"Freedom, A Form Of Spiritual Warfare"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 2, 2006
Psalm 105:1-8; Ephesians 6:10-18
The find drew national attention. The story provided many discussions around office water coolers. Such an incredible find was well beyond monetary value. There are four or five copies still outstanding according to historical records. It might serve us well to check what is in our attics and storage closets! Perhaps we ought to visit more flea markets in New England!
The Fourth of July stands as a great day in the minds of most Americans because that is when the colonies united in Philadelphia and through their 56 delegates to the Continental Congress declared our flagging nation’s freedom from England. The final sentence in that document reads, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
While the document is kept safe in our National Achieves, many of us may not be able to recall exactly what it says. We may not be aware, for example, how our founding Fathers understood freedom as a spiritual inheritance ordained by God for all humanity. How much do you know about our Declaration of Independence and what it is we celebrate on Tuesday, July 4th?
In 1976, the National Association of Student Governments received a grant to conduct an experiment. Faculty members from various University English departments gathered and rewrote the Declaration of Independence removing all vestiges of its 18-century language. Students throughout the nation took the newly composed document to prominent people and asked them to sign it. Only 50% of them did. The students reported that no businesses would display the document on their premises. What is fascinating is that 47% of them continued to refuse even when they were told what it was. Officials did not believe the students.
The findings of the students were complied and submitted to a joint review committee. An article was written and accepted for printing by The Christian Science Monitor, one of the most respected newspapers in our country.
It should be no surprise to us that people who were green with envy that a fortunate American found one of our nation’s most precious documents may also have had little knowledge about what it said. Our nation’s freedom and how we came to achieve it should be rehearsed more often than it is. Today, July 4th is associated more with fireworks, hotdogs and hamburgers than anything else. Freedom is such a precious gift and we must defend it with all the strength that we have.
It is difficult to equate Christianity with warfare. Yet, each of us is at war every day. The Apostle Paul had no trouble describing our struggles when he wrote a letter to the small group of Jesus’ followers living in Ephesus.
We are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this Dark Age. So put on God’s armor now! Then when the evil days come, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still be found holding your ground. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
If we think that freedom does not need protecting and defending, we have never known a recovering alcoholic. We have never known someone struggling with a drug addiction. We have never known people fighting to hold on to their sanity because of the recurring nightmares associated with chronic depression. We have never met people who cannot control their spending habits. We have never known drivers who routinely become consumed by road rage.
We tend to think of warfare as against an enemy we can see. “Our enemies,” however, come in different forms. Quite often they come in a form that at first we recognize as harmless. The one thing that all of them have in common is that they take away our freedom in such tiny increments that we scarcely realize what is happening. One day we awaken to discover that we have become slaves to something. The colonists had experienced enough from the English and decided to reclaim what they came to the Americas to experience – their freedom.
The creators of our nation tended to view the nature of God as having created all people with certain unalienable rights and that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In our lesson this morning, Paul was teaching that we should never take our freedom for granted. Yes, God created us with free will, but God never promised to maintain our freedom for us.
With respect to defending freedom in our country and in our personal lives Paul’s teachings are as valid today as they were nearly 2,000 years ago. Our freedom is very precious. Jesus taught his listeners how to achieve spiritual freedom, but even Jesus was powerless to make them develop the disciplines necessary to maintain it.
We can have truth all around us, but it is we who must sustain and grow the quality of the spirit we radiate. Paul was instructing his readers how to defend their faith, their peace and their salvation. There will always be tension between desires that can easily imprison us and the benchmarks established by Jesus for our attitudes and behavior.
The author of Genesis captured human struggle very well. The serpent said, “Did God really tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?” “Yes,” replied Eve, “We may eat of the fruit of every tree in the garden except the tree in the middle of it. God told us not to eat the fruit of that tree or even touch it or we will die.” The serpent responded, “That is not true; you will not die. God told you that because God knows that when you eat it, you would become like God and know the difference between good and evil.” (Gen. 3:1-5)
Just as our nation needs to keep a vigilant eye on our collective boundaries by enforcing our fundamental laws – everything from guarding our nation’s borders to punishing corporate greed -- so every one of us must also keep an equally vigilant eye on the boundaries of his or her appetites and desires.
As we celebrate our Independence Day on Tuesday, we must remember that freedom is a gift that now has become our responsibility to maintain. How should we do this? Paul wrote, “Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads you.” This we must do every day of our lives. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, in spite of our stage presence, our lives always communicate who we are. Our attitudes and activities reveal more about the depth of our spirits than the sum of our spoken beliefs. We ask for peace knowing how we allow little things to upset us. We desire unwavering confidence even though our fears cause us to have sleepless nights. We speak of love while allowing our need to be right to hinder our expressions of kindness. We want to cooperate even though we enjoy having a competitive edge over others. Help us, O God, to sense the urgency to live lives that are more faithful to how you created us. Our world hungers for guides, for community and for inspired confidence that your will is unfolding in our world. Amen.