Sunday Service – 6/30/2024

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Sermon: “Freedom or Bondage”

By guest preacher, Elder Wanda Harris Cooper

Elder, Oxford Presbyterian Church  |  Inquirer, Philadelphia Presbytery

MiDiv. Candidate, Palmer Theological Seminary

Aston Presbyterian Church 6/30/24

Galatians 5:1; 13-18

Freedom in Christ

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Pray with me,

Gracious God, thank you for your Spirit. Be with me as I deliver your message. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight. O’ Lord my rock and my redeemer. Amen 

“Freedom or Bondage”

Freedom what does freedom mean? Depending on the context, freedom can mean different things to different people. Some of us equate freedom with strongholds that have a grip on us such as bad habits or addictions that we need to be delivered from.  Others equate freedom with debt, just ask a recent college graduate trying to live and pay student loans. Some even think of oppressive situations that require liberation, such as slavery and oppressive government systems like Apartheid. Others may need freedom from an abusive person. For some of us, freedom and bondage are like two sides of a coin. I remember getting my first car: Woohoo, freedom to go where I wanted to go. But oh, I was a slave to the financial responsibility that came with it…gas, insurance, maintenance, and that car note, that was due every month. 

As we approach Independence Day, I pondered the whole idea of freedom from biblical and secular approaches.  Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to do or say what you want without anyone stopping you.”  In our country, we enjoy more “freedoms” than people in other parts of the world. We have so much more that oftentimes we take our freedoms for granted. We have basic freedoms within reason such as:

  • Freedom of the press.
  • Freedom of religion and worship
  • Personal freedom and privacy.
  • Freedom of choice.
  • Freedom to defend ourselves. 
  • Freedom of expression.
  • Freedom of conscience and thought.
  • Freedoms as guaranteed by the constitution.

Since we are approaching the 4th of July, I hope you do not mind a short walk-through of our history to revisit our freedom from the British. 

When the forefathers of this nation spoke of freedom, they were referring to the toxic relationship the colonies had with Great Britain. When preparing for this sermon, I had to brush up on my American history. Do you remember the TV show “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? Well, I am not.  So, I did what a reasonably prudent person would do to find information. Okay, I confess, I did a Google search for the facts. 

I am assuming that we remember the history of our independence. The timeline found on Wikipedia shows that Spain came first in 1492 and proclaimed that they discovered the Americas which was already populated by indigenous people. Did you know that the first European colony and the oldest settlement in the United States was not until 1508 in Puerto Rico?  In 1575 Queen Elizabeth was the 1st to send explorers to the New World and claimed parts of California for England.  But, the first permanent British settlement wasn’t until 1607 in Jamestown under King George III, who was married to Queen Charlotte, any Bridgerton fans. This is the same King and Queen depicted in the fictional series. 

We know that people who immigrated to the New World in the 1600s to the 1700s came to America for religious freedom, economic opportunities, and political liberty. Each of the colonies had its form of local government but they were still under the reign of King George. Britain had all of the power and control over the colonialists who were living across the ocean, in another world.  They were subject to the laws and taxes imposed on them. They were taxed without representation. They had no voice. 

In 1774, leaders from the thirteen colonies met in Philadelphia to discuss the “British situation.” At this time the British occupied Boston. Moreover, they discussed the unfair laws and taxes, the Boston Massacre in 1770, and the Boston Tea Party in 1773.   In 1775, the colonies girded up and faced the British in Boston. In 1776, the colonies had had enough and wrote the Declaration of Independence. The war did not end until 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed and Britain recognized that the United States was free from their tyranny and political oppression. 

Despite the stronghold imposed by Britain, the people settled in the colonies and established their lives. After they removed the indigenous people, they raised generations of children and owned property, including slaves. Like slavery in Egypt, American slavery was awful. Both the African and Hebrew slaves were considered less than human. They were mistreated and suffered horrific abuse at the hands of their owners and slaves yearned and dreamed of freedom. The Israelites were delivered from slavery, however, much later if they became poor, or to pay off debts, they could sell themselves as slaves. 

