Freedom and the true world cup

Now that the smoke of fireworks has faded, the bottles have been picked up, the parades and past, i wonder how many people really know what we have been celebrating this 4th of July. Oh sure, most can probably tell you it is Independence Day. That we are celebrating freedom. But do they know what freedom really is?

Because 238 years ago, in 1776 when the founding fathers signed that document, the Declaration of Independence, when they signed their names beneath words like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That the men who signed their names meant only certain men were equal, that some men could be sold as slaves and property, and that equality with and for women wasn’t even on their radar which hadn’t been invented yet.

So the freedom that we celebrate on the 4th of July with parades, picnics, fireworks, and music, wasn’t finished on that day, the 4th of July, 1776. No one would argue that that was a beginning for us; it wasn’t the end, and there is still work to be done for this nation to truly flourish with freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. So do those who party, who adorn themselves with red white and blue, know that they are not celebrating an event, once and done, but a process, the freeing of the people to make this nation.

Now perhaps with all that in mind, the Apostle Paul’s words may make more sense. Not that he was completely impossible to understand. I think any of us who’ve done any sort of self reflecting, any sort of self-examination and realisation, would be pretty familiar with Paul sense of the struggle going on within him.

It’s like I’ve and others have often said. There’s no need to look outside ourselves, to demons and the devil. Our own nature, our own genetics, our own upbringing, personality, is the source of our sin. I bet I’m not the only one who has given in, who has been tempted to say, “the devil made me do ot, and know the only devil around was my own weakness, my own anger, my own stubbornness, my own hunger, and weakness for gambling.

For Paul, the laws of God were helpful and good,because without them, he wouldn’t know the depths, the dangers, the complexity, and of his sin. For Paul, he feels the very real pull within himself. Temptations come from within. He sees us as broken, trapped people. It isn’t just that we don’t know wrong from right, no God has given us commandments, the law, torah in Hebrew, but, we just don’t, won’t sometimes can’t follow and live according to the laws of God.

And because of that we are not free, we can’t free ourselves. For jesus and Paul, the answer to what is wrong with us, what is wrong with this world is not independence. There is no pulling oneself up by the bootstraps out of sin.

We are not free, until someone else does it for us. And that someone is Jesus. With Jesus, sin doesn’t have power over us. Oh yeah, Paul, you, and me, we’ll still mess up. We will still commit sins, we will drink, we will say things in anger, we will hurt ourselves and others, we still live in a society that is built upon sin, upon some people being worked to death so we can have cheap stuff to fill our closets, to fill our garages, purses and pockets.

Freedom, true freedom, reveals the emptiness of all that stuff, of that life of drugs, drinking, of violence. Being freed in Christ is an everyday struggle to see ourselves, our world, and what we csn do in it.

Part of our July 4th celebrations is to drive down to Raymond, WI and help out my husband Brad’s church to represent it, walk, give out candy, and flyers in the little parade. We sometimes go to the festival. This year, as in the past, there were these carnival games for the kids, and the prizes were all sorts of trinkets, frisbees, footballs, temporary tattoos, and more. Of course, the irony that these, red, white, and blue, patriotic trinkets were produced, were made in far away countries like China was not missed. That the games were mostly just of luck.

Now just imagine if we couldn’t or would’t have seen all that for what it really was. We could have spent our time, our energy, our lives trying to win for ourselves these “prizes”. That is the true freedom that Jesus the Christ gives us. No longer are we spending our time, our energy, our resources, on empty prizes.

So we hear Jesus’ call, w hear his words, come to him, come together, to have our burdens lifted, because they are not ours alone. in Jesus we do not face, Paul does not face his weakness by himself, we are yoked together, bound to one another, we are freed now not to struggle for empty prizes and empty pleasures, but to spend our life in the biggest contest of all, bringing peace, living in forgiveness, and sharing God’s love. We may not have fireworks, we may not have the fanciest and loudest, most entertaining parades and shows. But we have something better, more powerful, more meaningful. Today God gives you, in Communion, not a party of independence, but a taste of true freedom, today God shares with youm with all of us, the real world cup! This is why we are here, to share the true world cup. Amen.

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Acts 9:1-19

This sermon began with a testimony given by a member of the church. She spoke about Jesus having the power to turn her life around.

Jesus can do that. Jesus can turn our lives around. He can change us, turn us from walking down the way of destruction, paths paved by death.

Jesus can change us; Jesus can turn our lives around even when we don’t know want or don’t even know we need to get turned around. That was the way it was with Saul.

Saul didn’t know he was on the wrong road. He thought that the right path was to follow the commandments of the bible, the laws and rules of God’s religion was the right and the only way. He thought the followers of Jesus were a threat to his faith. He believed that by hunting down these followers of Jesus, that he Saul was walking in the way of the Lord, doing God’s will. He didn’t ask God to turn him around, but to simply point him in the right direction and let him go on his mission of holy righteousness.

I can’t imagine what might have been going through his head and his heart that day on the rowd to Damascus when Jesus spun Saul right round, like a record, throwing him off his horse, causing not just his body to come crashing down, but his entire life and world. We can not say it too much. Saul’s life revolved around following God’s laws and commandments from the bible, from Deuteronomy, from Leviticus and more. It was through following those laws he came to know God, and now Jesus with that blinding light, knocking Saul off that horse, knocked him down, knocked down his faith, knocked down and turned his world around.

Jesus has a way of doing that, whether we are looking to be turned around or not. Whether it’s the rule of law or just the way we see things, Jesus is bound to mess with us. That’s what he did with Ananias. Ananias is a good man, he already believes in Jesus; he’s on the right path. Jesus wants Ananias to do more than talk, pray, and worship. Jesus wants him to take the risk to walk the walk. Ananias knows who this Saul is. Word has spread all the way to Damascus, probably to any place where the Good News of Jesus was preached, the bad news of Saul arresting people had spread as well. So when the Lord comes to Ananias and tells him to go to Saul, it’s understandable that Ananias would question Jesus’ direction.
Wouldn’t you? I know I would! Hey Jesus you want me to do what? Hey Jesus, i don’t want to offend, but maybe way up wherever in the heavens you are, maybe you missed it, but this guy–he’s bad news; he dangerous; he’s evil. He’s the bad guy, and you want me, you want us to go to him? Are your sure Jesus? Are you sure you’ve thought this all the way through, Lord?
Anytime the good news challenges us. Anytime the gospel of love and forgiveness pulls us to turn around, points us in a new direction. We too like Ananias can wonder. The church is in that place now. We are in that place now. Our world is changing, and Jesus is calling us to turn around and to not run away from the world, but to turn into, to turn and lean into it.
I remember one of the first times riding a motorcycle. I was riding a nice Harley, riding behind someone I liked, someone I trusted. That it until we had to turn, and we started, in my estimation, in my mind, to go down towards the ground. Every fiber of my being did’t want to get any closer to that road, so i shifted my wait, and I leaned away. We made the turn, a wobbly turn, and that was the last time I rode behind my friend. That was the last time she let me on her bike.
You see, we don’t mind a little bit of change in our lives, Lord, you know a tweak here and there, a little bit of a change around the edges or at the corners of our lives. Jesus just let us alone and we’ll work it out–we’ll come to church every once in while. We’ll give just a bit, a bit of our money, a bit of our time, a bit of ourselves, just enough, you know to make us look good, feel good about ourselves. But Jesus don’t ask us to really turn it around, don’t ask us to change too much.
We get used to the roads we are used to traveling, they are familiar, if not comfortable at least predictable, even if they do as lead to death. We get comfortable walking down the wide boulevard of anger or the narrow path of judgement. We know our way around. We know who to avoid, who to trust, we know we can trust people just like us, to walk with us. We want to walk down the paths of who and what we like, the way we’ve gone before.
That might have seemed to have worked, back in the day. Everything is like that whether its drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, buying clothes or cars, or our attitudes, our judgements, our anger, our grief, and hurt. It feels good, even just at first, and we get stuck. But God is in the business of change, And just as Jesus turned Saul around, just as Jesus turned Ananias, Jesus turns us today. That’s what all this forgiveness is, it’s the opportunity, it is the break, it is the push and pull to turn us around. To turn us towards one another, to push us to lean into our world, lean into our neighborhood, because turning us inside out, turning upside down and all around is what Jesus did and what Jesus is still doing.