Romans 3:19–28; John 8:31–36
Yesterday, I was watching a movie in which a small story line was about a little girl who seemed to have a secret. Over and over again, she ran away instead of revealing her secret. Finally, she told another girl. Her secret was that she had trouble reading. Once her secret was out, she was freer to have good friends and more honest relationships. She also got help learning to read.
In our Gospel text, Jesus is speaking to some Jews who believed in him, but didn’t completely understand what he meant when he spoke in metaphors. Jesus speaks about freedom, and his listeners automatically assume he is talking about political freedom. They claim that they have never been slaves; we wonder why they have forgotten that they were once slaves in Egypt; they might as well have been slaves during the exile in Babylon; and they were under the control of the Romans in Jesus’ time. Even though they were not called slaves, they were still not free. How could they forget?
I have been in places where the people were not free. In 1987 I was with a group of women in East Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain was still hanging in place, but it had begun to rust.
The people my group met with knew that they were not politically free. For example: we had been in Germany for a few days, and I had been feeling sorry for the people I met. The sacrifices Christians made under communism were huge; they were limited in career choices, in housing choices, in income potential, and in the ability to leave the country.
One evening after a long day including a tour of Auschwitz, we were the guests at a concert at a church. The pastor of the church began by saying, “I have heard about your day. Tonight we will minister to you.” I began to cry. In my arrogance, I assumed that because they were Christians in a communist country, they needed our help, and that we were there to minister to them in their need. However, these Christians knew that even though they were the slaves in the communist regime, they were free in their hearts because they had Jesus.
It took Luther years to figure this out. He was so caught up in confessing all of his sins that he found no peace in being Christian. Once he began to read the scriptures looking for God’s grace, he found it everywhere, especially in Paul’s letters. One of the first places where he found grace was in this passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome.
Paul declares we are made righteous in God’s eyes because of God’s love for us, not because of anything we do. As a result, when we don’t have to worry about doing all the right things and not doing any of the wrong things, we are free to love all people as God’s children. We are free to live as Jesus’ disciples and share the good news of God’s grace, God’s undeserved forgiveness.
After his discovery of God’s grace, Luther’s robust life was filled with joy even though he faced conflict after conflict with the powerful Roman Catholic Church leaders. He found freedom in his faith in Jesus.
Martin Luther King also found freedom in Jesus. Compelled to work to end racism and its effects on people of color in the US, King preached and marched and organized peaceful resistance to the laws that separate people based on the color of their skin. Even in jail, he felt free to act in Jesus’ name. Even knowing there was a target on his back because of his mission to free all people from the slavery of racism, he continued. In his heart he was free to follow Jesus into the dangerous territory of challenging the powers that be.
Like the Jews who were with Jesus, we can be enslaved without knowing it. We are slaves to anything that prevents us from living fully as Jesus’ people. We are slaves to worry about lots of things. We are slaves to tradition, and the feeling that we always have to do certain things in a certain way. We are slaves to the past and our memories which control how we live today. We are slaves to our belongings and the need to maintain and protect them.
In contrast to these things that enslave us, we can be free. Freedom for us today means that we can focus on our relationship with Jesus first. It means that when we put God first in our lives, all the rest falls into place. It means that we are free from worrying about doing things the right way. It means that we can live in the present without fear of the future. It means we don’t need to worry if we are saved or not, because we are. It means we are free to attend Bible studies that open our minds to a deeper understanding of who God is.
Freedom for us today means that we can focus on sharing Jesus with others. We are free to experiment with new ministries, knowing that if the experiment fails, we have not disappointed God. We are free to invite our neighbors to join us in worship and other activities because God will put words in our mouths and open our neighbors’ ears.
This week, ponder what enslaves you, and why. Consider what frees you from your those things that enslave you. And give thanks for God’s grace, shown so powerfully through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension to power.
Please pray with me. God of love, shower your grace upon us so that we feel truly free to be your people. Amen