A Slave to Me

Life Notes—June 24, 2010

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Galatians 5: 13-14 

One of my very favorite singer-songwriters, Dan Fogelberg, had a song on one of his early albums (Sweet Magnolia) that said, “Magnolia, now I see, that freedom isn’t free, and love’s the only true redeemer…”  It wasn’t a song about patriotism, as one might suspect; it was a song about love.  It told a story of two young people in love with their freedom, which in this case meant not being tied romantically to another.  After they part ways to pursue their respective freedoms they realize something within them has changed and their individual ‘freedom’ is no longer the treasure they once believed it to be. 

Maybe the connection is too random, but as I was contemplating the Bible passage above, the song popped into my head.  It has been years since I’ve thought about that song, but the line ‘freedom isn’t free’ haunted me for much of my early adulthood.  I was a bachelor until I was 33 years old and experienced very vividly that my ‘freedom’ wasn’t free.  Sure, I had time to myself, I had my home to myself, I could come and go as I pleased.  I was free to be me!  The problem was, wherever I went and whatever I chose to do, ‘me’ was always there, too.  I was a slave to ‘me,’ and wherever I went, there I was. 

Paul says we must use our freedom to become slaves to one another.  Dan Fogelberg says freedom isn’t free because love’s the only true redeemer.  But love must be shared.  To give and receive love requires relationship, and that requires a sacrifice of some degree of freedom.  While Paul isn’t specifically talking about romantic love, he is certainly talking about relationships and giving and receiving and utilizing the freedom we have been granted in Christ to perpetuate that flow of love, one to another. 

Paul notes that all of the Old Testament law can be summarized as, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  We are free to love freely: to give whatever gifts we possess, and to receive whatever comes back to us.  But we cannot do it alone.  Paul warns against using our freedom for self-indulgence.  That’s what I missed in my early adulthood.  I wanted it all for myself, and love doesn’t work that way.  Freedom isn’t a license for selfishness, but a foundation from which to love with abandon.  Love which springs from freedom is a redeeming love, at least according to two of my favorite writers, Paul and Dan. 

Kara’s sermon title this week is “Elijah 2: Seventh Generation,” based on the scripture 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14.  Life worship begins at 10:45 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Who’s Your Daddy?

Life Notes—June 17, 2010

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”  Genesis 1:26a, 27 

My father was a funny, out-going man.  He was a proud papa and spent a considerable amount of his free time playing with his children.  He used to take me to work and brag about me to his co-workers.  While I knew I was not as good as he made me out to be, part of me desperately wanted to be that good.  My father was a good man, but he was far from perfect.  He could quickly lose his temper and was frightening when he did.  He had some troubling habits, and he died 4 days shy of his 46th birthday.  He was, like all humans, a curious mix of wonderful and less-than-wonderful, fallible and mortal. 

This Sunday is Father’s Day.  It is a day when some celebrate the presence or memories of fathers, or father-figures, we owe much that is right with us to.  It is also a day that brings pain to others because of the dreadful shortcomings of their fathers.  It is sad to know there are people who shun church because God is too often referred to in the masculine sense, as ‘Father’ or ‘He.’ The paternal titles dredge up painful memories of the most un-God-like nature—and they stay away.  Sad, sad, sad… 

Intellectually, most of us know God must be beyond gender: the traditional paternalistic characteristics of protecting and providing, along with the traditional maternalistic qualities of nurturing and caring, all must flow from God.  We were all created in God’s image, both male and female.  Neither gender has a franchise on either set of the traditional characteristics. Both are required for balanced parenting. 

I was on the adult staff of Institute, the Methodist camp for high school youth, in the 1990’s when I had the intense spiritual epiphany that God could fill the hole in my life my father’s death had left so many years before.  This Sunday I will sing a song written by a man who also grew up (mostly) fatherless.  David Meece’s absent father was an alcoholic and his song, My Father’s Chair, goes from his sad childhood, to his role as a father seeking to do better for his children, to his recognition that the only perfect parent, father or mother, is our God. 

So as this Father’s Day approaches, who’s your daddy?  There is a God who knows and loves you more than you can imagine, ready and waiting to fill that parental role as no mere mortal can do.  We are all children of God.  We need only join the family. 

Kara’s sermon title this week is “Elijah 1: Great Expectations,” based on the scripture 1 Kings 19:1-15a.  Life worship begins at 10:45 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Uncomfortable Commands

Life Notes—June 3, 2010 

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Luke 6:27, 31 

A number of years ago a former pastor of our church, Virgil Brady, did a series of sermons entitled, “Things I Wish Jesus Had Never Said.”  Although I no longer remember the specific passages used, I do remember a long string of uncomfortable recommendations from Jesus to us.  Unlike the more familiar Ten Commandments of the Old Testament (Thou shalt not kill, steal, covet, etc…), these are less intuitive, but in many ways much more difficult.  Some of us may go through our entire lives without really wanting to kill someone.  But few of us make it through a day (or hour) without wishing harm to someone we dislike, even if it’s just a character on a television show. 

The sermon passage for this Sunday is full of things I wish Jesus had never said, a few of which are quoted above from the Gospel of Luke.  “Love your enemies.”  “Do good to those who hate you.”  “Bless those who curse you.”  “Pray for those who abuse you.”  These are hard things to do because they go against the grain of our natural reactions.  They stretch us beyond our comfort zones.  These commandments are really hard to follow because they challenge us day after day after day after day after day. 

I read in a book recently (Lamb, by Christopher Moore) that if we are to truly love our enemies we must treat everyone as equal to ourselves.  That means we cannot consider ourselves better or worse than anyone else.  And yet we are forever, everyday, comparing ourselves to what we see in others: “I would never treat others as poorly as my boss treats me.”  Or, “If I had the blessings and gifts of (this person) I would be much more generous than they.”  Or, “That person has no reason to complain…”  I think Jesus may be telling us we are that person; and the change to the person he calls us to be begins within. 

One key to understanding these easier-to-ignore commandments comes a few verses later: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32)  Jesus calls us to be different, to stretch ourselves beyond our natural reactions, to be known by our real and active love for others, even (especially?) the unlovable.  If we act like everyone else, what good are we to them?  Or to ourselves?  Or to Christ? 

Tom’s sermon title this week is “Ideal Words for Unusual Times,” based on the scripture Luke 6:27-36.  Life worship begins at 10:45 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus begins at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator