Sunday, October 07, 2001

For the Freedom We Have Received, Lord Make Us Truly Thankful

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

"Affliction is a good man's shining hour".

"Suffering produces character, character endurance, endurance hope, and hope does not disappoint because of the Love God shed abroad in Jesus Christ our Lord."

"Count it all joy, siblings, when various trials beset you."

"As often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do preach the Lord's death until he comes."

In this autumn, suddenly, we realize again how much we owe to those who won our freedom, both temporal and spiritual.

A. Temporal Freedom

Freedom from the Tyranny of Kings

We think of Washington's army, shivering along the Hudson River, in the first cold winter of Independence, 1776. Thomas Paine:

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated."

Freedom from the Bondage of Slavery

We think of Lincoln, exhausted and soon to die, riddled with worry, conflict, risk, chance, decision and death for four years. Yet he lived out of this affliction to announce a great hope. Abraham Lincoln:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work that we are in…to do all that may achieve a just and a lasting peace for us and for all the nations."

Freedom from the Threat of Dictatorship

We think of Franklin Roosevelt, bound to his wheelchair, yet out of that bondage finding the rhetoric and courage to lead his people from fear to faith. Nothing to fear but fear itself. A day that will live in infamy. A world founded on four freedoms. Arsenal of democracy…FDR:

"We, too, born to freedom, and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to maintain freedom. We, and all others who believe as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees (1941)…We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away. We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community (1945).

Freedom from the Despotism of Ideology

We think of John Kennedy, wearing the anxiety of the cold war, and meeting that cold with warm words, warmly worded. A profile in courage. JFK:

"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world…Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."

Freedom from the Fear of Terrorism

There have been few if any such Presidential or national rhetorical flourishes, like those of Paine, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, since 1963. In fact, to this ear, there have been none. That alone should help us assess our recent past. There have truths told, words fitly spoken, rhetorical flashes, to be sure, but they have been from lesser voices, and from pulpits, and they have been largely ignored. I name only one national sentence, of high rhetorical value, since Kennedy. It was spoken this fall. G. W. Bush: "We shall meet violence with patient justice."

Yes, this fall, in our loss, we can more clearly see the high worth of the human freedom we have received. We can be thankful, at eucharist, for human freedom, humanly wrought.

B. Spiritual Freedom

But I must ask you: if the value of our temporal freedom is now so clearly and even starkly visible, how much more, then, is the higher value of our spiritual freedom even more clearly and more starkly visible, in this Sacrament of Holy Communion, through which we do preach the Lord's death until He come? If the ringing rhetoric of our national heritage can so move us, today, how much more are we transformed by the freedom we have received in Jesus Christ? For it is this freedom, wrought by Almighty God, upon which we depend for our salvation, for eternal life, for forgiveness, for heaven, and for heavenly peace on earth. This is God's own work, enacted in the death of Christ, whom we preach until He come. As God's act for us, for us men and women, and for our salvation, it is not susceptible, finally, to terrorist assault of any kind.

Freedom from the Tyranny of Religion

We think of Paul of Tarsus, who was seized by this same freedom, and who could fly free from the fetters of his inherited religion. Religion, untamed, can do so much harm. The death of Jesus set Paul free, to love and to serve. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me." Take this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from the tyranny of religion.

Freedom from the Bondage of the Flesh

We think of Augustine of Hippo, who wrestled, grappled with the desires of the flesh for much of his life. A man of great learning, he nonetheless found himself unable to put away temptations that he was powerless to resist. Then, once in a garden, he heard a voice, like of a child, saying, "take and read". He picked up a copy of the letters of Paul that he had been reading, and he saw these words: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." From that moment he found peace of mind. Take this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from temptation.

Freedom from the Threat of Judgment

We think of John Wesley, who though he had as much or more formal religion than any of his contemporaries, was made to wait until middle age before he exchanged the form of religion for its power. Wesley on Aldersgate Street: "About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."(5/24/1738) Take this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from the threat of judgment.

Freedom from the Despotism of Defeat

We think of Weldon Crossland, one of the former pastors of this church, bringing a proposal for a new church to his doubtful Board of Trustees, and doing so amid depression and war. The year is 1939. He dedicated his idea to the glory of God and the service of Rochester. On the front page, as I have learned thanks to a friend's research, he placed this quotation, an inscription he had found on a country church in England: "In the year 1643, when all things sacred were either demolished or profaned, this Church was built by one whose singular praise is to have done the best things in the worst times and to have hoped them in the most calamitous." Take this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from the despotism of defeatism.

Freedom from the Fear of the Future

We think of Ernest Freemont Tittle, who more than most in his generation fifty years ago, saw the contours of the future. Tittle: We of this generation are confronted with the revelation of divine purpose given in a human interrelatedness and interdependence that justifies the term "one world". We find ourselves in a situation where no one nation can prosper unless all prosper, no one people can dwell secure unless security is assured to all. This situation was brought about through human agents, through the activities of scientists, inventors, traders, imperialists; but it is not a result of human planning. Not even the most ardent imperialist will claim that empire was devised as a means of drawing the world together, nor will anyone claim that science or invention or international trade was carried on with a view to bringing about the interdependence of nations and peoples. The situation in which we now find ourselves, so far from being a result that we human creatures purposed and planned, has to a large extent been brought about despite our purposes, which for the most part were selfish and shortsighted enough. It has come to pass through the providence of God, who, through science and technology, through improved means of transportation and communication, through the extension of trade and credit, has brought it to pass that we have got to act with due consideration for the rest of mankind if we ourselves are to prosper and dwell secure. Something beyond us, a superhuman purpose and power, is working in history, bringing about the increasing interdependence of men and nations, so that our sheer survival becomes ever more contingent upon the establishment of justice and fair play in all our relations to one another."

Takes this sacrament to your comfort, as an altar call to freedom from fear of the future.

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