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August 25, 2013
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 13:10-17
Freedom. One word, and yet it evokes strong emotions and passion in all who hear it, especially in the United States. Freedom. Many have sacrificed and died for freedom, and also so that others might gain, or keep their freedom. We love stories about freedom. We watch Westerns and war movies because many of them have a theme related to the freedom of the west or how noble it is to fight for freedom. There are dozens of books and movies about the American Revolution where our nation gained its freedom. We love to watch “Free Willy” about a captive killer whale who finds his freedom in the Pacific Ocean. We still occasionally see reruns of the 1966 movie, Born Free, and we feel wonderful as Elsa the lioness finds her freedom in the wilds of Kenya. We cannot erase the images of captives being set free from Nazi prison camps or the horror and joy we felt when we heard that Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus, and Michelle Knight had been found and set free. As a student, as the school year ended each summer, I remember my classmates and me rejoicing in our freedom. On a number of occasions I have visited prisons, and even though I was fortunate enough to have never been incarcerated as a resident there, each time I have come out from behind the walls and the barbed wire, I have felt a great appreciation for my freedom. During the American Civil War, whole regiments of African Americans were formed as Union soldiers because they were former slaves, children of slaves, relatives of slaves, or simply because they wanted others to have the freedom that they had. Freedom, in all its forms, and with all of its hazards, is a precious thing and two thousand years of history has not changed those feelings at all. In Luke 13:10-17, we hear these words…
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham,
whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. This is a classic story of Jesus’ healing power and I think that one of the reasons that we are so fond of it is, once again, the aspect of freedom that is included in it. Jesus describes the woman’s crippling infirmities as having bound her and his healing as setting her free. While some of the synagogue leaders were offended that Jesus would do healing “work” on the Sabbath day, he reminded them that even in their high and mighty diligence in keeping the tiniest letter of the law, even they would do the “work” of untying their beasts of burden so that they could have enough freedom to eat food and drink water. How is it any different then, Jesus asks, for him to untie this woman and give her freedom from the crippling spirit that she has endured for eighteen years? Freedom is an amazing thing, and we always love stories where those who are imprisoned are set free. The thing about our lesson today is that scripture almost never ends the story when the prisoner gains his or her freedom. When the people of Israel were set free from their captivity in Egypt they didn’t just run into the Promised Land without a care in the world. They faced years of wandering in the desert and generations of relearning who God was, what he wanted, what it meant to worship a holy God and to be a holy people. The writer of Hebrews said this: (Hebrews 12:18-29)
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” In this, the writer of Hebrews reminds the people that they have come to Jesus as a people who were not born perfect, and who did not live perfectly, but who have been made perfect through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Our world, he says, can be shaken and in our lifetimes we have seen earthshaking events as
well as earthquakes and other natural disasters. But God has already removed from his kingdom all things that can be shaken so that what remains cannot be shaken. God is unchangeable, he cannot be surprised, and what is his, cannot be changed or overthrown. All these things lead us to understand that God desires, deserves and demands our worship. We have been set free from sin and death, but our freedom came at a price. Because we have received it, something is asked and expected of us in return. God is described as “a consuming fire” both, I think, because God not only will consume those who reject him, but because our worship of God and our passion for God should consume us and set our hearts on fire. When we properly understand what has been done for us and the true value of our freedom, our love for Jesus becomes like a fire that burns within us that compels us to draw closer to him and to do his will. Finally, we hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10) who was called to be God’s messenger when he was barely an adult. Jeremiah complains that he is too young, that no one will listen to him and that he is not good at public speaking but God isn’t having any of Jeremiah’s excuses… The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” God’s words to Jeremiah speak to us as loudly as they spoke to him. God says, regardless of what you think of your limitations, and regardless of your excuses, “You must go to everyone that I send you.” At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we think that we’re too young, too old, or too short, or too tall, or too shy, or too forward, too awkward, too overconfident, too smart, too dumb, too poor, too rich, too lazy, too busy or anything else. At the end of the day, when God says go, all that we can do… is to go. Our God is a consuming fire. When God says go, we take our lives in our hands if we do any less than what he commands. If our hearts belong to him, if we are indeed true followers, then God’s command to “go” will light a consuming fire within us that will compel us to see his vision through to the end. At the end of the day, we are not simply set free. We are not set loose into the Promised Land without a care in the world any more than the people of Israel were five thousand years ago. We have been set free for a purpose. We have been set free, so that we can go into the world and set others free.
We are set free, in order to be agents of freedom. We are set free, in order to set others free. Set free times two. Set free, so that, we can set free. Freedom is the greatest story theme in all of literature and indeed, all of history. God calls each one of us, to stop making excuses, and to be a part of his great adventure. Let us go into the world and set people free!
You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
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