Pastor Hopkins will preach this sermon on the fourth Sunday after Trinity 7/5/2020. The service will be broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and will be available as a recording on the FLC Facebook live page and on the FLC youtube channel after the service has ended. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity4 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for the fourth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
The Fourth of July is a marvelous opportunity to reflect on freedom, but also, to reflect on how we make use of that freedom.
So, allow me share with you what I have observed. Over the years, and perhaps especially this year, I’ve seen freedom used as a weapon to say whatever we want to whomever we want. I’ve seen freedom used as an excuse to do whatever we want whenever we want. And I’ve seen freedom used as a shield to guard ourselves from the freedom of others.
Of course, these uses of freedom happen civically, i.e. by our nation and her citizens. We see this all the time on the news and social media. We see it in the violence of mobs and rioters; we see it at abortion clinics and college campuses.
We see and we know, that this is how we have used our freedom: to diminish and abuse, to excuse and exalt, to insult, demand, and murder.
Of course, I’m speaking broadly. These are observations of a nation and her people. And so, you may or may not be strongly convicted by the above.
But here’s the thing: if this is what we, even the collective we, do with such a small, temporary thing as political freedom, how can we expect to properly use real freedom?
If we are so ready to use and abuse this gift of God, i.e. civil liberty, how will we wield the liberty that has been given to us in the Gospel?
You have been freed from the curse of the Law. The wages of sin, which is your death, have been paid by the death of Christ. By that payment, you have been ransomed, bought back. You have been freed, emancipated, and set at liberty. The Son has set you free, and so you are free indeed. John 8:36
And yet, this is how I see Christians using their freedom: We insist on our own way. We demand our will be done. We put a higher premium on our own comfort than the well-being of others.
For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery, Galatians 5:1
Graciously liberating St. Paul from his context, in order to free St. Me to do what I want.
We judge the minor infractions of others, even as we excuse and explain away our own offenses. We withhold forgiveness because we don’t see what we judge to be proper contrition, never wondering what it would mean if God did the same to us.
In all this, we abuse our freedom and hedge our bets on mercy. This is not the same thing as confessing your sins, pleading to God for the sake of His Son, and desiring to amend your life. Instead, it’s an appeal to the sort of “cheap grace” that Bonhoeffer warned us about, the kind of grace that costs nothing, and so it is nothing.
This is not a new problem. Jesus knows the hearts of the men to whom He spoke in today’s Gospel. Likewise, Paul in his letter to the Romans, knew that even the Christian, who has been freed by God’s grace, needs constant correction, guidance, and encouragement to live in patience, peace, and mercy.
Again, so many years later, our own dear Pastor Luther understood this when he wrote:
A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none. A Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.
The Christian is free. The Christian is a slave. This is nothing other than what Paul writes to the church in Corinth:
Though I be free from all, yet have I made myself servant to all, that I might win more of them. 1 Corinthians 9:19
Paul was willing to sacrifice his own habits and preferences in order that there would be no stumbling block to keep people from receiving the preaching of the Gospel. That is how Christian freedom is used: for the temporal and eternal well being of others.
You are free to bless your neighbor, not to curse them. You are free to live in harmony and humility. You are free to live as an agent of peace, being merciful as your Father is merciful. You are free to live in love toward your neighbor.
I don’t mean love as it is commonly understood, i.e. the selfish affections of our flesh, which are arrogant, rude, boastful, irritable, resentful, and insisting on our own way. No, you are free to live in that love which is patient and kind; love that rejoices with the truth; love that hopes and endures. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40
Are you Christ’s disciple? Would you be trained by Him? Would you learn from Him?
If so, then ask this question: what did Jesus do with His freedom? He made Himself a slave.
…though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8
Jesus did not wait for you to become worth saving or worth freeing. Jesus made the first move, dying and rising to forgive you; thus, freeing you to forgive others.
You can now live in mercy and love to everyone, just as Joseph, who was not in the place of God, did to his brothers. For Jesus, who is God Himself, and who has baptized you into His name and family, has likewise made you His own brothers and sisters, and children of His Father, who has been merciful to you, and bids you do likewise.