Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Walk Freely: God Deserves Our Devotion

Walk Freely:  God Deserves Our Full Devotion                 10/27/13
I Kings 11:1-13, Galatians 5:1-15, Mark 12:13-17

We have been preparing for The Church Has Left the Building experience with a series of sermons called Walk the Talk:  Walk forward, walk far, walk fearlessly, walk faithfully and today, walk freely. 

In honor being Free, and walking freely, I’ll introduce a mainstream quote for each reading of Scripture.  And to start us off, we reference Mr. George Orwell, who said "freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

As a preacher, I like that quote.  Hopefully, you’ll want to hear the message today.  You have the right to check out.  But I have the right to check in.

The readings today are very interesting because two have backgrounds hard for us to comprehend, and the third is one we all feel too familiar with.  700 wives and their temples, circumcision and taxes.

I take back the Orwell quote.  This is interesting stuff!

Freedom, despite its use, overuse and abuse, is a fascinating word.  We especially like this word as American citizens.

Americans love their freedoms, and politically these freedoms are found in rights.  In the early years of our nation’s founding, the Bill of Rights, those first 10 amendments to the constitution emerge.  The first one is fascinating and defines several of the most dearly loved rights…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to
petition the Government for a redress of grievances

One of the interesting discussions of the period was the debate as to whether there should be any amendments at all.  Was the Constitution, in its original wording, sufficient to describe the role of government?   One theory was that government only had jurisdiction over what was directly addressed in the Constitution.  For others, it was important to specify what freedoms American citizens had.  Obviously, this side won the debate.

While America had painfully obvious expressions of oppression throughout its history, by and large, we were a story of freedom.  America has been one of the more successful stories of political freedom in the history of the world.  And freedom has never left our vocabulary.  Even today, American understanding of freedom is a fascinating topic.
          --freedom, rights should also go hand in hand with
          --what is the current perception of what freedom really is
--are current citizens experiencing freedom, has government
          taken away liberties
But as interesting as this is, we need to put American Freedom to the side, and consider today, Biblical Freedom.

Freedom, according to Webster’s Dictionary is the quality or state of being free. 
a :  the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b :  liberation from  slavery or restraint or from the power of another
c :  the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous

This definition and its expressions fits quite well within how the Bible describes freedom.  Ultimately, our freedom is found in the Lord.

I Kings
So today, our first question is what does 700 wives, and their religious temples, have to do with freedom?  A quote from Voltaire will start us off in the right direction:  "It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.

At the beginning of the today’s passage, there was a word we might have glossed over:  King Solomon, however, loved.”  However is a contrast word.  It speaks to something that was previously written in the story.   So let me throw out to you a number far greater than 700.  The number is
1,080,000,000 dollars is the value, in today’s monetary standards, of the gold which was brought in by Solomon to his kingdom every year during the height of his power.  I Kings Chapter 10 is a fascinating chapter regarding the economic diversity found in Solomon’s day.  The chapter speaks of dignitaries bringing valuable gifts with them when they would come for summit with Solomon.  There were Fine woods and natural resources brought in by ship and merchant.  There was a schedule of ships returning to port with commodities from throughout the world:  “once every three years, they returned carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.”  Valuable chariots and thousands of horses were imported.   What an amazingly abundant time for this nation!

Yet Solomon carries this abundance too far.  He marries 700 women, most of whom were political alliances.  He also forgets the stories from long ago in which Israel was not to intermarry with her enemies.  They would bring false gods.  And they did.  Solomon strays after these gods, and in order to please his host of wives, builds them temples for their worship.  The gold that God had blessed the nation with was used to worship idols.

Solomon, in previous stories, had been visited by Almighty God.  He had been given promises by God.  Following these promises would lead to life and liberty.  Ignoring these promises led to peril and the fall of his Father’s dynasty.  With the polygamy and the idolatry came the anger of God.  Solomon had turned away from the Lord. He left a knowledge of God and choose to revere the wrong things.  He was no longer walking in liberty.  God had deserved Solomon’s full devotion.  God had become, to Solomon, one of many.  There is no biblical testimony that God is not one of many.

Jean-Paul Sartre writes that "Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you".

