Sermon – 06-30-19 – Proper 8 – Cycle C
Scripture: I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9:51-62
Sermon Title: “The Freedom to Follow”
“Follow what?” we might say. What might we want to follow? What might we want to have?
Freddy the fish was in a habitat with other fish. One day he noticed that there was a wonderful empty habitat close by. Was it a good habitat for him? He studied it. Freddy lived in a clean fish bowl. Someone took care of this home for Freddy and his family and friends. Was he lacking anything? Was something not good in his home? Freddy thought and thought. He thought, “I perceive that there is more freedom in that empty bowl.” I am here with all these other fish. I can never be alone. Certainly there is no privacy in any fish bowl but I could at least be alone!
How high and how far can a fish leap without dying in the air? How far can I leap without falling on the table? Do I have that much courage? Does it really take courage? It may only take foolishness. Freddy did not have a thought about the fish he would be leaving behind if he exercised his own freedom. What was his responsibility here? Did he have a role that benefited the community? Who would miss him if he left? Did he have children there? Did he have some upkeep chores that would not get done if he left?
And besides this would be one chance and done. If he did dare to jump from his fish bowl to the other fish bowl and he failed, that would be it. No second chance with this escapade! But freedom called him. The idea of having the whole fish bowl to himself was alluring. One morning he was feeling especially energetic and he found himself in the air between the two fish bowls. Wow! This is freedom! Will I make it? In a flash, Freddy splashed into the never-been-used bowl of water. “Wow!” Freddy said again. “Wow!”
Freddy realized that he had this freedom and he found himself accepting it. Was he happy? Remind me to come back to that question.
What is this thing called freedom? Why are we willing to spend so much energy and risk to preserve our freedom? Because the calendar has brought us around to the day on which we express renewed thankfulness for our freedom to live in a relatively free country, we are thankful for the people who either chose, or were forced, to fight to keep our country and other countries free. We are probably guilty of not expressing our thanks well enough and often enough and with action instead of just words. Some of us are negligent in expressing thanks because we are so focused on expressing our dislike and even hatred for any kind of killing. “What does it solve?” we ask.
We wish every leader of every everywhere would understand that the way of Jesus is the secret to true freedom. Jesus advocated for a blanket of love. But what is love and how do we develop love? In our Galatians lesson today, Paul is talking about the Fruit of the Spirit. We naturally see apples, peaches, oranges, pineapple, pears, mangoes, cherries, plums, strawberries, and the like floating around us. However, Paul lists nine qualities, nine ways of being that bring us a pleasant atmosphere, a fruitful life. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Count them. Nine! Ask our after-school people. They learned a song pronto which went very fast. It surely was an easy way to learn these nine ways of being as Jesus wants us to be; as Jesus wants the world to be.
Imagine with me a war plane that would drop,, or even shoot, doses of joy or doses of love and peace onto the shoulders of the leaders who are filled with hatred and determination, with jealousy and pride. Think that there is no antidote for these doses of kindness, generosity, patience. It would be like agent-orange or another poisonous substance being sprayed into the heart and lungs of the leaders who have no time and no vision of contentment and sharing.
We believe that Jesus is the source of these qualities. We have noticed that these qualities can spread just as infection spreads from person to person. But peace, joy, and love are a good infection. Someone, or someones, need to start this infection. We might think that we can take a vacation from spreading these qualities but one grouch episode and we have just soured the whole project. So we keep trying to avoid grouchiness or anger. Slowly, we become more like Jesus and we are helping the world little by little – a slowly spreading phenomenon. This is achieved by the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, these fruits wither on the branch or on the vine.
We’re talking about the world. Does the Holy Spirit work in the whole world or just where people believe there is a Holy Spirit? Hm-m-m-m-m. Very interesting question. Take this home with you and ponder. Does the Holy Spirit work in the whole world or just where people believe there is a Holy Spirit? If we studied the various religions of the world, we would find beliefs very similar to our Christian beliefs. There are peace-oriented religions to be sure. Is Jesus upset if people come to the Fruit-of-the-Spirit kind of living but call their leader a different name? This is another Hm-m-m-m-m.
Meanwhile, do you think we have freedom to follow the path of peace or to follow the path of hurt and destruction and animosity? Or don’t we have this freedom? Does God gives us the choice or are we led by the nose? And . . . what is the limitation of our freedom? Can we leap from one fish bowl to another fish bowl simply because we want a taste of the greener pasture on the other side of the fence? I always say that my freedom ends where the next person’s freedom starts. If my claim to freedom hurts someone else, it is not my freedom.
Our scripture lessons today give us two people who asked for the freedom to say good-by to their families and to tie loose ends in changing their careers to follow God’s plans for their lives. When Elijah, a prophet in the Hebrew or Old Testament time, was needing to retire, Elisha was in line to be Elijah’s successor. Elisha asked permission to dispense of his livestock in an orderly fashion. Elijah granted that request to him.
In our passage from Luke, Jesus was recruiting a team to spread the gospel of salvation. To one person who asked to go home to bury a relative who had died, Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another person wanted to just say good-by to his loved ones but Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
So freedom is a precious commodity not to be taken for granted or lightly. Freedom is a variable commodity, not the same for everybody or for all times. As we go on our way today, let us ponder the many freedoms that exist. Let’s think if we are claiming freedom without thinking about the next person or the next group of people. How can we be sharing our freedoms? What do you think? Was Freddy happy being alone in this new freedom fish bowl?
God of boundaries and God of freedoms, help us to know when to claim courage and leap into new freedoms as did Freddy the fish. Help us to know when to rein in our claims and instead pull out our Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and use them with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Amen