to the lives of those who were participating. One man burst out, “I’ll tell you what temptation is. Temptation is when your boss calls you in, as mine did just yesterday and say, “I’m going to give you a real opportunity. I’m going to give you a bigger sales territory. We believe that you are going places young man.”
“But I don’t want a bigger sales territory,” I told him. I’m already away from home four nights a week. It wouldn’t be fair to my wife and daughter.”
“Look, we’re asking you to do this for your wife and daughter. Don’t you want to be a good father? It takes money to support a family these days. Sure, your little girl doesn’t take much money now, but think of the future. I’m only asking you to do this for them.”

Whether you believe the boss or not when s/he says, “We’re only asking you to do this for them,” you can get caught between wanting to do what’s best for your family and wanting to do well in your job and doing your part in serving the community and supporting your faith community. How do you live in such a way that doesn’t leave your soul withered, your strength depleted, your mind spinning? What does it take to ‘hold firm’ to the freedom and  joy which Christ has won for us?

In today’s gospel story, Jesus invites people to follow him and they respond with a litany of other commitments and important obligations: “Let me bury my father first.” “I need to say good-bye to my family first.”   Jesus doesn’t flinch: “Let the dead bury the dead. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent. Announce God’s Kingdom.” “No procrastinating, no backward looks. You can’t put off the Kingdom till tomorrow. Seize the day!” (Luke 9: 60, 62, The Message)

These were not trivial excuses that these people were making. They were not asking for leave to go to one last party before they gave up ‘the good life’ and started taking religion seriously.  They were responsible people, trying to juggle family, job, and Jesus’ call. Yet, even to them, Jesus is unyielding: even of them Jesus demands that they put him as the priority over every other claim in their lives. Why? Why should he be so adamant and firm? He is adamant and firm because what is at stake is freedom, joy, and peace. Those can be found only when you live out of God’s choices for your life, not out of your own. And, you can only know what God’s choice, God’s agenda is, when you spend time with God.

You keep free, says Paul to the Galatians, when you let your life be grasped by God. You hold onto Christ’s freedom not by knowing which choices to make but by knowing yourself chosen by God. There is a story about Mother Teresa speaking with a young man who had joined her order. He had been complaining that his superior was insisting that he spend more time in prayer. It was keeping him from the lepers whom he had been called to serve. She told him, “Your call is not to serve lepers. Your call is to belong to Jesus”.

The most important choice in your life has already been made. God has chosen you. God is active in your life. God longs to have love and joy and freedom permeate your living. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control are fruit of the Spirit — the outgrowth of letting God’s Spirit dwell more and more deeply in your heart and mind and life. In the midst of all your important obligations and valuable commitments, take time to be known by God, to belong to Jesus. Let God lead you into the wide open spaces of salvation. Let Jesus teach you the ‘unforced rhythms of grace‘.  ‘For freedom, Christ has set you free’.

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“If you could wave your ‘magic wand’, what would you wish for the Church?”

This was a question posed to Walter Brueggemann on Thursday at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Worship Symposium. He paused before he answered. Then, he said, “I would wish for the church the freedom and courage to break the cocoon of denial in our society by truth-telling. The force of denial is so massive, it immobilizes us. The truth will make us free.”

As I think about congregations and their resistance to change, it seems to me that one of the largest areas of denial is the myth that we are in control. We arrange our lives to give ourselves a semblance of control. We try to make it as strong as possible; however, it is often just a thin veneer covering over the chaos and vulnerability that surges just below the surface. When change happens, or is proposed, that veneer begins to crack. We get anxious that we shall be overwhelmed by the chaos; that our exposed vulnerability will endanger us.

When Jesus arrived, proclaiming, “The reign of God is at hand,” he was announcing God’s newness at work in our world. No wonder the demon-possessed man asked, “Have you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1: 21 -28)  When Jesus begins to work in our lives, it does feel like he is threatening to destroy the carefully constructed coping mechanisms that we think keep us in control in the face of change. It is frightening to let him to do that. Nevertheless, it is also the only way to be set free enough from our fears and anxieties to be able to live into the new creation that Jesus brings. That new creation offers life, new life, fullness of life.

Baptism initiates us into a daily practice of letting go so that we are open enough, empty enough to receive the new life that the Holy Spirit wants to pour into us. I wonder if a congregation that has a robust, intentional embrace of its baptismal identity is more open to change than a congregation that forgets its core identity as those who have died and been raised with Christ?

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Freedom

I recently came across two quotes about the relationship of freedom and living deeply in prayer with Jesus:

“The deeper my intimacy with Jesus, the more complete is my freedom . . . my only hope is to make Jesus more fully the centre of my life, the heart of my heart.”
Henri Nouwen

“When I live in faith, I live freely. When I set God at the centre of my life, I realize vast freedoms and surprising spontaneities. When I centre my life in my own will, my freedom diminishes markedly. I live constricted and anxious.”
Eugene Peterson

We live in a culture that thinks freedom is something you win in a lottery; or, it is something you earn in a properly managed investment account; or, it is something you get after you throw off all your commitments and reject other people’s expectations of you and any standards by which to live your life. The apostle Paul says that freedom is a gift that God provides. Then, it is a skill that you learn by letting your life be shaped, guided and redeemed by God. Freedom comes as you trust God with more and more of your life.

This is a life free from the emotional cages of guilt or regret. It is free from small ideas and rigid attitudes. It is a life free for others, for love and hope and courage. It requires teaching, training, endurance and commitment.

