"Freedom Is No Dream"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 3, 2005
Mathew 11:16-19; 25-30
Our lesson for today is a classic illustration of how difficult it is to achieve such freedom. Jesus is observing the conduct of people and was asking, “To what can I compare the people of this day?” He proceeded to tell his listeners how one special interest group after another clash with the opinions of other groups. No one is ever satisfied. No group was contented to allow another group to hold its own opinions. Jesus concluded, “They are like children sitting in the marketplace.”
If Jesus were here today, there is little doubt that he would draw the same conclusion. Last week the talk show hosts were clashing over a recent Supreme Court ruling. The 5-4 decision will greatly impact the power of homeowners. A municipality now has the power to take someone’s home if the property on which it sits can be used for the benefit of the entire community. This decision has inspired controversy at nearly every level of society. In fact, Congress is now proposing legislation that will punish financially any local government that attempts to abide by the high court’s ruling.
When our group returned from Jurarez, Mexico on Friday, we were greeted with the news that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is retiring. Her stepping down has sparked debate from every quarter regarding the kind of person who will assume her responsibilities on the highest court in our land.
It appears that no matter what the issue is there will always be strong debate coming from some group’s point of view. While pointed discussions and freedom are assets to any society, Jesus was correct. We are children who find agreement about anything very difficult to achieve.
Jesus brilliantly illustrated his point by describing the public opinion regarding John the Baptist and himself. He said, “When John came, he fasted and drank no wine. Observers said he was possessed with a demon. When I came, I ate food and drank wine and they said, ‘Look at this man! He is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts.’” (Matt. 11:18-19)
When we are not centered on our purpose and mission in life, every point of view different from our own has the power to throw us off balance. The childish behavior of others can easily evoke our own defenses that may guide us to perceive without love. We do not need to be pulled into a web of controversy inspired by someone’s beliefs or behavior; yet frequently we are. Routinely, we allow others to rob us of our freedom and disturb our peace. Our responsive defenses and frequent hostile attitudes will always produce this consequence.
Recently, I was preparing to merge on to Rt. 50 from Rt. 197 during the morning rush hour. Another driver pulled up next to me and wanted to play. When I sped up to get in front of him, he stayed with me preventing it. When I slowed down so I could pull in behind him, he slowed as well. He was determined to keep me in the merge lane until it disappeared. I allowed him to win. I thought to myself, “This is the kind of behavior that often escalates into road rage.” To prevent this response, each driver must instantly be aware of what they may lose when they play with their cars.
Human freedom is not an environment nor is it a state of mind that governments can establish for us. Freedom is not a dream that we wish we could experience. It is very much a reality that is linked with our level of skill. Its preservation is determined and maintained by us. We surrender our freedom the moment we allow others to evoke our hostile judgments.
Most of us returned from Juarez extremely grateful for the quality of life that we take for granted in our country. While there, we experienced electricians showing up at our site asking if they could borrow our tools. They gave us a list of parts and materials that we needed to purchase for them at the Home Depot. The time it took to accomplish small tasks was incredible.
It was very easy to be critical of their lack of efficiency. Yet there was a freedom in the people of Juarez that many Americans do not have. They are peaceful within their circumstances. If some task does not get done today, there is always tomorrow. Time for them is extremely relative. Few people are prompt, but people appear to understand that waiting is one of the aspects of life.
A 25-inch boulder had rolled onto one of the highways we traveled each day. It had become dislodged from a retaining wall. During one my journeys to Home Depot I asked Jose Luis, “How long will that large rock be lying on the highway?” He said, “Probably three or four years. It doesn’t matter. We simply drive around it.” Believe me, I envied their freedom but I also wrestled with myself. I wanted to stop and remove it.
Our team was faced with a decision. Do we impose our values of efficiency by being critical of their style of living or do we set an example by showing them better ways to achieve the results that they want?
In our lesson Jesus used words that might confuse us. He said, “Take my yoke and put it on you. Learn from me because I am gentle and humble in spirit. Learn and you will find peace. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on your is light.” What kind of freedom of expression was Jesus suggesting?
Anyone who knows what Jesus’ ministry was communicating will know why his yoke is easy and why his load is light. There could not be anything more easily understood when we think about it.
Issues become very traumatic and unnerving for us when we get involved by deciding what the outcome should be. We know what we would prefer. We know what injustice looks like. We know what unethical behavior leads to. We know what the end result will be when people bend the rules. But do we?
How much energy do we expend worrying about or becoming involved with issues that evoke our fears or that impact negatively our sense of fairness and justice? The answer is -- all the time. We completely screen out any role that God might be playing in the lives of others. We become consumed with what someone else is doing with their lives instead of trusting that God is working with them and possibly through them.
Each of us has the potential to enter every circumstance and extend compassion, empathy, caring and kindness. Miracles happen when we give these character qualities form in our behavior and attitudes. How difficult is it to love when we freely allow the consequences to be up to God? How easy is it to wear that yoke? How light is the burden we bear when all we have to do is love as we forget the potential outcome our fears suggest might happen? Our five senses betray us constantly. We cannot discern the Divine mind. What we can do, however, is embody God’s presence within our responsiveness.
Who could have imagined that anything good would come from Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers? Who could have known that eventually he would rise to become second in command of Egypt and eventually save his people from starvation? Who could have known that a murderer, who was both insecure and inarticulate, would eventually lead Israel into the Promised Land and deliver to them the Ten Commandments? Who could have imagined that the Prodigal Son would find emptiness in his material excesses and come home to a forgiving father?
God’s will always prevails in spite of our best efforts. This understanding should instill peace and give us rest. God is in charge, not us. All we have to do is show up in every environment and give form to our kindness and generosity of spirit. We need to tell our neediness to step aside instead of allowing it to be the driver of so many of our decisions.
We will find that such responses will accomplish what our best thinking is unable to do. In spite of what is happening in our lives, there is no greater freeing experience than allowing God to remain the creator. Freedom is not a dream that belongs to someone else. It is a reality that is totally ours when it allows us to give form to what heals and builds community. God will do the rest.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
God of all ages and people, guide us to see ourselves as others see us. Every moment, our words, attitudes and thoughts communicate who we are. Help us to remember that growth means leaving a part of us behind. Help us to be more welcoming of challenges that cause us to grow skills of spirit. As we celebrate freedom today, help us realize that our experience is a state of mind, not an environment, that freedom is a quality of spirit, not a country. As we remember today what others have done to preserve human dignity, may we sense that it is our turn to keep the flame of freedom alive. We thank you that the thought of a world community is not just a dream. Inspire us to reach for that moment in time when peace and mutual respect will reign in every heart. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for placing within us the desire of wanting freedom. It has been our nature to want alternatives. Even though some of us are not wise stewards of our choices, we realize that it is the best environment in which to grow.
Today we are grateful for our nation and for those who have given their lives so that we might have the power of choice. We are grateful for the rules that have been designed to give freedom form, direction and purpose. Even though we share great diversity of opinions, many of our values are commonly shared and cherished. When we use our choices to be in service to each other, we share an abundance that would not have happened without all of us working together.
Each day, we are given the opportunity to redefine who we are. In spite of our circumstances, we can choose kindness. We can decide not to hurt others. We can elect spirits that are forgiving and generous. We can become the presence that stills troubled waters simply by being a part of people’s struggles. As we ask for mercy from you, so may we offer mercy to everyone whether they request it or not. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .