Sermon for Trinity 12
Sunday 22 August 2010
When I was younger I used to have a poster on my wall which said ‘Freedom is for people what air is to the birds’. In other words, we need freedom to thrive or to live. Of course people have often had to live without freedom. I am currently reading a novel about some of the leading figures of Henry VIII’s England. It is clear that many people then had to live restricted lives. They had to be careful and guarded about what they said and did for fear of arrest, torture and even death. The same has been true for people down the centuries and remains true for millions in our world today. It is why I have always supported organisations like Amnesty International which works for the freedom of those wrongly imprisoned. I suppose that in the past, when freedom of thought and expression were unusual most people just coped as well as they could and rarely thought about it. In more recent times, however, when liberty has been at the forefront of numerous political movements, the longing for freedom has spread throughout the world and penetrated the minds of countless individuals. An interesting question to consider is this: how did those who lived before the era of general political freedom or those who now live in states where freedom is limited cope without what we now consider to be a necessity? The answer is, I believe, that they discovered and cultivated freedom within their own minds. Of course it takes talent to do this, but can we doubt that some of the geniuses of the past who lived under oppressive regimes must have nurtured their mental liberty? Shakespeare, for example, or Galileo, Mozart or Michelangelo. Similarly in recent year geniuses like Alexander Solzhenitsyn have managed to be creative in circumstances of little or no physical freedom. Many others have gone into exile to seek the freedom they felt they needed to flourish. I rejoice in the freedom we enjoy in this country and in other democratic nations and believe that it is right to try to spread such freedom throughout the world. We also need to give thanks for those who have worked and fought for the creation and the preservation of our freedom in time past.
Today’s gospel is about a woman who is healed by Jesus from a disease which had crippled her for eighteen years. It is interesting that Jesus describes his healing as setting her free from bondage. And it is certainly true that debilitating illness can be a terrible form of bondage. Any of you who have been through such a period of illness or who are now experiencing such illness or have witnessed a loved one at such a time will know what I mean. The will of God as evidenced through the words and deeds of Jesus is that God wants to set us free from the bondage that sickness can bring. That is why Christianity must be fully supportive of the medical profession and rejoice in the great advances that have been made in medicine in the past two hundred years. It is also why we continue to pray for and administer the sacraments of wholeness and healing for individuals and for communities. But Jesus’ gift of freedom extended far beyond physical healing. Our gospel also included his attack on a narrow-minded interpretation of the Sabbath. As he said elsewhere, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” In so many spheres of life Jesus freed people from the constraints they had been labouring under. At the very least I believe we can say that Jesus’ teaching lay the foundations for the freedoms we now believe in. In the words and works of Jesus I believe we can find the basis for all the great political freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom from the fear of torture or unjust punishment, freedom the death penalty, freedom from poverty, freedom from the intrusion of vested authority (such as the church or the state) into our personal life, the list could go on. But alongside these liberties Christians also believe there is another kind. The liberties I have described are principally ‘freedoms from’. But we also need to be set free to be and to do. Paul speaks of “the glorious liberty of the children of God”. This is at root a spiritual freedom. Christians believe that we need to be set free to be what we most truly are, creatures made in the image of God. We find real freedom and fulfilment in union with God who is our origin and destiny. Knowing this, we have no need to substitute any other gods for the one true God who alone can bring rest to our restless hearts. And we find that the freedom we discover in Christ is expressed above all in lives of service. Some people don’t like the idea of service, they think it sounds as if you’ve always got to be at someone’s beck and call. The strange thing is, though, that service as a Christian isn’t like that. There is a wonderful prayer I often use which contains the words, “O God … whose service is perfect freedom”. Many have found those words to be true. Serving God does bring perfect freedom. It liberates the heart, the soul and the mind and brings real joy and contentment in life. It has brought it to me and to countless others down the centuries. Let us pray that we all may know the joy and contentment and the freedom that serving God can bring.
Trinity 12 | Sunday 22 August 2010