The Church is the gift God gives us to help us grow into our freedom. Churches need to be places that nurture and protect a strong and healthy freedom. In such places, people feel free to ask the difficult questions. They are free to risk great failures because they know they have great forgiveness available to them. They are free to listen to opinions different from their own. When they hear the truth that leads them closer to Christ, they are free to be converted and to change.

In such an atmosphere, those who live in fear may discover courage that they did not have before. Those who live in cynicism and despair may discover the energy and the hope that the Holy Spirit breathes into God’s people. Living out this freedom in Christ is a gift we offer to our world where so many people live fearful, huddled, defensive lives.

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Continuing reflections on Galatians 1: 11-24

Following Jesus on his Way takes us down paths that are different from what we have been used to. We have been trained to work very hard to maintain the illusion that we are in control in our lives. We have been taught to get what we believe is right or what we think will make our lives turn out right. Sometimes, we are even willing to trample over other people in order to make that happen. We are even prone to using religion to get us there. That is when we are most dangerous.

As Christians, at the end of the day, all our actions are answerable to Jesus who refused the way of arrogance and intimidation and coercion. This way is so odd and so counter-cultural that transformation is required. We need constant retraining in it. For Paul, that transformation began in the three years after his encounter with Jesus on the road. For us, that retraining happens every Sunday when we gather to worship. In worship, we practice being the kind of people who are formed by Jesus’ way of freedom:

We practice looking in the right direction by hearing stories of the way Jesus saw people. Our eyes begin to see them differently. Even strangers and enemies become brothers and sisters.

We sing our songs to God. If they are good and faithful songs, they re-direct our hearts toward God. All week long, there are forces that pull us toward what is happening in the world and toward what we are doing or need to be doing. Regularly, we need to intentionally direct our attention to God and to what God is doing. If we don’t, we’ll miss the signs of God’s action. Then, we shall miss out on the most important thing that is going on in any situation.

We gather regularly around the table where Jesus offers to meet us in all our diversity. At that table, we learn to welcome even strangers into our midst. We come with empty hands and we receive the gifts God has for us. Doing that in worship, we learn to receive the gifts of God in the world as well.

We spend time with our crucified and risen Saviour so that our whole life, our being, gets shaped in grace-filled ways.

Living in the freedom Christ gives does not come naturally to us, but that freedom is the atmosphere that allows new relationships to emerge — the kinds of reconciling relationships that this world desperately needs.

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A reflection on Galatians 1: 11-24

A recent edition of the United Church Observer, Ken Gallinger interviewed former moderator Lois Wilson. He reminded her that, when she was moderator, she was always ‘lobbing stuff into the political process’. He asked her, “What’s it like to be on the other side?” do you have people lobbing stuff at you?” “Not a lot,” she replied. “Hardly anything from the churches…We’ve lost our nerve. We’ve vacated the public forum…We’re so afraid of being tagged as ‘Christians trying to convert people’ that we will not say, ‘I am a Christian and this is what it means.’ We’re really good at social justice but really bad at our connection with Jesus.”

We’re afraid of being like the apostle Paul was before Jesus hijacked his life on the road to Damascus — when he was still Saul. At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he describes his devotion to his religious convictions: “I went all out persecuting [people with whom I disagreed]. I was systematically destroying them.” (The Message). When we hear his story, we say, “It’s people like Saul who give religion a bad name.” Some people, then, make the leap to saying that the only way to live in peace in our global village is to get rid of religion altogether. That attitude remains popular even though there is no evidence that doing so would actually bring peace. Secular ideologies have proven just as murderous as religious ideologies. In the past century, more people were killed in the name of nation states than in the name of religion. Holding religious convictions, even holding them passionately, does not necessarily lead to fanaticism. Believing something is true does not automatically make you intolerant, arrogant and violent.

In Traveling Light, Eugene Peterson reflects on the difference between Saul and Paul. The difference, he says, is Jesus. Saul was violent in his opposition to people whom he thought were wrong; Paul was just as passionate and zealous after his encounter with the risen Christ, but Paul now used words and the power of his own suffering to persuade people. Saul, he says, “was consumed with ambition to make the world orderly and to make people good.” Saul was very busy doing things for God; making a difference in the world for the sake of God. He knew how to get things done.

Then, Jesus stopped Saul in his tracks and turned his life in a different direction. After that encounter, Paul wasn’t so much doing things for God, as God was doing things in and through Paul. It was a life-altering shift. Paul was no longer the centre of his life. God was. Religion was no longer a passion for getting things done in order to help God make the world a better place. Religion was the passion to pay attention to God: learning to see what God was up to and then letting God work through him.

Jesus did not come as a conquering hero, imposing God’s will upon everyone. Jesus refused the way of violence and coercion. He was willing to die on a cross rather than choose violence. Instead, Jesus offered grace, suffering love, forgiveness, and the Spirit who make new possibilities out of our dead ends. Jesus used words and stories to draw people in to God’s healing and reconciling love.

Because the God who met Paul on the road to Damascus is the God who comes to us as Jesus Christ, the work God does through us is characterized by the way Jesus lived.

The way God creates peace in our world is by gathering an alternative community around this Jesus — an alternative community that is willing to live trusting in the grace of God. This community keeps meeting Jesus on the way and lets Jesus re-shape its life by his Word.

As the Christian Church, we have rightly repented of our attempts arrogantly to impose our values and cultural preferences on others. That does not mean that we must deny what we believe. It does mean that we must learn to live in our pluralist culture in ways that more clearly witness to the goodness and grace and love of Jesus.

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