Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Based on the Epistle reading: Romans 6:12-23
How is it that this year, my 43rd year, is the first time that I have ever heard of the day known in certain places in the U.S, as Juneteenth? Have you heard of that lately? Juneteenth.
This has come up this year because of the protests and the laying bare of a lot of anger over the history of slavery and racism in the U.S.
Juneteenth, for those who do not know, has been called America’s “Little independence day”, and it is a commemoration of the day that the Union General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston Texas that all slaves in Texas were now free. They had in fact been free, due to a federal decree, since the war had pretty-much ended in April of that year, but Texas, being the most remote state in the south, had not had word filter down yet, and the emancipation was not able to be enforced.
What did this mean? It meant that the slaves had in fact been free for a few months but did not know it. In fact, there are anecdotal stories of slave owners in various places knowing that their slaves were no longer theirs, that they were free, but not telling them, so that they might get more work out of them.
The system had beaten into the slaves for years that they were inescapably bound to their owners. And even though they were free, they did not live that way. They did not know.
Timely then, that St. Paul talks about our slavery to sin in this Epistle lesson for today, and questions what freedom really looks like. Slavery was commonplace also in the Roman world in which Paul lived, and it is a practice which still continues today in many parts of the world. Slavery, and the very concept of owning another human being, are incompatible with the Christian life, and the knowledge that all people belong, not to another person, but to God.
So Paul talks about another kind of slavery, and what it does to us.
If we were freed from the slavery to sin, and remember, sin leads to death, why would we want to go back to that way of life? Can you imagine freed slaves wanting to go back to that life of abuse and hopelessness and pain and bondage?
We are not to be a part of that bondage. Our job as Christians is to, like General Granger, proclaim freedom.
So what IS freedom for a Christian?
Well, first it is about what we are freed FROM.
We as Christians, are freed, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, from the punishment demanded by the law that condemns us and shows us that we are sinful and will never measure up to the perfection of God. We are freed from the rule that sin has over us in our lives, that is, as St. Paul says: the wages of sin is death. So we don’t have to try to earn a salvation that we could never earn, or. On the other end of the spectrum, fall into the despair that comes from knowing that we will never be good enough, and just giving up and losing hope, and drowning under the weight of sin and despair.
No, we are free from slavery to sin.
So, that is what we are free FROM.
But, an equally important question is: What are we freed FOR?
We are not free from the fear of punishment for sin so that we can go around doing whatever we want, hurting others, being selfish, and believing that there are no consequences, because there is no cost. If we do that, we place ourselves BACK under slavery to sin, and it would be as though we were never free at all. This is called cheap grace, sinning as though there were no cost. But there was a cost. Just not to us. Sin, and what it took to free us from it, carried with it a huge punishment, a huge cost. It involved three nails and two large pieces of wood.
No, instead we are free to live in a way that shows how thankful we are for the freedom that was won for us. We didn’t earn it, we didn’t deserve it, but we can sure be thankful or it, and try not to fall back under that same slavery of our own accord.
I think we misunderstand freedom. I saw on the news a person in the U.S. who refused to wear a mask into a store recently, because they said “I woke up this morning in a free country”.
So they thought that freedom meant never being told what to do. Even when it helps others and keeps them safe.
But freedom is not the absence of any obligation to anyone. It does not mean selfishness that allows us to endanger the lives of others. In fact it is quite the opposite.
True freedom from slavery and oppression means that because our lives are not a constant struggle for survival, we are enabled to be able to look outside of ourselves to the welfare of others.
Paul talks in the lesson today about the benefit that we reap from this, and one of them is eternal life. But he doesn’t say that the eternal life is necessarily for us. The benefit of our freedom is for other people. The work of the church is to spread the message of salvation, so that other people may know of the freedom from slavery that is already theirs, and so that they might live in that freedom too.
In a world, that even before Covid-19, was increasingly isolated, we have the very real and unique opportunity to be community, to live out our freedom in lives of service to those around us.
So many people live as though they were still slaves.
If only they knew the freedom that they have, and what Jesus did to win them that freedom!
We have to tell them!
We have so much work to do!
Let’s get to it.