Remarkably, people used the bible to justify slavery.  Slavery was a man-made institution that was born and bred in all cultures. God did not mandate slavery for anyone. We did. God simply gave us parameters and rules to follow.  Hebrews could not buy and sell Hebrews. If they were subject to the bondage of slavery, then freedom came in seven years. Not only did freedom ring for them, but they were freed with money, land, animals, and what they needed to move on. 

The colonists were mostly Christian with small Jewish populations. We all remember the pictures of the Puritans and the first Thanksgiving, but there were also Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Methodists, and Quakers. And yes Presbyterians. They came here for freedoms that they lacked in Britain. Interestingly, the Indigenous and later the African slaves were not included in their freedom quest. The freedom that the colonialists desired was intended for the white male citizens. Then in the 1700s, unfortunately, I had a double dose of unqualifying traits. I am a woman and I am of African descent. Freedom would not have been my right.     

The forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. …”  This declaration was intended to liberate the colonies from Britain. To set them free. Freedom from the oppressiveness. Freedom to govern themselves. Freedom to live in peace here in the New World. Freedom oh Freedom. 

We know that our forefathers were men of that era and they did not believe that all people were created equal and endowed by the creator with the same unalienable rights. Rights that are unchangeable, undisputable, immutable, and undeniable. In other words, ALL people were not free to enjoy the rights as outlined in the declaration. It was not just the slaves, but what about women, children, other minorities, immigrants, and indigenous people? 

Were they free or bound? In Genesis 1 God “created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female.” In the Presbyterian church, we believe that ALL people are created in the image of God. ALL of us… men, women, children, slaves, minorities, immigrants, and Indigenous people are all the same in the eyes of God.  We are ALL equal and deserving of the unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty or freedom, and the pursuit of Happiness. Moreover, Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He wrote in Hebrews 10:19 that we are now brothers and sisters in God’s family because of the blood of Jesus.” 

If this is true, then why is freedom over the oppression of others so hard for us? Why do we have a hard time seeing God in all humanity? Can we see the face of God in immigrants, Indigenous people, and people who do not believe what we believe? People who are different? This was hard to do historically and it is still hard today. 

Simply put, the answer is sin. By our human nature, we become a slave to it. Sin brings out the ugly in us. Just a few short weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost when we remembered that God poured his Spirit on the 120 who were in that room. We remembered that God poured his Spirit into us as well. But sin is the ugliness that holds us and separates us from God. Not only does sin separate us but sin precludes our ability to see one another as God intended. Sin can be so sneaky that at times we don’t even know we are sinning. It blinds and binds us and we cannot break free. Paul wrote in Romans 6:16 that “the one enslaved to sin, obeys sin.” In other words, sin becomes the master, and the master must be obeyed. 

Let’s reflect on sin for a few minutes. Through their covenant with God, the Israelites enjoyed a different kind of freedom.  Yes, they were bound by the 613 laws, but in exchange, they had the favor of God. Even with their relationship with Yahweh and favor… we know that they struggled with sin, disobedience, and idolatry. God allowed them to be captured, exiled, and to be trampled by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. In Judges 10 we read how they were captive to the Philistines, the Amorites, the Sidonians, the and Amalekites, to name a few. 

We may not bow to the Baals and other ancient gods. But we have our problems with sin too. What about the seven deadly or cardinal sins that can be intoxicating and lead us on a journey away from freedom and landing right into bondage? Bibleinfo.com defines the seven sins simply. 

