This week in worship, Pastor Doug reminds us that as we celebrate the freedom of our nation, we also celebrate the freedom God has given us and we’re to commit ourselves to using our freedom wisely and well as God intends.

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The first video below is JUST THE SERMON.
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The video below is the WHOLE SERVICE, and below that you’ll find the text for the message.

The Proper Use of Freedom

This has been a most unusual Independence Day Weekend, hasn’t it? Many of us are missing being with family and friends, enjoying time together, favorite foods, parades, and fireworks.

What are some Independence Day memories that you hold dear? I have many fond memories of Independence Day parades from when I was a boy in Ocean Park, Maine. Listening to Pancho’s band, watching cars, floats, and fire trucks pass by. Decorating my bike, chasing candy tossed to the crowd and the joy of receiving an ice cream treat at the end. The John Phillip Sousa music played next to the bell tower. It’s A Grand Old Flag being my favorite. 

Before this year, the last unusual Independence Day we had as a family was 17 years ago in 2003. That July 4th, Jill and I and our sons Nathan and Greg were not on Cape Cod or in Ocean Park, Maine. I was on sabbatical and we were at Stirling Castle in Scotland. Stirling Castle was a crucial castle for centuries to control access to Scotland. 

Nathan, who was 9 years old, brought his English shield and wooden sword that we had bought and carried around castles in England. Two men dressed up as Scotsmen fighting for King George III in the war against the colonies, saw Nathan with his shield and Brewster baseball t-shirt and said, “Look out for #9, he’s trouble, we’ve got our eye on you.”

Later we went to their living history presentation in a large hall and sat right in the front row. One of the men asked Nathan if he knew his national anthem and Nathan replied he did. “Then come up and sing it.”  “No way,” Nathan replied, “I’m not singing by myself.”  “Then all of you come up. Are there other colonists here?”  A couple women and girls came and stood next to us. “Alright, sing.”

And the nine of us began singing acapella the simple easy song that is our national anthem. As we’re singing other tourists from various countries are walking by with their video cameras recording the event. No one ever mistook the Scalise’s for the Von Trapp family singers, but it wasn’t too bad thanks to the other people and some additional Americans who were either too shy or embarrassed to come forward but who stood and joined in once we got going.  We ended with a big finish.

I was struck by the emotion I felt singing our national anthem in a Scottish castle on the 4th of July, especially because Scottish history is filled with stories of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and many others who fought the English over hundreds of years trying to win and keep their freedom, and they weren’t able to do so. Even today the longing among the Scots for their own independence is still present. Thanks largely to the separation provided by the Atlantic Ocean our ancestors in the colonies were more successful. 

Independence Day is a day we associate with freedom. Freedom is precious. People have died trying to gain it and people have died trying to preserve it.

In November of 1942 when our nation was engaged in World War Two, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in a speech to a joint session of Congress,

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – which translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.” 

These are freedoms we fought to preserve and for which we still need to advocate.

As we celebrate the freedom of our nation, we also celebrate the freedom God has given us and we’re to commit ourselves to using our freedom wisely and well as God intends.

The apostles, Paul, and Peter, both wrote something significant about freedom. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13-14,

“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 slaves to one another  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

1 Peter 2:16 says,

“As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.” 

Freedom is a gift from God that can be used well or used poorly. These verses from Galatians and 1 Peter declare that freedom is a gift from God that can be used well to serve God and to love others or freedom can be used poorly for self-indulgence and for evil.

The human tendency to selfishness means freedom is often used poorly leading to materialism, abuse, vulgarity, racism, prejudice, and violence.

Late one night a cheerful truck driver pulled up to a roadside diner for something to eat. While he was having his meal, three mean-looking motorcyclists roared up to the diner’s entrance. The atmosphere became tense as they stalked in. Immediately, they selected the truck driver as their target.

One poured salt and pepper on his head. Another took his apple pie, placed it on the floor, and squashed it under his dirty boot. The third upset his coffee, spilling it in his lap.

