About a week and a half ago, Josh sent out an email to Ministry & Counsel detailing the schedule of sermons and whatnot for the upcoming weeks. He said that he still needed someone to take August 6 because he’d be in Vermont for his mother’s service. I immediately volunteered, and he just as immediately accepted and thanked me. I then with the same haste wondered what I’d done.
I comforted myself with the thought that I’d simply done what God wanted, since I did it without really thinking it through. That helped a tiny bit.
Believe me when I say I’ve never given a sermon. If you don’t believe me, you will at some point within the next fifteen minutes. I have no religious training nor formal education. But as I told Josh, this should be interesting for everyone involved.
I have words that are meant to be encouraging and hopeful, and I certainly hope you find them the same. I also hope that you find them at least a little frightening, otherwise it might mean that I’m just a big ol’ chicken.
I’ll actually be ending with the scripture today, not beginning with it. Feel free to skim ahead if you’d like, if you’re not familiar with the passage. I’d read it once upon a time, but it’s been a long while. As an interesting note, last week’s musical selection cemented that this was the message I was called to give. You’ll recognize in verse three, “Holy, holy, holy”, like the first song last week. It was a verse and a chapter that has been impressed upon me lately, and independently upon Holly at the same time. She takes lunch in downtown Greensboro at Jason’s sometimes, and takes her Bible in to read. She calls it “Jason’s and Jesus.” She’s been reading Isaiah and when I read this to her she told me that’s what she read that day, too.
What I am wanting to talk about today is freedom. It’s an interesting concept, and as Americans we are quite familiar with the term. We think we know what it means. We think we know what it costs. And we foolishly think we know what we’re supposed to do with it. Freedom really has two parts.
So first let me say that, when looking back over the past 25 years with the perspective of time, I can see when and where God was actively pursuing me. Some might say I am simply applying hindsight over what was random chaos, if you believe in God you know the folly of that thought. I can clearly see that God thought enough of this sinner to chase him down and give him every opportunity to turn away from the world and turn to God.
God pursues His lost sheep. And more importantly for us at Springfield, His lost sheep seek Him out. That little “light which lighteth every man” (John 1:9) seeks the big light up above us. So every person who continues to seek something greater than this world – when it’s just not enough to have a fistful of dollars, when you just can’t keep eating all the cotton candy at the amusement park, riding the rides until you throw up, then doing it all again – that person seeks God, whether they know it or not, and whatever they call Him.
The Athenians had a monument to an “unknown god”, and Paul in Acts 17 declared to them, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” Yes, there is only one path that leads to salvation – “Nothing but the blood” as Travis preached a few weeks ago – but in His pursuit of us, there are many things that God uses to “prime the pump” and lead you to that one path. Once lead to the beginning of that path, it is the choice of the individual whether to take it or move on. Both salvation and condemnation are choices that we make.
I went to a Baptist church growing up, and was baptized at around 12 years of age. At some point I stopped believing in God…out of anger, perhaps, or out of apathy…but I suspect that it had to do with my tendency to choose the less popular position just so I could fight…I love a good fight…and in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia, declaring “God is dead” is the surest way to find yourself embroiled in a fight.
But what I find most interesting looking back on it all, is that God spoke to me from a philosopher whose most famous statement was indeed, “God is dead.” That philosopher was Friedrich Nietzsche, whose father was a minister, and whose grandfather was a minister, and who could not fully escape the legacy they left him. I won’t get too deep on his writings – I don’t really read them much anymore – but several quotes have stuck with me even as I delve deeper into the Bible, like rough little diamonds in a cow patty. One of those quotes applies to us now at Springfield, and I think to Christians in general. I think it’s a very important quote and something many, many Christians (at least in America) tend to gloss over. But since people are people everywhere, they probably gloss over it in other places, too.
You call yourself free? Your dominant thought I want to hear, and not that you have escaped from a yoke. Are you one of those who had the right to escape from a yoke? There are some who threw away their last value when threw away their servitude. Free from what? As if that mattered to Zarathustra! But your eyes should tell me brightly: free for what?
Free from what? Free for what? Those are the two parts to freedom. All we tend to concentrate on is the first part, free from what. Everyone wants to be free, don’t we? Free from oppression. Free from sickness. Free from poverty. Free from hunger. In some cases, free from outright slavery. Free, just free. But the first part, by itself, is almost always unsatisfying. To paraphrase Spock – Mister, not Doctor – having something is not as pleasing as wanting something. If you live your life according to goals and their achievement, you’ll find that attainment means you have to create another goal to fill the emptiness in you. Not that goals are bad, just that they’re…well, they’re not the goal, so to speak.
There is only thing that it is satisfying to be free from and it belongs to Christians. That is freedom from sin, and from the wages of sin, death. This is a satisfying from and it belongs to no others.
John chapter 8 is the best explanation of that to me. You probably know chapter 8 for verses 1 – 11, where Jesus rescues an adulterous woman from a stoning (He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her), but the chapter actually ends with Christ himself leaving to avoid being stoned. That’s the most powerful demonstration of why we are unworthy to enter the kingdom on our own…we even want to stone the God who can make us free!
In chapter 8 Jesus rebukes people who believed on Him – not scoffers – but they were people unwilling to yield their desires to His. He said (verses 31-32), “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” We’re all familiar with that passage as well. But they push back at the idea that they are not free, they say that they have never been in bondage at all. Jesus’ explanation of freedom is beautiful: “Whoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth forever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” This is My house, He says. You can stay if I say you can stay. Nothing else can make you free. And you’re freely invited.
