Sunday, September 4, 2011

"...Whose Service is Perfect Freedom." A Homily for Proper 23, Year A, 2011

Homily for Proper 23, Year A, 2011
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 13:8-14

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves fulfils the law.”
-Romans 13:8

One of the old prayers of which I am so fond is a prayer that appears in the old service of Mattins from the Book of Common Prayer. It is the second collect, for peace, which reads in part, “O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, whose service is perfect freedom…”

Whose service is perfect freedom.

One cannot imagine a more perfect creed of the Christian life. It is perfect because freedom and responsibility are interwoven in a beautiful knot. However, the freedom about which we speak is not a libertine, selfish freedom, that allows us to do anything we want; nor is the service about which this prayer speaks a slavery in which we are bound to a brutal taskmaster. The freedom we know is of a different sort, and the service to which we are called is of a more perfect kind.

The Exodus story that has been unfolding in our Old Testament readings over the summer months is a story that has been winding its way toward the climax of the Passover, of Moses leading his people from bondage in slavery into freedom. And the whole scope of Paul’s great letter to the Romans (and indeed all his letters) has been about our Christian reinterpretation of deliverance from slavery into freedom through the Christian Passover: Christ’s passing from death into life, that we might be led from the bondage of death into the freedom of new life.

What a wondrous concept freedom through new life is. It is all the more beautiful to behold when we try to place ourselves in the place of our forbears who knew what it was to be enslaved. Consider for a moment the enslavement known by the Hebrew people under their Egyptian taskmasters, and how their suffering led God to call Moses to lead his people out of that suffering, and how Moses cried out in anguish to Pharoah, “Let my people go!” Consider for a moment the Roman empire at the time of Jesus, and the number of men and women who fell into slavery through military conflict and penury, and how St. Paul reminded the early Christians that in Christ there is no male nor female, no slave nor free; that we are all one in Christ. Consider for a moment black slaves of the Antebellum South, or black brothers and sisters who continued to be enslaved by unjust laws in the supposed land of the free until the freedom marches of the 1960s. Consider the child soldiers of the world today who are bound in slavery to bellicose masters. Consider all these things, and imagine, if you are able, what it might be like to taste the longed-for freedom we so casually take for granted.

But there is a different kind of freedom that has gripped us today. It is a freedom that is rooted in a pernicious libertinism that absolves us from all responsibility to others. It is a freedom that is rooted in an individualism so prevalent in our modern culture that commands me to believe that my happiness, my well-being, my financial security is the good above all other that I must seek, to the exclusion, and even to the destruction of others. If they are weak, then let us just sweep them away, or enslave them. A freedom that destroys the life of another, a freedom that enslaves another, is no freedom at all. With such a freedom we also enslave ourselves. In such a freedom we become slaves to sin.

As St. Paul would have set, “Let me show you a better way.”

In another of his great letters, in a passage so often read at weddings, Paul enumerates all sorts of wonderful things that we might lay hold of that would suggest our perfect freedom, not only material wealth, but gifts of tongues, prophecy, and faith. But then he reminds us, if I have not love, I am nothing. In his letter to the Romans, he repeats the very words of Jesus, and reminds us of the character and nature of true. He recalls several of the ten commandments, “Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t covet,” and then he turns to remind us what is implicit in all of the ‘do nots’, namely do not do things that would harm or enslave your neighbour, but rather “Love your neighbour as yourself.” This is perfect freedom, not the freedom to do what we want, but to seek freedom and justice for all through love. Love does no wrong, he says. Love does not hurt your neighbour. Love is the fulfilling of the law.

And herein lies the paradox, to be perfectly free is to be bound by the law of love. This is our divine service. When we gather each week to worship God almighty, it is to prepare us and remind us that love of God is realized and lived out in love of neighbour. The king that we are bound to serve requires only this, to love his other subjects: both the weak and the strong. Love everyone. No exceptions. This is perfect freedom.

As I say to young folk who are getting married, love is not always easy. To love someone so passionately in those early days of romantic abandonment feels like we have been set free, but we soon learn that love has obligations; we soon learn that love requires the abandonment of self. Love requires sacrifice. The Hebrew people who fled from Egypt fled from fierce oppression, but they also fled the only home that they had ever known. Freedom requires sacrifice. Our Lord went to the cross, and oh how he longed for the cup to be passed from him, but he went and so brought all his people freedom through the overthrowing of death. Love requires sacrifice.

Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, for the one who loves fulfils the law.

We won’t love everyone naturally or intrinsically. That is okay, I suspect. What is required of us,though, is that we let God love them through us, because in each person we me, we see look upon the face of Jesus: Slave or free; man or woman; black or white; gay or straight; friend or enemy. In the face of the other we see the face of our beloved, and they in turn see the face of their beloved in us. Love involves risks. Moses and his people risked. Jesus Christ risked. We are called to risk.

Through the strength we find in Christ, the service, the divine service, that we offer is to take the risk of loving not only our neighbours, but even those who would seem unlovable to all others, and abandon ourselves to that love, that in that divine abandonment to love, the whole world may know God’s loving embrace and move one step closer to being the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, whose service is indeed perfect freedom.

c. 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

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