Galatians 5:1, 13-14; I John 4:19-21
The Rev. Tom Herbek
July 3, 2016
Freedom is often touted as the right for us to do anything we want to do, and the right not to have anyone tell us what to do. And there are those who would emphasize that freedom means that we have no responsibility to anyone else or for anyone else. Ironically, many who say this do it with religious language, and speak with the blessing and encouragement of some religious leaders.
On this weekend, the 4th of July, we hear a great deal of talk about freedom. We do take our freedoms very seriously as Americans, and certainly we must never take our freedom for granted.
In Galatians, Paul writes that Christ has set us free, and we should never again submit to a yoke of slavery. We are free of all constraints in Christ. Yet, paradoxically, Paul also calls us to become slaves to one another, because there is one essential commandment: that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. We are not burdened, yet we take on Christ’s burden. We are free, yet we become slaves. These paradoxical statements call us to become free enough that we take on one another’s burdens, caring about each other so much that we become gentle, humble in heart, and we find rest for our souls.
The choices we make – to reach out in love and compassion, to truly care for those around us – will cause us to feel unburdened, to feel rested, to truly become free. Our freedom is not found in individualism, but in being a part of a compassionate, caring community. The danger in emphasizing our freedom as Americans is that we may lose our capacity for compassion.
In his book, Who Speaks for God?, Christian writer and activist for the poor, Jim Wallis writes:
Compassion is a requirement of good religion, and it is also a good test of politics. Why? Because it is the potentially marginalized who are the best test of any society’s understanding of community. If those on the edges can be banished from our boundaries of concern, then we are all potentially in danger. But if even the weakest and most vulnerable have a place within the political ways we define community, then we will all be assured of having our own place. Compassion creates a safe place for us all.
As Americans we must make sure that our stress on freedom, our upholding of the banner of freedom, does not cause us to become so self-centered and so individualistic that we lose sight of our neighbors in need.
This church family is the most compassionate group of people that I have ever known. We are clear that what brings us together is not that we all have to agree on everything, whether it is theology or politics or anything else. What binds us together is our compelling compassion for our neighbors in need.
So let us strive to translate what we have learned about freedom here in this church family to our community, our nation, our world. Let us strive to help to create a society based on freedom, but let it be the freedom to become even more compassionate, a society of unity, where unity is not based on agreement, but on mutual compassion.
So on this 4th of July, may we celebrate our freedom to become the neighbors that our neighbors need, in love and compassion for all.