“For freedom Christ has set us free.”
It is uncanny how often the Biblical readings on any given Sunday connect directly to the events going on around us.
In this week when freedom, or the lack of it, is in the headlines and sparking protests across the nation, it is a good time to reflect on what freedom is — and isn’t.
We generally see freedom as independence, the freedom to do as we please, whether others like it or not. We’ve heard that argument a lot in recent months.
In the midst of a global pandemic that had claimed more than a million lives in this country alone, we’ve heard our fellow citizens proclaim that mask mandates and vaccine requirements impinge on their freedom.
In the aftermath of the slaughter of people grocery shopping and children attending school, we’ve heard many maintain that owning a rifle meant for mass killings is their God-given right.
In the midst of rising racism and homophobia, we’ve heard parents telling school boards that they have the right to demand that school curriculums do not include teaching that puts white people in a bad light, or that exposes children to seeing an expanded definition of the traditional family.
And this week we’ve seen rights taken away by the Supreme Court — the right for states to limit gun restrictions, and the freedom of women to end a pregnancy for any reason, and the rights of states to enact some gun laws.
What we are free to do or not to do is a source of contention in this country.
Against that backdrop we hear the apostle Paul say today, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.”
Paul reminds us that Christ calls us first and foremost to a life of freedom. Not a freedom that means that anything goes, but a freedom that allows us to engage our faith passionately, with delight and joy and liberality.
“For freedom Christ has set us free,” Paul proclaims. God has given us salvation so that we need not be constantly burdened with worries about our eternal destiny or God’s favor toward us.
Instead, we are called to accept and trust God’s grace so that we may live a life of faith embodied in care for others, instead of only worrying about ourselves.
For Paul, freedom does not mean that we can do anything we want, anytime we want without worries or obligations.
With freedom comes responsibilities and obligations. Paul is very aware that freedom can be abused.
“Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence,” he warns. “But through love become slaves to one another.”
Abuses of freedom, indulging ourselves, lead to things which separate us from God and one another – things like idolatry, strife, jealousy, anger, and factions.
Paul reminds us that we do not need to be self-indulgent because we already have the gift of God’s grace. And so we are free to serve others.
Not with a life of narrowness, but a life of expansiveness and liberality and grace.
It is important for us as a church to hear Paul’s call to a life of freedom characterized by tolerance and a real concern for others.
The Episcopal Church has historically been a church that has fought the temptation to narrowness. We have traditionally been a denomination of intellectual broadmindedness and liberality.
By liberality I do not necessarily mean “liberal” as it is defined in today’s political arena. The dictionary defines liberality this way:
“A willingness to give or share freely; generosity; absence of narrowness or prejudice in thinking; broadmindedness; tolerance.”
This kind of liberality sounds very much like Paul’s characteristics of the fruits of the Spirit, or a life lived in Christian freedom.
“The fruit of the Spirit,” Paul says, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”
The fruits of the Spirit are not characterized by narrowness, but expansiveness. Not by constrictedness, but by generosity. Not by selfishness, but by true concern for others.
The Episcopal Church traditionally has strived to embrace the freedom to which Paul calls us. We are sometimes criticized by others – and by some within our own midst – for being too free, for not having enough restrictions, for not clearly defining a list of dos and don’ts, of what we should and should not think and believe.
Certainly we must always be careful to be responsible in our freedom; not to abuse the gift that God has given us.
But we must also be careful not to give in to the temptation to narrow God’s grace, to restrict the life of freedom to which we have been called.
* * *
Many of us have been concerned this week over the loss of women’s freedom in making decisions about their own health, specifically as it applies to abortion.
Since 1967 — seven years before Roe v Wade — the Episcopal Church has affirmed that abortion is both a tragedy and a right that should not be abridged by the government.
It is important for us to know our Church’s stance on contentious issues that face our society.
So here is the text of a 1976 resolution that reaffirms the 1967 statement. This position still stands today
Resolved, that the following principles and guidelines reflect the mind of the Church meeting in this 65th General Convention:
1. That the beginning of new human life, because it is a gift of the power of God’s love for God’s people, and thereby sacred, should not and must not be undertaken unadvisedly or lightly, but in full accordance of the understanding for which this power to conceive and give birth is bestowed by God.
2. Such understanding includes the responsibility for Christians to limit the size of their families and to practice responsible birth control. Such means for moral limitations do not include abortions for convenience.
3. That the position of the Church, stated at the 62nd General Convention of the Church in Seattle in 1967 which declared support for the “termination of pregnancy,” particularly in those cases where “the physical or mental health of the mother is threatened seriously, or where there is substantial reason to believe that the child would be born badly deformed in mind or body, or where the pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest” is reaffirmed. Termination of pregnancy for these reasons is permissible.
4. That in those cases where it is firmly and deeply believed by the person or persons concerned that pregnancy should be terminated for causes other than the above, members of this Church are urged to seek the advice and counsel of a priest of this Church, and where appropriate, penance.
5. That whenever members of the Church are consulted with regard to termination of pregnancy, they are to explore with the person or persons seeking advice and counsel other preferable courses of action.
6. That the Episcopal Church expresses its unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the rights of individuals to reach informed decision in this matter and to act upon them.