The truck driver didn’t say a word. He merely stood up, walked slowly to the cashier, calmly paid his check, and made his exit. “That dude sure ain’t much of a fighter,” sneered one of the men.

The waiter behind the counter peered out into the night and replied, “He doesn’t seem to be much of a driver, either. He just ran his truck over three motorcycles.”

Paul says freedom is a gift from God that can be used for self-indulgence or used in love to be slaves to one another.

Those words “be slaves of one another,” may sound strong in our consumer-oriented, self-centered culture, and Paul isn’t even directing them to spouses who are to have the highest commitment to serving one another in love. Paul is directing his words to Christians and to the church.

Freely we have received love from God not because we are so loveable or deserve it but because God is an insatiable lover of people.

Freely as we have received love, so freely we are to share love even when people are not loveable, or we think they don’t “deserve” it.

Often however, freedom is used not in love but to control and oppress. The worst things that humans do to each other are often the result of the improper use of freedom.

The abuse or murder of people are extreme public examples of the misuse and abuse of freedom. Freedom includes the freedom to do good; or evil, to act basely or nobly. We see this play out in our nation and the world every day.

The proper use of freedom includes extending the freedoms we treasure to others, including those with whom we may disagree. 

Choosing the path of Jesus means we Recognize the Relationship of Freedom and Responsibility.

Perhaps we need a Statue of Responsibility to go along with the Statue of Liberty.

As creatures of free will we are responsible for our decisions and choices. In a free society, the proper use of freedom means we choose the good when good isn’t the only option.

When we’re on vacation and away from our homes and one of the concerns we may have is that someone will choose to take advantage of the fact that we’re away and break in.

A “man in the shadows waited until a family loaded its belongings into the car, checked everything, and pulled away for a vacation. The man waited until it was dark, and then he went to the front door and rang the bell.

When there was no answer, seasoned thief that he was, he had no trouble picking the lock and getting inside. As a precaution he called out to the darkness, “Is anybody home?”

He was stunned when he heard a voice reply, “I see you, and Jesus sees you.” Terrified the thief called out, “Who’s there?” And again, the voice came back, “I see you, and Jesus sees you.” The thief switched on his flashlight toward the direction of the voice and was immediately relieved to see a caged parrot that recited once more, “I see you, and Jesus sees you.” 

He laughed to himself and then went to the wall and threw on the light switch. Then he saw it. Beneath the parrot’s cage was a huge Doberman pinscher. The parrot said, “Attack, Jesus, attack.”  

Jesus sees us; he observes how we use our freedom.

Virtually every week we see another former top executive accused of financial or other ethical wrongdoing, we hear another politician speak inappropriately, we hear self-identified Christians engage in cruel and mean-spirited speech or behavior, we see people engage in acts of violence or destruction.

Unfortunately, there are many examples in our culture of the improper use or the abuse of freedom – there is no need to even illustrate it. 

While it’s easy criticize others, we need to be reflecting on how we are using our freedom. A significant amount of the problems and pain individuals experience and numerous social ills are due to the failure to properly use the freedom we possess.

What choices do we make with our freedom each day? Where do we direct our time, our attention and resources?  What do we do with our body? What do we watch on television or the Internet?  Do we exercise our freedom and responsibility to vote and be good citizens and to work for the common good and for justice for all?

To quote President Franklin Delano Roosevelt again,

“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”

2 Peter 2:19 says, “People are slaves to whatever masters them.”

Christ promises to make people free; but Christ never promises to make us independent.

We are not ultimately free of one another nor can we be free from God.

The paradox of freedom is the more we submit our will to God’s gracious will and become slaves of Christ, the more fully we become servants of God, the freer we become.

The proper use of freedom for a Christian is being a slave of Jesus and inviting Christ to shape and direct how we use our freedom. We can trust Jesus to guide our freedom more than we can trust ourselves.

American psychologist William James wrote, “Bondage to the highest is identical with true freedom.” 

