Updated: Jan 30
Freedom is an ideal in which Americans place a lot of value.
We are the Land of the Free. We have the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty.
We pride ourselves in a doctrine that includes the Freedom to worship as we please, and a Freedom from one Church being required to approve our civil laws.
Freedom walks hand-in-hand with Democracy, where the people are Free to decide what is best for the people.
In the Exodus reading today, we remember the original Passover, where the Freedom of the children of Israel, from the bondage of the Egyptians, came with specific requirements made by God.
That lesson says Freedom comes at a price.
The firstborn of Egyptian animals and humans had to die so the Israelites could go Free. More Egyptians would die later, chasing after those who were Freed. While meandering for forty years in the wilderness, countless followers of Moses would die, for various reasons, all so God’s people could be Free to find the Promised Land.
America’s creation came with similar costs.
The Freedom of Independence cost lives. The British suffered loses, as well as the Colonial Americans. Once Freedom was gained, other wars would later be fought to ensure that hard-fought for Freedom remained America’s greatest trait.
In our case, Freedom demanded a Union. So, when some states tried to split that Union, that Freedom was denied … again, at the cost of many lives.
Once the Israelites had been Freed from Egypt, Moses brought them the Law of God, which they agreed to uphold. It was non-negotiable. Their Freedom would from then on be restricted within the walls of that Law.
This is how Freedom must be seen as a state of mind … an Ideal … where the reality is, will be, and has always been … an illusion.
When one delves into the concept of Freedom of religion, most of us here today think only in terms of Christianity. That was the original intent. That was and is our religion, as Americans, so that Americans would be Free to worship God and Jesus Christ, without fear of oppression by the State or other religious groups.
We like to think our societal laws are based on Christian principles … and while the vast majority of our laws have been established up from that premise, the trend for the past several decades has been to separate our laws from all religious influence.
The concept of a separation of Church and State has become so challenged in our court systems that about the only laws Christians can count on today, as being truly Christian, are those governing the various Christian churches. The Episcopalian Church is one of the many.
Most of those churches have come under attack, with stronger and stronger suggestions, recommendations, and demands for the Christian churches to change their laws to match those of society.
And many churches are doing just that.
For whatever justification they use, the changes are motivated by fear – fear of losing membership, fear of being persecuted, fear of not being able to ably defend why not to change.
This erosion has seemed justified because the Laws of the Old Testament no longer seem to fit our New Freedom lifestyles. We modify everything these days, in order to keep up with changing times; and the times are changing much faster now.
Maybe sponsors will be the way of the future?
We read how God told the children of Israel, “You must do these things for eternity.”
Eternity includes our modern times, meaning the remnants of the Israelites … the Jews … are sadly stuck with the dilemma of having to decide, “Which laws of God do we keep, which do we change, and which do we chunk into the trash?”
Us Christians tend to think, “Whew. Glad we don’t have to worry about more than the Ten Commandments.” We are not Jewish, after all.
The problem with that way of thinking is it is wrong.
The Jews were the remnants of the children of Israel because they had failed to maintain the Laws of Moses … all of them to some degree … as they were originally commanded.
Still, it was Jews who became the first Christians, while other Jews continue to memorize Laws and fail to live up to them. Christians do not have to be, nor should they want to be, like the Jews who are not Christians. However, Christians are expected to be like Jews who were Christians. Christians ARE the descendants of the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are Israelites by faith.
Paul was one of those Jews for Jesus, as an Apostle in the first wave of Christianity.
In his letter to the Romans, those early Christians who were primarily other Jews for Jesus, Paul told them, “You still have to obey all the Laws.” He said that to Christians.
That means we too have to obey all the Laws of Moses, as written, for eternity, without thinking we can change one word or drop one clause.
The walls of restriction imposed by the Law sent by God will always seem to tightly wrap around us, like a boa constrictor, squeezing the life out of us … when we live on the edge of our religion and not in the midst of it.
When we stand on the towers affixed to those walls of Law and look out over the land of sin beyond, where all the rest of society is happily going about, we begin to long for what they have, feeling like the Law needs to be modified.
Paul said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As long as you love, all the perimeters of the Laws are so far away from your heart that you do not know what all the complaining is about.
The problem is getting people to fully understanding what “loving your neighbor” means. It does not mean accepting the sins of your neighbor as your own, as if having safety in numbers justifies changing God’s Laws.
