The Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Today as a part of our worship together we will take some time and focus on our freedom. This Sunday is our commemoration of July the 4th and all that it means.
Our service, each year, on this Sunday, is designed to raise up our gratitude, and thankfulness, for the opportunities we have living here in the United States.
One of the primary reasons we have for this celebration is the freedom we enjoy. We know, that there are people, living in other nations of the world who do not have the freedom that we experience in worship, in the ability to gather and praise the creator God as we understand him, in the opportunity for free speech, and freedom in so many other ways. Freedom is a precious gift and one that should not be taken for granted.
Now, if you have been attending Christ Church for some time, you will know that one of the things that Fiona and I had to come to accept about one another was that we had very different tastes in music. Fiona's mother, Airdry, was classically trained and sang with the New Zealand Symphony. Fiona herself sang in the Cathedral Choir in Auckland. Fiona and our two girls all have beautiful singing voices. It is a joy to be in worship when they get the opportunity to sit and sing together.
I on the other hand sing joyfully. In case you don't know that is the singer's code for "not well." To make it worse I enjoy Country music. Fiona is working hard on forgiving me for introducing our girls to Country music and even teaching them to appreciate it.
All of that is a long introduction to the fact that when I went looking for a song about freedom for my Sermon today. So, of course, I naturally went looking in the Country genre. Now what I found was a Gospel song. That is "kinda" Country right?
I found this song by the Gaithers which is called: "Let Freedom Ring."
I have printed copies of the lyrics and they are available for you to take a look at later if you are interested.
But here is a sample from that song:
"Deep within the heart has always known that there was freedom
Somehow breathed into the very soul of life
The prisoner, the powerless, the slave have always known it
There's something that keeps reaching for the sky
"God built freedom into every fiber of creation
And He meant for us to all be free and whole
When my Lord bought freedom with the blood of His redemption
His cross stamped pardon on my very soul
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
We can be free and we can sing, let freedom ring
"Let freedom ring down through the ages from a hill called Calvary
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
You can be free and you can sing let freedom ring
As Christians, we understand that freedom is at the heart of creation. God, our Heavenly Father, created us to be free and to have the opportunity to care for what he had created. But then that creation was corrupted. Throughout the Old Testament, we hear the stories of God seeking and humanity seeking to be reconciled. Eventually, as part of God's ultimate plan of reconciliation, Jesus came to correct the corruption of all of creation.
We know that as Christians, we should cherish freedom and we should exercise our Christian freedom in the daily living of our lives.
Now, you probably noticed I said; "our Christian freedom" in that last sentence.
For me, there is a difference between freedom and Christian Freedom. I believe that Paul outlines this difference when he writes to the Galatians.
In Galatians 5:1 he says: "For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." He focuses all that he is saying in Chapter 5 on encouraging the Galatians to understand why they are free. He wants them to know the purpose of their freedom in Christ and that they should not fall back into old patterns of behavior.
Then in verses 13 + 14, Paul says: "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”"
I believe one aspect of what Paul is saying here, is that for most human beings, striving for freedom is about the reward that individual will receive by being free. Now, they may include their close family in that desire as well, but mostly it is about what they will "get out of it." This can mean that freedom becomes a very self-centered thing. Something that needs to be guarded and protected. Something that we want to hold on to "at all cost."
Paul is stressing that as Christians we are made free so that we can share that freedom with others. So that we can lead others to experience freedom for themselves. Can I encourage you to take some time to read Galatians? I have to say that Chapter 5 is well worth some time and study.
So with all that in mind, where do we start, when we come to our Scriptures for this morning, how do we apply them to Christian freedom?
Well, as hard as the passage is to understand, given all of our current cultural attitudes and opinions I believe we need to begin with our reading from Genesis. Don't get me wrong, I struggle with this passage. It is not an easy one to comprehend. Especially when it follows the passage from Genesis we had last week.
At the heart of the story in Genesis 22 are the concepts of obedience and faith. Abraham is being asked to trust God. He is being asked to be obedient and to have faith. Now this is not just an intellectual assent or a spiritual assent but in a very practical and pragmatic way. It is dependent on Abraham believing that God will fulfill what he has promised.
Remember the promise that God made to Abram at the very beginning of this story. He promised him he would be the father of nations. Remember the promise that God made to Adam? It is the same promise. When Adam disobeyed God in the garden everything went "haywire." Abraham is being asked to show that he is willing to be obedient to God.
Now, on an important side note. God is not asking Abraham to do anything that he isn't willing to do himself. Jesus is the ultimate example of that. God gives his own son on behalf of all the nations that came from Abraham.
So obedience is key to our freedom to live as the creator intended us to live. We are back to Paul again. This time we need to look at the reading we have for this Sunday from the Book of Romans. In Romans 6: 15 + 16 it says: "What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?"
And then Romans 6:22 + 23 " But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the fruit you have leads to sanctification, and the end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord
So how then do we exercise that freedom in a way that is different from normal human freedom? Well, in the little time we have left let us look at the Gospel. Matthew 10: 40-42 is a very brief but powerful passage.
Central to the message in Matthew are the themes of welcome, and hospitality. These are seen as marks or hallmarks of the call of Christ. But I want to ask you, this morning, do you read this passage and think: "That is what I should expect from others." Or do you think that is what is expected from me? Should I welcome strangers, should I go out of my way to welcome others?
Now, everyone knows that we are welcoming here at Christ Church, if we have visitors we certainly make them feel welcome. But, can I just say that welcome is dependent on them coming to us? It is in many ways a passive welcome.
How do we, can we, in our everyday actions, in our ordinary lives, make it clear we are followers of Christ? How do we extend that welcome beyond these walls?
Can I encourage us to remember the questions in the Baptismal Covenant?
Officiant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Officiant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Officiant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
How are we going out of our way to be obedient and to be welcoming for Christ's sake?
May the Lord bless our endeavors for him this coming week.
Bishops & Father Mike