This week we celebrate Independence Day, the 4th of July. On that day 243 years ago, the founders of our nation declared “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all 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.”
The founding generation secured those rights for us in battles that cost many their lives and fortunes. We thank God that we have the opportunity to live in security and liberty, an opportunity that many in this world can only dream about. And we are continually grateful to those who serve and have served and sacrificed to maintain our freedom. But my friends, the greatest freedom we ever received was not freedom from British rule, nor freedom from taxation without representation.
The greatest freedom we have ever received is the freedom Jesus gave us as a free gift early 2000 years ago.
Today’s readings are about freedom – freedom and discipleship. Two concepts that our culture would never put together, except perhaps as opposites. But I would suggest that our culture has a dysfunctional understanding of both freedom and discipleship. We are wrong if we define freedom as the ability to do whatever we want without responsibility. And we are wrong when we view discipleship as giving up our freedom.
Janis Joplin sang “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” and in some sense she was right. Freedom can not be just the absence of responsibility. To live that way is not to be fully human. To be the people God made us to be, to be a Christian, is to have something to lose.
There is always something that limits our freedom if we think of freedom as being free from something obliging us. We have responsibilities for each other. Those of us who are married took on a deep responsibility towards their spouses, a responsibility that limits freedom in favor of wanting what is best for one another. We have responsibilities to our parents, our neighbors, the poor, and the community.
The Christian defines freedom in a different way. For the Christian, freedom is the not freedom from something but instead the freedom for something- freedom to do, to be a disciple. The freedom that Jesus won for us is not the freedom the world promises, which exempts us from responsibility, the freedom to wander, to owe nothing to anybody, an absolute self-sufficiency. That is the definition of ‘nothing left to lose’.
The freedom Jesus gave is something entirely different and Paul states it very simply- it is the freedom to “serve one another through love”. In our lives as Christians, in the family of God, our reverence for the Lord motivates our freedom to act with love. Jesus frees us to do what we ought to do. His liberty is the freedom to walk in relationship with God and to be the people we are created to be- the unique reflection of the love of God. We all know this and experience this. We are at our happiest and our best when we get outside of ourselves and serve one another motivated by love. Yes, we have responsibilities, and, yes, they have authority over us, but this does not limit our freedom. Christ came to set us free – to liberate us from sin and ungodliness and from all which detaches us from God and one another.
When we are free to be our true selves as God created us, then we allow His reflection to be shine on the world. Human freedom is a force for growth in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, who has perfect freedom.
My sisters and brothers, if we are truly free, we will always choose the good. We will always choose the will of God. If we are free, we are free to grow in holiness. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. It is not the freedom to do what we want, but the freedom to do what we ought that is the highest sign of our being made in God’s divine image – the God-given power to become who we are created to be.
We cannot let our freedom be destroyed by licentiousness. This is what St. Paul was talking about when he wrote: “Do not use freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love… live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.”
Freedom is the ability to choose what is good; licentiousness hampers us from choosing what is good. This is evident in every choice that treats the human person as some-thing to be used rather than some-one, a life to be cherished and honored. That choice does not free us, fulfill us or make us happy. True freedom is always found in serving one another through love.
And the more one choses what is good, the freer one becomes. When we exercise our true freedom, rather than the license of the world, we are free to live the life God offers. In the process we grow in holiness, and become more fully human as God intends. This is discipleship. Freedom is a calling to realize in ourselves what is true about us, a calling to fulfill in us all what is true, good, and beautiful.
Freedom comes to us as a gift; Christ makes us free by offering Himself in the sacrifice on the cross and by sending us the gift of the Holy Spirit. This summer, while celebrating the freedoms guaranteed in our constitution, revel in the freedom Jesus gave us, the freedom to be his disciple. To be a disciple takes courage, determination and discipline. Choose be a disciple and to purposefully live the Christian life, free to live in service to the good, in service of others even at the cost of self-sufficiency. To freely give up our autonomy, our very lives even in service of God’s will is the example our Savior gave us on the cross. Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, set your face resolutely, like flint, towards Jerusalem to do whatever the Father’s will is for you.
We can be people of God. We are free to be Jesus’ disciples.
We are free to seek the grace, the wisdom and the audacity to live out our freedom in service of what is good and just.