If the walls of the Law were just taken down and rebuilt a few miles out, just look at how many more we would have standing with us, within the new walls of the law!!!
It doesn’t work that way folks.
We do not have the Freedom to play God, making up the laws.
Matthew told us how Jesus gave a series of instructions about what to do when you, as a disciple of his, find another disciple bringing sin upon you.
What does that mean, for one disciple of Christ to bring sin upon another disciple of Christ?
It means that if a disciple of Christ (a Jew for Jesus) breaks any of the 613 laws written by Moses in the Torah, in the presence of another Jew or Christian, then that sin is brought upon the one who has not broken that sin. It means that “sin” is based on those religious laws (Judeo-Christian), not any Roman laws or any government’s laws, unless their laws match the religious laws of Moses. Therefore, if a government allows a sin to be legally acceptable – by law – then one must choose between one world and the other. Do I serve God or government?
You cannot be a priest for God while wearing a filthy robe.
You have to understand that at the point in time when Matthew was writing, Jesus had already told his disciples, “Do not sin. Live by the Law by following me.” So the instructions are pertaining to one trying not to sin, as a disciple of Jesus. Still, stuff happens; so if one disciple sins and another disciple knows of this, it would be a sin to witness it and do nothing about it.
The first step, according to Jesus, is to directly confront the sinner, one-on-one. If that does not correct the sinning, then two or three members of the assembly of disciples following Jesus are to see this person continuing to sin, and then collectively confront him. If that does not correct the sinning, then the sinner is to be brought before the whole congregation of Christians, for them all to demand the sinning cease. Finally, if none of those steps correct the sinning, the sinner is to be excommunicated … treated as if that member were a Gentile of no religion, or a tax collector, a Jew who follows none of Moses’ laws.
At no point in these instructions does Jesus say, “Well, if the sinner is a well-to-do member who puts a lot of money into the church coffers or volunteers to do more church service than most others, then give him some slack. If that happens you guys probably need to write some new laws or change the old ones.”
No. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” That means, the Church of Jesus Christ is to have no sinners at all. If that means only two or three can go without sinning, then so be it. Jesus will be with those two or three.
Of course, Jesus would love the whole world to be devoted followers of his, all Free of sin.
That is what Freedom is about, and the Freedom from bondage God gave to the Israelites … of whom Christians are descendants.
We are Freed from having to worry about sin because God set the rules for us to follow, so we will be without sin. Jesus came to take us one step further.
You cannot be Free of sin as long as you think you are that one who can sin every once in a while, in front of other Christians, and still get by because you make up for those sins with some extra credit stuff.
That is selfishness. It will not work in the long run. It destroys, not maintains the Law.
Paul, by saying all you have to do is love your neighbor, is saying that all you have to do is be truly filled with the Holy Spirit, receive the mind of Christ, and never again ever consider doing anything but what it takes to be a good Christian.
If only Christian neighborhoods were outwardly recognizable as such.
That means if you see a fellow Christian struggling to maintain acceptance of the Holy Spirit within, then you confront them with the fact that it is better to lean on me until you regain your strength, than it is to stand alone and succumb to sin. You love you neighbor as yourself, because you are just like your neighbor and you want the same help in return.
That kind of love does not come from will power or wanting to be a good Christian. It can only come from receiving God in your heart, so your love is God. Your thoughts are only like those of Jesus. You are then a reborn Jesus, unable to sin, and only desire to help your neighbors. Your neighbors who are other Christians filled with the Holy Spirit or progressing to that point.
But, you do not fall in love with your neighbor’s sin, and think wrapping your arms around that sin, covering it up will act as forgiveness. You do not have the authority to forgive sins by accepting them, as if you can make sin go away through blindness. You forgive others by confronting them, not letting them go on sinning without an offer to help. You cannot have neighbors that continuously sin. You don’t change the laws.
It is that simple.
It is that hard.
Whatever you wrap yourself in on earth, you will be wrapped within in heaven. Whatever you let loose on earth, you will let loose in heaven.
That means: If you change the laws to allow sin, you will not have the blessings of Christ or God. If you bind yourself to Christ while on earth, the Holy Spirit will be sent to you to assist you.
Or, as God instructed the children of Israel: Gird your loins with a priestly robe, be prepared to walk a righteous path for the rest of your life, hold the staff of the Holy Spirit as your crutch, and hurriedly consume the Lamb of God, so you will be capable of loving your neighbors as yourself.
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