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By Rev. Justin Smoot
The Fourth of July, Independence Day, is a celebration of our nation. There is a parallel with faith that just begs to be made when the freedom of sin, death, and the power of the Devil we have in our baptism with the freedom that the Continental Army finally secured from the British Empire at Yorktown.
As a nation and society, we know freedom as something that allows us to exercise rights, to live without oppression, and generally exist without limitations. We also know that there was, is, and will be a cost to the freedom we experience, as a nation. This reality, at best, is intended to balance the license this freedom grants us; at worst, to condemn actions as unworthy of the cost of freedom. We take joy in exercising the freedoms granted to us in celebratory manners. This approach to freedom appears to parallel the forgiveness of sins that we have in baptism, which makes our actions pleasing to God. However, this approach assumes that God has a “rubber stamp” to place on our actions. In fact, it is very much like the Theology of Glory that I have written about before.
The Christian Freedom we have through our baptism was probably best articulated by Martin Luther in the seemingly contradictory statement, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” While our brains wrestle with the inherent contradiction, our hearts understand the truth of this. It is the statement that our freedom is undeniable, perfectly attained for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet, our freedom is not a gift to us, well, not to us alone. We are not simply freed from sin, death, and the power of the Devil, but we are freed for service to God and the world. Our service is not an obligation that we are forced to fulfill, but a calling for which we set aside our freedom in service to Christ and our community.
The parallel between Christian freedom and American freedom becomes both weaker and stronger, now. The flippant license that masquerades as freedom is revealed as hollow and self serving. When the assertion of, “it’s a free country,” is the flimsiest excuse for obnoxious behavior that lacks any respect of other or human decency, then we’re are not exercising freedom but are playing tyrant. This is not the freedom we have in Christ. Yet, the ways in which we take every opportunity to use the freedom we have to help build up our neighbors and connect with our community, this parallels the cross and the freedom we find there. When freedom leads us into service, more than simply military service, we are acting as free lord and dutiful servant by choosing to enter into service for the sake of others. This is the closer parallel.
As we celebrate the 4th, let us reflect on those who gave up their freedom for us, and let us, in large and small ways, give ours up for one another.
Rev. Justin Smoot
Rev. Justin Smoot is one of the pastors at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church in Rib Mountain. He is always on the lookout for how God’s story turns our lives upside down and draws us closer together.