Perhaps the greatest use of freedom is the willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others as Jesus did.

Jesus gave up the freedom he had as a member of the Trinity and took the form of a slave and laid down his life for his friends that we might be free from sin and free to live a Spirit-filled, abundant, joyful, eternal life.

Throughout American history, over one million sons and daughters have freely and courageously sacrificed their hopes, dreams, love, and lives so we might live as free people. Free to think and speak, to worship, to provide for our families, and to live without fear. 

One of the most moving places I’ve ever visited are the D-Day sites in Normandy, France where American, British, and Canadian troops came ashore and began the liberation of France and Europe on June 6, 1944 during World War Two.

Three years ago while we were there on a church trip, we walked on and around those beaches and it almost didn’t seem right in a place where so many men were killed and wounded, to know that this is where in warmer months you’d see people swimming, children playing in the sand, and sailboats gliding silently in the wind, just as we see here on the Cape.

Yet the men who fought did so in order that people would have the freedom to do just those sorts of things – to enjoy the beach in peace and freedom. 

We spent time walking around the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer overlooking Omaha Beach. It is difficult to walk in such places without crying because of what was lost that cannot be replaced.

Every citizen and especially every politician should annually visit the cemeteries of our nation, especially in places such as Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery, and our military cemeteries in Europe and the Pacific to remember the atrocity, horror, and cost of war, the value and preciousness of life, and the courage and sacrifice of so many who were and will always be missed and mourned by those who loved them.

The chapel at the center of the cemetery in France encourages those who visit “Think not only upon their passing. Remember the glory of their spirit.”

The same is true of Jesus Christ, it is important to remember not just his death on the cross on our behalf, but the glory of his spirit and the freedom that we have through him. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “You have been bought with a price.”

We may think our lives are our own, but they really belong to God.

Our freedom, our life, work, loyalty, time, skills, service, and resources are to be used properly, not to indulge ourselves, but for the Master we serve – Jesus Christ.

As we celebrate the freedom of our nation, may we also celebrate the freedom God has given us and commit ourselves to using our freedom wisely.

May we never forget the spiritual and political freedom we enjoy have been purchased at an incalculable cost.

What will we do with that freedom? I pray we will use it not for self-indulgence or as an excuse to do wrong, but that we will use our freedom nobly as servants of God to love one another. 

Freedom is a gift from God that can be used well or used poorly.

Freedom is a gift from God that can be used for self-indulgence or used in love to be slaves to one another.

Freedom not only brings out the worst in people, it brings out the best. 

Freedom cannot be separated from Responsibility. 

The proper use of freedom includes extending the freedoms we treasure to others, including those with whom we may disagree. 

The proper use of freedom means freely choosing to follow Christ, to learn his ways of living and being, sharing love and compassion as he did.

Perhaps the greatest use of freedom is the willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others as Jesus did.  

Let us use our freedom to say a prayer of thanksgiving for how blessed we are, a prayer of intercession for those who are not, and a prayer of confession for how we’ve fallen short of fulfilling God’s will. May Independence Day weekend be a time we remember the proper use of freedom and our dependence upon God. 

Blessing: (from 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1; John 8:32,36).

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

“If we continue in Jesus’ word, we are truly his disciples; and we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free. And if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

1. What are some of your favorite Independence Day memories? Where were you? Who was with you? What made it special?

2. What is your response to the quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt about the four freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear? Why are these four freedoms so important to us both as Christians and Americans?

3. How do these verses from Galatians 5:13-14 impact your life: “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 slaves to one another  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

4. What do you do so that love of neighbor and the idea of being slaves to one another in love influence your life and decision making more than self-indulgence? Why is this difficult?

5. Freedom is a gift from God that can be used well or used poorly. How can you use your freedom well to honor and glorify God and to bless your family and neighbors?

6. How would you describe the relationship between freedom and responsibility? How does being a servant of Christ make us truly free?

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