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
This is one of those passages of Scripture that we hear and say, “well, sure, of course”.  But then we consider if it has become true in our lives.  Yes, we agree that Christ has set us free.  We believe the theology.  But why?  For what?  For freedom.  If this is true, are we living it?  Christ has set me free.  Am I experiencing freedom?

Just as the idea of 700 wives might sound foreign to us (pun intended), so circumcision seems to be a strange way in our world to show that you are indeed one of God’s chosen people.   There are modern medical purposes for circumcision, but in the ancient story of Abraham, God makes a covenant, and circumcision will be the sign that you are in the family of God.

But what happened when the Gentiles, who did not circumcise themselves, start to believe in Jesus?  Did they too have to get circumcised?  Paul says no, but others inside and outside the church said yes.  And so Paul brings his readers back to a simple thought.  Christ has made us free.  We are to walk freely.  This includes the way we understand God’s law.  

Accepting the Jewish premise that you had to be circumcised to show you were a believer did not sit well with Paul, who followed Jewish law impeccably.  Paul seems to say that if you are going to follow alternative plans to heaven rather than simply believing in Jesus, then you should go all in.  You can’t have “Jesus AND…”.  If Jesus set us free, he didn’t need any other help in the matter.  One should not add things in an effort to find salvation.  If you are going the sign of the covenant way, then you have to follow the whole covenant.  All of it.  And if you are going the Jesus way, then you have to believe in him solely, for your whole soul.

Parents have taught their children at young ages not to run into the street.   There might even be harrowing experiences where children have to be taught in a stern voice that they have come too close to the street.  But at some point, the child learns and understands why it is important to keep on the sidewalk.  This is kind of how it works with the Laws of the Hebrew Scripture.  Once you learn not to run in the street, you enter a new level of freedom, you can function without the simple rule.  It has become part of you.  Now, it doesn’t mean that this rule no longer has any value, or that it is now wrong, just that it has been replaced by the maturity to find adventure by using the sidewalk.  Christ has fulfilled the law.  Only he was able to do that.  Now, one can either attempt to follow the law perfectly, to the letter, or one can serve The ONE who fulfilled the law.  The new law, the only thing that counts, Paul writes, is “faith expressing itself through love”. 
“The entire law is summed up in single command, love your neighbor as yourself

This idea is really a liberating one.  We serve Christ.  He set us free.  We can be free.  We don’t have to earn his love.  We can live well because it makes God happy.  We can live well because it fulfills us.  We can live well because the spirit of the law is to love thy neighbor.  But we don’t have to follow law in order to earn God’s love.  We simply cannot.  Paul writes, Brothers and sisters, you were called to be free.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Walk freely.

Let me repeat the quote I picked for Galatians:  Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.

 Robert McNamera writes that "Coercion simply captures man, but freedom captivates him."

700 wives and circumcision as a sign of God’s acceptance seem foreign to us.  Unfortunately, taxes do not.   In the Gospel story, two competing religious groups join forces to attempt to trap Jesus.  The Herodians would have felt that it was a virtuous duty to pay taxes.  The Pharisees did not.  They both felt this was the perfect opportunity to corner Jesus and cool down this movement of interest in him and his teachings.  Do you hear the trappings?  “We know teacher that you are a man of integrity”.  “You don’t give too much attention and power to people”, “You teach about God in accordance with what is true and right” (snicker, snicker)   Jesus, what about taxes?  What’s the word?

In a stroke of genius, Jesus corrects both parties, who figured there was no way out of their question.  Yes, you pay taxes.  No, you don’t give Rome allegiance.  What a liberating comment. 

The McNamara quote is appropriate.  Coercion captures.  Freedom captivates.  How much more interesting is freedom.  Yes, you can have philosophical debates about taxes and leadership and justice.  But it is by far better to run after freedom.  We find our selves, our very souls, when we run after the right type of freedom, Christ’s freedom.  He takes us out of our cornered philosophies and opens wide the road to liberty.  Our freedom in Christ is a life long pursuit.  And the more we have of it, the more we want of it.  Because that is the what God intended, and that is what Jesus accomplished.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.


God deserves our devotion.  As Americans, we are quick to express our rights, especially when we feel they are violated or suppressed.  What about God?  Does God deserve something?  Yes, our devotion.  We devote ourselves to God by walking freely.  It is who God made us to be, it is what Christ accomplished, it is what the Holy Spirit is urging us toward.  Walk Freely:  God deserves our devotion.

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