Saturday, July 02, 2005

freedom

Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In the name of Jesus; amen.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
– The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.

It seems apropos to talk about freedom this morning. The words I just quoted are those found on the Statue of Liberty; a poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to help raise money to build the pedestal the Statue stands upon. Lazarus’ poem became a credo for immigrants traveling to America and searching for freedom.

Freedom is a hot topic these days. Ever since 9/11 and the War on Terror and the War in Iraq the word “freedom” seems to be everywhere. Who can forget when the House of Representatives officially changed the name of French fries to freedom fries in the cafeterias on Capitol Hill?

But even if none of these events had taken place, the word freedom is used often enough. Watch a few hours of television and you’ll hear product after product promising you freedom: freedom to choose what you want on your hamburger, freedom from waiting for your computer to connect to the internet, freedom from boredom while driving your car … freedom, freedom, freedom.
So talking about freedom today doesn’t seem too out of place; except that the freedom that we should talk about is not the kind of freedom we might associate with the holiday we will celebrate tomorrow, or fireworks, or ease of life offered by consumerism or even democracy.

Jesus is speaking to the crowds that have gathered to hear him and he’s sorta letting them have it. He calls them children and whinny children at that; children who want it their way rather than God’s way. Then he says something interesting:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Now, how many of you know what a yoke is because I realize that a yoke is not necessarily a common thing nowadays. When animals were used to plow fields two oxen would be connected by a yoke which was connected to the plow and they would pull the plow behind them. I’ve seen yokes and they are not small things, they are heavy and cumbersome; a burden laid on the shoulders of those who did the work. The people that Jesus spoke to would have had first-hand knowledge of such things, but most of us today have only seen yokes in movies, if at all.

It’s hard for me to even come up with a modern day equivalent. But we understand burdens, don’t we? I laugh at technology that promises to make life easy, give me more time. I laugh at gadgets and gismos that promise to make cleaning a breeze. Ever watched an infomercial? Nothing is ever that easy or uncomplicated. And don’t get me started on politics that promise freedom; I don’t care which political party you are affiliated with. I have filled up on things that promise freedom and been left empty.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What Jesus was talking about was a new kind of freedom; new because it never pretended to make life easy or to take away our burdens.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome about his inability to do what was right. Even when he knew that something was wrong or evil, the sin that was in him made him want to do it. He might try to do the right thing, but left to his own devices he would only do the wrong thing.

This was his burden, the thing that dragged behind him and weighed heavily on his shoulders and made him cry out: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

We are held captive by so many things in this life. Do you know what I’m talking about? Is there something dragging you down, a burden that is weighing on you that you want to be freed of? I could go through a whole list of things that I have on my shoulders and I could easily make guesses about what’s weighing you down as well.

When immigrants came to this country and passed by the Statue of Liberty they found a new hope, but it wasn’t easy for them. Many came with only the clothes on their backs, with little money and no real place to go. Many were held back and put through tortuous medical tests to see if they could be admitted into this country. They had to learn a new language and many had their names changed. They were tired and poor, wretched and homeless as they passed by Lady Liberty and made their way onto Ellis Island and all she could promise was freedom from the way they had once lived.

You with your burdens, you tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free… when you pass by the cross, Christ promises you a freedom to another way to live, not by allowing you to set down your burdens but by carrying them with you.

This is not just freedom from, but freedom to a new life and a new way to live it. When we, like Paul, call out in our distress,
“Wretched being that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” It is Jesus who is able to rescue us from the captivity and burden of the weight on our shoulders because he bears it with us.

Lady Liberty may have promised freedom, but she is just a statue, a symbol of possibility. But Christ is the reality of freedom for those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens.

Lady Liberty may have lifted her lamp for those huddled masses to see a new land, but even her light grew dim and needed repairs. But Christ is the reality of light and new life for those whose souls have grown dark.

Lady Liberty may have offered hope to those in search of freedom, but Christ… Christ is freedom.

Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

1 comment:

RickinVa said...

Good stuff Christine... I've linked to it over at my place...

"and vivian followed."

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