Hebrews 11:8-16 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-- and Sarah herself was barren-- because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Reflection As I see it, church and state cannot possibly come into alignment given the incredible diversity of understanding in our country of who or what or if there is God and what constitutes moral or ethical behavior. We will never all be on the same page. Nonetheless, as citizens and friends, strangers and immigrants in this country I believe we can agree that there is one boulder that bridges the divide between church and state. Freedom.
Just a few weeks before the Revolutionary war two hundred and forty three years ago, Patrick Henry spoke to the House of Burgess in Virginia urging the delegates to join efforts for Independence from Great Britain. His words, “Give me liberty or give me death” echo through the centuries as a battlecry for freedom. We hear Henry’s words in Moses’ demands to Pharoah, “Set my people free.” We hear Henry’s words in Jesus’ proclamation, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me… (having) sent me to proclaim release to the captives.” (Luke 4.18) We hear Henry’s words in Abraham Lincoln’s confrontation of “the monstrous injustice of slavery.” We hear Henry’s words in Nelson Mandela’s, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Today we face a challenging question. Do we believe in freedom enough to do whatever it takes to respect and enhance the freedom of others? As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently wrote, “We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”
The fourth of July is Independence Day, celebrating freedom of the American colonies from Great Britain in 1776. Public displays of patriotism abound; flags, fireworks and parades, bar-b-ques, watermelon and baseball games, simple ways Americans celebrate their gratitude for the freedom we enjoy, the American way.
As we look forward to this government paid holiday I find myself scratching my head and wondering “How well are we walking on this land of the free, enhancing the freedom of our sisters and brothers? How free are the poor to access health care and reproductive information? How free are people to work and businesses to engage in free commerce? How free are women to access pay and position equal to their male counterparts? How free are employers to hire whomever they choose? How free are our LGBTQ friends and neighbors to pursue their happiness? How free are folks to protect themselves and not participate in things in which they do not believe? How free are men to express vulnerability or uncertainty? How free are refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to find safe haven and make a better life in this country? How free are each of us to speak and expose unpopular truths? How free are we to tell people in power what they do not want to hear?”
Do you hear this litany? When we ask all of these questions we realize, they do not line up on one side of the political aisle nor do they align with a particular religious perspective. Even within our Christian tradition people of good faith see different ways to move toward what they believe is good. There is no simple prescription for freedom. The one thing we may say is, if freedom is freedom at all, it must be freedom for all. Returning to Mandela’s words, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
How then shall we “live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others?”
As people of God we locate ourselves in a with God world. That means we act decisively to make God’s presence known among all people, especially the poor, weak and marginalized, the strangers and enemies. As people of God we privilege relationships over personal gain. It is not all about me. It is all about we. As people of God we not only have compassion for the suffering but we also act unconditionally to offer them relief. And so we ask ourselves, am I making God’s presence known by respecting and enhancing the freedom of others?
Freedom is not free. It may well cost our lives or land us in prison. But the desire for freedom was sufficient for our ancestors to take the risk, cross the pond and enter this unknown land. The desire for freedom was sufficient for our fledgling nation to wage and win a revolution against Great Britain. The desire for freedom was sufficient to ignite the mass protests of the civil rights movement culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The desire for freedom compels us to action.
The thing is, if we want freedom we must stand up for it and, like our ancestor Abraham, be willing to step onto new ground without knowing where we are going. And yes, this does create disorder, shakes up the status quo. So by faith we must stay the course, even when it means like our barren sister Sarah we must wait through our old age to bear new life. And yes, like Abraham and his descendants we may well die before receiving the promise of the city of God, but as people of God we continue to pave the way of respect and access to freedom for all people.
In our lifetime we may never see the City of God fulfilled, but every word we speak and every action we take will either add to its foundation or tare it down. Let me suggest before we speak and before we act we would do well to ask ourselves, “How do my words and my actions respect and enhance the freedom of others?”
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