The first deadly sin is lust. There is sexual lust and then we can lust for things that can lead to greed. Lust for food can lead us to consume like with gluttony. Historically, how many times did we mess up over lust? In the Bible, we find David and Bathsheba.  We have King Solomon, the wisest king.  He had a problem with women. Sampson and Delila. Lust is bad because the perpetrator dehumanizes and disparages another person. We read in 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee also from youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love peace…” 

Gluttony is an excessive and ongoing consumption of anything. We usually think of food. But can it be binge-watching Netflix, or society’s excessive attachment to virtual platforms, social media, and what’s trending? We are slaves to consumption and they become our God. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Excessive TV or social media consumption has a trickle-down effect that impacts our day, our interactions with others, and potentially our lives. 

There is greed. Greed is the excessive pursuit of material things. Some of us are on the vicious cycle of materialism. The more we have the more we want. We spiral into being consumed by things. Our things become our God. And we can become obsessed with ways to acquire them. Some may become criminals. Others may just work and work, sacrificing family and at times their health in the pursuit of more and more. We become captive to the pursuit of these things. Hebrews 13:5 reads “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.” 

Sloth, why is being lazy an awful sin?  It is not just being lazy. It is excessive laziness and even more dangerous is the failure to use your talents and gifts. In 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul wrote to the church “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” It is clear that God encouraged those who could work…. to work. They were growing the ministry and every one was needed to hold their own. If we are not working, then we cannot contribute to the Kingdom. We cannot care for the poor, orphans, or widows as God intended for us to do. 

Slothfulness also refers to the failure to use your talents and gifts. We are all woven together as one people. One body of Christ.  God has given each of us gifts and talents based on the needs of His people and not based on what we want.  Therefore, the body of Christ, the church, needs all of our gifts to function. Failure to use our gifts for the good of all people can lead to challenges for the Kingdom. 

There is wrath. Wrath is a strong or intense anger toward others. We are human and we will get angry at times. But wrath is excessive anger. In today’s society, some people do not know how to control themselves. They spiral into anger with every step they take or circumstance. Wrath leads to a rage that can consume us.  Our society perpetuates anger. We read about it every day. It comes out as road rage, senseless violence, vigilantism, or revenge.  Wrath can also be a quiet and behind-the-scenes rage where it spews a venomous bite that debilitates and hurts others. This kind of rage is systematically built into our society. 

Envy is the intense desire to have what someone else has. When we are envious, it can trigger sadness or depression. It makes us feel less than whole leading us to resentment or hatred of the other person. The conflict between Cain and Able was the first documented biblical account of envy that turned into a jealous rage. This was just the beginning. Throughout the Bible, we have examples of envy, jealousy, and rage…. Sarah and Hagar, Joseph and his brothers, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, King Sal and David. Proverbs 14:30 reads, “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones.” 

The last deadly sin is pride. Pride is an excessive view or opinion of ourselves. According to Lea McMahon, a licensed professional counselor and adjunct psychology professor, pride is a result of low self-esteem.  Pride makes us praise ourselves and snub others. God hates the proud and loves the humble.  We see this in our political climate today. 

Like today, in the 1700s the British were steeped in the sin of lust… and they lusted for money. They were greedy… they just took more and more. And they consumed excessively whatever they wanted to the detriment of the colonies. They were prideful, thinking of themselves as better than the people in the colonies. They felt that the people in the colonies were second-class and just a source of revenue for their economy. I believe that the British, like us, were individually, collectively, and corporately captive to sin. Bound to the emotions that led them to sin, they were unable to be what God intended for them and to live as Jesus modeled. 

What about us? Abraham Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” 

Let’s be honest, are we destroying ourselves or imploding from the inside out? Are we truly free or are we in bondage to feelings and emotions that cause us to sin too? Are we stuck on that sinful spinning wheel going around and around?  I do not know about you, but I struggle with sin every day. When we are captive and bound by sin, there is no way we are free to live as God truly intended. Freedom then, is an illusion. 