This illustrates the misunderstanding around freedom and bondage. There is only one thing we are enslaved to: Sin. And for our bondage to sin, we are rewarded with death. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor in the century after Christ, said that the longest-lived man, and the shortest-lived man, when they die, lose the same thing. For those in Christ, regardless of when we die of the flesh in this life, we lose nothing. For those not in Christ, they lose everything.
But attainment of this freedom that we seek begs not for another thing to be from from, but it finally frees us to concentrate on something to be free for, the second part of Nietzsche’s quote. That’s easy to define for a Christian, and only possible for a Christian to define, being the only truly free people. But it’s very difficult to accept, and even more difficult to start. It’s intimidating and more than just a little scary.
So, free for what?
- John 8:31: “…continue in my word…”
- John 20:21: “…as my Father hath sent me, even so I send you.”
- Matthew 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations….”
- Mark 16:15: “…Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
- Acts 1:8: “…ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
And the verses that place me here, Romans 10:13 – 15: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”
We are free to proclaim the gospel to the world. We are called to proclaim the gospel to the world. And how can we not do so? How can you not want to scream from the rooftops that death is defeated, that Christ loves you, that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to save it?
Now, this is a big message. And I know we’re doing it in some important ways now. We support Friends United, we have our shoebox ministry, and we support COAT, etc. People have their things that they do, too, and I’ll never disparage any individual efforts. And you might have something that’s not particularly “Gospely”, but it’s still charity-related in some way, and therefore still carrying out the message. And that’s good. Keep it up and even do more.
But what I feel here at Springfield is something a little different. I think this Meeting is about to explode, or implode, it’s gonna do one or the other.
We’ve gone through some very big changes over the past couple of years. We lost our pastor, our youth pastor and our music director, pretty much at the same time. We were gutted. We could easily have folded. I think that if you tell yourself that this Meeting didn’t come close, you’re fooling yourself. Then you add the split with NC Yearly Meeting and all that drama…it’s been hard. And we’ve lost a good bit of our membership, too. We used to have a lot more people. Some left for other meetings or churches, some passed away.
We went for about a year with no pastor. God sent us some folks to fill in – I’m very thankful for Ben Hurley, among others – and members of this Meeting also stepped in, and I’m very thankful for them. And then God saw fit to give us Josh Brown, and he’s been a gem, both inside the pulpit and outside the pulpit. Russell’s been a great addition and I think he’s raising the bar for us musically. Amy on the piano, as the latest addition, is simply amazing. And with Kelly spearheading the youth program revival, along with Tanna and other members of the Youth Advisory and Christian Ed committees, we are beginning to rebuild the youth program.
It’s all happening, slowly…sometimes painfully slowly, but it’s happening.
Let’s say you break your arm. It hurts. It might even require surgery. The doctor puts it in a cast. It heals. But while it heals, it itches like crazy where the bone is knitting itself back together, and the cast itches your arm, and it starts to stink so badly because you can’t get it wet. You can’t do what you would normally do and you have to struggle through your normal day. Eventually the struggle becomes the new normal and you get used to it. You get used to having reduced functionality.
But then one day the cast comes off. You can make a fist, move your elbow, all of the “normal” things you could do before. But your arm is weak and it’s gonna take time and a little therapy to get it back to normal. And it stinks. Don’t forget to wash your arm! But you’re also gun-shy because you thinks it’s still fragile. But the doctor says, no, it’s fine, and eventually you believe him as you relearn to do all the things you used to do with it. Now you get full functionality back and you start to feel like Superman. (The concept of which come from Nietzsche, just so you know).
The cast is off at Springfield Friends. We can do the things again that we could always do before. We’re still gun shy and we think we’re fragile, but we’re not. We’re strong. Christ said not to put our light under a basket, put it on a candlestick so it can shine and people can see it. We’ve had our light shining inwardly for a while as we healed, but it’s time to shine out into the night. This community around us needs it. It’s dying out there, and we carry the message that can save it. You want to see the heroin capital of North Carolina? Open those doors and look out on your city. You want to see the “underground railroad” for human trafficking? Open the door and look out on your city. That’s not a dance studio down at the end of our street. They’re in bondage, and we have the only freedom there is to have. Paul said that if our gospel be hid, it is hid from the lost. It’s hid from the people who need it. It’s hid from the other sheep that God wants to call home.
As for me, I feel like Isaiah in Chapter 6, verses 1 – 8, which I’ll end with. This is Isaiah recalling the vision wherein God called him as a prophet, called him to service. This is Isaiah’s cleansing and commission, which mirrors our own through Jesus Christ, although we’re not called as prophets, but as proclaimers.
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said,Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts:the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
“Here am I; send me.” You can hear Isaiah’s voice, hushed, quiet and humble, meekly volunteering, indebted to God – for removing his sin, for removing death from his future – and eager to do his part in God’s plan.
I don’t know the specifics of my part in this. I don’t know the specifics of your part in this. It could be something different every day, something different every moment of every day. But I know that Springfield is about to light up High Point. There is about to be a Holy Spirit explosion, and it’s desperately needed. We have been called.
And your eyes should tell me brightly, and tell the world brightly, free for God.