Freedom. It makes perfect sense that this would be on my mind this week. Our annual celebration of Independence Day this weekend reminds us of the importance of freedom — the high cost of freedom. Barbara Crafton, however, wisely reminds us that, “the proclamation of liberty always precedes its actual birth.”
July 4th marks the 245th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, just signing that document did not make it so. It would take another 7 bloody years for the Treaty of Paris to be signed and for Great Britain to formally recognize U.S. Independence. But the proclamation of liberty always precedes its actual birth.
Jesus understood this as well. The Gospel of Luke records his first sermon on a text from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus stood in the synagogue and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He sat down and said boldly and bluntly, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” However, the proclamation of freedom preceded its actual birth. Over the next three years, Jesus set out to embody this message through his earthly ministry. He healed the sick. He challenged oppressive systems. He set men and women free from physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual chains that held them in bondage. He announced salvation and new life that was available to everyone — not merely the religious elite.
After three years, Jesus passed the torch on to a group of rag-tag disciples to carry on the ministry. The book of Acts records the miraculous way that this group, empowered by the Holy Spirit, carried on the ministry inaugurated by Jesus, breaking down barrier after barrier along the way. This is the same ministry that has been passed on to the Church of today.
On this Independence Day weekend, I’m reminded that we have a long way to go — both as a nation and as the people of God. The proclamation of freedom has been sounded, echoing through our gospel proclamation and national ethos. However, we are still trying to work out its implications in our communities, our laws, and our common life together.
As we reflect on, evaluate, and celebrate our freedoms this weekend, my hope is that people of faith will ask a few questions: How are we bringing good news to the poor? How are we investing in the healing and wholeness of everyone in our community? How are we helping to set free those who are caught in bondage of various kinds? How are we looking for ways to use our liberty to serve others and work for their good?
After all, in the book of Galatians, Paul reminds us, “For freedom Christ has set us free … Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”