Sunday, July 30, 2017

Freed from or Freed for?

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

By now, you will have noticed that there is a common theme running through St Paul’s letters. St Paul is a Roman Citizen and rather used to the Roman way of life – a life which includes slavery.
As Christians with our sense of mercy, we absolutely abhor slavery. We know it is still with us, even in the “Enlightened” West. It is a difficult fact that slavery has been with human cultures throughout the civilised world, but not all slaveries are the same, and that’s a point we often forget. For example, Jewish slavery is different from Roman slavery, and Roman slavery is very different from Egyptian slavery. Yet each have very common themes: a slave is the property of his master to do with as he will. There may be certain rights for slaves in some cultures: a Hebrew who is a slave to a Hebrew master will automatically be released after seven years, but there is no such get-out clause for non-Hebrew slaves. Slaves can be inherited, bought, sold, and used for the good pleasure of the master.

We have to remember that Hagar was a slave to Abraham in the Old Testament, and that Onesimus was a slave to Philemon. If St Paul says things like, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;,” and then you might think that the Church really does endorse slavery. There doesn’t seem to be anything about freeing slaves, does there?


God does say to Isaiah, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” And St Paul does lump slave traders whom he calls “man stealers” with murderers and other lawless individuals. So we do see that the idea of freedom is there in the Bible. How come Jesus doesn’t stand up and turn the establishment on its head by telling the authorities to release all slaves?


Essentially, we have to remember that Jesus is not come as an earthly political leader, but rather as a heavenly political leader. His kingdom is not built on law, nor on coercion, but upon love. He knows full well that, if we really want to end slavery, then we have to change men’s hearts and not the law. There will always be law-breakers, but those who break love lose everything.
St Paul is trying to bring us to the dreadful realisation that, in a culture where slaves are everywhere, even the person who thinks they are most free is a slave. “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” St Paul is saying that so concerned are we to be freed from obligations and laws that we forget that we can become slaves to our own selfishness. We always say that we want to be free from this, or free from that. Our meals are gluten-free, sugar-free, nut-free, but what does that leave? St Paul in following Our Lord, is saying that we should not look to be freed-from, but rather freed-for.

Our Lord tells us that His yoke is easy, and His burden light. In being freed in order to take up His burden and His yoke, we find ourselves under a completely new system of obligation. We are slaves to sin, because we are not free from our selves. In order to be truly free, we have to remember that God is creating us for a purpose. Admittedly we are to be His servants, but servants who share His life, His warmth and find joy in familiarity and love. We make a cup of tea for our parents, not because we are legally obliged, but because we enjoy seeing them happy. The same is true for God, in being freed from things that separate us from Him, we see that the Divine Smile is more rewarding than any earthly thing. In being truly free, we become able to find true joy in what we do because what we do is good in the eyes of God.


This is why repentance from all our sins is so important. Every single sin we commit binds us in captivity away from our Creator. We need to examine our lives carefully so that we do indeed recognise all sin that we harbour. In repenting and finding absolution from our sins, we are truly freed from every form of slavery and possess that which slaves never have – unalterable and uncountable worth in God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

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