Freedom (corrected version)

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1 Samuel 11:1-15Acts 8:1-13Luke 22:63-71

My entire life the 4th of July has arrived and I have been 100% confident that the next year our country will still be in existence.  This year is different.  With the very foundation of our democracy under attack, there is that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that says “What if this is our last 4th?”

With the November 2016 election, I thought things couldn’t get worse.  And then they did.  2017 has been a trainwreck.  From personal tragedies, to family deaths, to dysfunctional churches shooting themselves in the foot, to the political circus that is Oklahoma and the US, it is hard to imagine 2017 getting any worse.

And yet we pause.  We pause today and give thanks for the breathtaking splendor of our United States.  I am thankful for the US Constitution and the Constitutions of all of our states, which demands that the rule of law trump over the tRump (most recently our state election officials saying NO to Big Government/Big Brother).

We live in a great country where no one person can hold captive our liberty.

Oh, that will not stop politicians from trying.  Human nature is to grab for power.  But the checks and balances of our country finally win out. Don’t they?

Our Acts reading is remarkable today.  Saul persecutes the church in a dramatic way, breaking into house after house and dragging Christians, both men and women, to prison.  Freedom is in jeopardy and the church is scattered throughout the countryside.  But the pivotal question comes: Is this a dark day for the church, or its most glorious day?

It turns out, the irony of scattering is precisely what the church needed – the impetus for growth, forcing the church into new territory.  Irony is a common theme for the New Testament.  In Luke, Jesus seals his fate by acknowledging he is the Son of God.  His crucifixion is the most glorious of days ironically for God’s kingdom.

And that is the irony of our country today and the July 4th celebrations.  Despite the threats to our democracy, the seeming erosion of freedom and liberty will probably lead to more freedom and more liberty.  That is how it has always gone.

Think about marriage equality.  Who would have thought 10 years ago that our country would be years ahead of Germany on the issue of marriage equality?  Germany has always beaten the pants off of us when it comes to infrastructure and jobs and energy and healthcare and social policies.  How on earth did we leapfrog them on marriage equality?

Well, because of states rights.  So today I give thanks for these United States of ours.  Here is the deal with freedom.  Once you give freedom it is hard to take it away.  So one or two states declared same-sex marriage legal, and it became difficult to take away those rights as people moved across state lines – or the rights of their children more aptly.

The same principle of freedom in Christ and Christ’s will has molded and shaped the church.  Once the Holy Spirit has moved us to be more loving or inclusive, it is hard to take that away.  Women in ministry.  Or backing up to the 1st Century, the Jewish/Gentile question.

Change in churches have caused anxiety.  It is natural.  But in a similar ironic twist in church work, that anxiety has not always been a bad thing.  It wasn’t too long ago that integrated churches were illegal, especially in the South.  Anxiety over women in ministry or gays in ministry has led to the Church in North America generally being more inclusive, loving, and healthy in my eyes.  (People always want to talk about how the Presbyterian Church is in decline.  Have they looked at Southern Baptists churches?  Their decline is much more rapid.  Part of it is simply a large generational population dying off, coupled with the secularization of society.  I am not so much interested in overall numbers.  I am interested in overall health.  Like I said in my last reflection, I would rather have 1000 people who want to follow Jesus, than a million that don’t give a darn.)  

Much like pruning a vine, God is making us a stronger church.  A more inclusive church, more loving, more set on the ideals that Christ held close.

Those churches of exclusion are gasping their last gasp.

Our challenge is to trust that our anxiety can ultimately lead to health and success and a stronger church.

And so whether you are part of a church struggling to have a healthy survival instinct, or whether you are struggling over using wine for communion or having a common cup, or having people of different color come in the door, trust that God can use your anxiety.  Just don’t let it become a pathological fear that can dangerously steer the agenda of the church into more fear.  Remember, the early church had much anxiety.  There was constant stress, even churches being blown apart by radical extremists like Saul.   And yet, the church thrived.  So will our country.

Do we believe our theology or not?  Do we trust that God is in charge or not?

Nothing can shake the foundation of who we are.  And as we claim that, we will find ourselves overcoming the anxieties in the churches or our country – but we must face them head on.  We must trust that Christ is at the center of who we are, and we must act accordingly.

May freedom ring!

-Matt

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