The early church had problems as well. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia regarding legalism and acceptance of the new converts. The people of Galatia were bound by the old laws and they struggled with the freedom found in Christ. They were legalistic in their ways and struggled to adhere to the 613 laws outlined in the covenant. And they wanted new converts to fit their model of Judeo-Christianity. They had a shallow understanding of the freedom that was there in their grasp. They did not understand that the old laws were not a pathway to salvation.  It was just the opposite. Surrendering to the laws only pointed to their sin and what they needed to do in atonement and forgiveness of them. Living by the laws kept them bound and enslaved to those laws and they needed atonement over and over and over again. They were stuck in a perpetual cycle of sin and the acts that were required for their forgiveness. 

They did not understand that true freedom was only obtained through Christ. It was no longer about what they did, what they ate…if they were circumcised, or being ceremonially unclean.  Salvation and freedom were not through works but through grace. Paul told them that “it was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” He told them to “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  

The Bible has different meanings for “yoke.” In this instance yoke was not referring to teamwork or working together, but rather the yoke was a symbol of oppression and slavery.  In other words, Paul was telling them that the laws were oppressive and to get off that roller coaster. They were free! 

If they continued to require converts to adhere to the laws, circumcision in particular, then Christ would be of no value to them. Christ’s, death on the cross would be for nothing. The new covenant with Christ has set them free from the laws and, Church, the good news is, Christ has set us free as well. 

Even though we were called to be free, we still have responsibility. As Christians, our freedom goes deeper than “the power or right to do or say what you want without anyone stopping you.” Elbert Hubbard noted American philosopher and author said, “Responsibility is the price of freedom.” 

Paul tells us not to use our freedom to indulge in the flesh. In other words, fight the temptation to fall into the behaviors that cause us to sin. Watch out for envy, watch out for slothfulness, watch out for wrath, watch out for lust, watch out for gluttony, watch out for greed, and watch out for pride. 

Paul wrote in Romans 6:  

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 

13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; 

14 For sin shall no longer be your master because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

This is easier said than done. To remain free, we must fight daily against the flesh and sin. Do you remember the old commercials depicting the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other?   Well, the commercial said that the devil made me do it.  We have the Spirit of God within us. We are fully equipped to withstand any temptation that the flesh brings on us. 

Church, walk by the Spirit! If we fully commit to the Spirit then we do not have to rely on the law or any outside force to combat sin. We have the strength and fortitude to gird up and fight against the sins of our flesh. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3, “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. “

Oh, what if King George III and the British leaned into the Spirit? Oh, if our forefathers of this nation leaned into the Spirit? What would our world be like today?  Let’s take this another step. Oh, what if we as the body of Christ truly leaned into the Spirit? What would the world look like today? 

According to Pew Research, Christianity has been on a decline from 91% in 1976, to 73% in 2016. And now, according to the 2023 Gallup poll, 68% of Americans identified themselves as Christians. Christians are still the largest religious group in the country. It is heartbreaking to see the shenanigans happening in our country perpetrated by Christians. If we are led by the Spirit in all that we do, we will be unified and not divided.  Cohesive and not polarized. Connected and not disjointed. We would walk the walk and talk the talk. 

You know the song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” The lyrics are:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

In this election year, I pray that they will know we are Christians by our love and not our rhetoric. I pray that our unity will be restored and that we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride. I pray that we remember that we are to align with Jesus Christ. If we profess to love Christ, we would stand in solidarity proclaiming that all people have the opportunity for true freedom. Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 

We should align with liberty, we should align with truth, we should align with LOVE!  We should shout the good news from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, that we are no longer in bondage. And that we, Christians, hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by our Creator with the same unalienable rights that only come because Christ has set us free from bondage! As the words of the great Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.” Amen. 

The charge:

Church, while we relish in the great freedoms that this country offers us, remember that it is Christ who was the ultimate emancipator, who freed us from sin, and ultimately an eternity of death. But with this freedom there is responsibility. Even though it is not easy, we have the advocate, the Spirit of God inside us to help navigate us from the behaviors that threaten our freedom.  Lean into the Spirit! 

The Benediction:

  1. May you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To HIM be the honor and glory both now and forever. Amen.