Speaking of Religion | Freedom


I've been thinking a lot, this holiday weekend, about freedom.

In "The Naked Gun," Leslie Nielson's character finds himself standing in for a famous opera singer, Enrico Pallazzo, singing the National Anthem at a baseball game. Aside from the general tunelessness of his rendition, about halfway through "Enrico" loses the thread of the song, and things start to go comically wrong. He sings, "And the rocket's red glare, lots of bombs in the air, gave proof through the night that we still had our flag..."

The Naked Gun is a comedy, and that's a pretty funny scene. But that's not by any stretch the only time we've seen or heard someone famous lose track of the words of this song most of us have been hearing, at least with SOME regularity, since childhood.

The list is startlingly long, if you look it up. It's a list of A-list celebrities who stand up publicly to honor the country and get it ALMOST right.

Just like words to the National Anthem seem like they're hard to hold on to, so is freedom itself.

I'm not talking about POLITICAL freedom here, but CHRISTIAN freedom.

In a lot of churches around this time of year, one hears many scriptures about freedom. And there are many. It is God's desire for us that we live in freedom and in joy.

But there's a difference between spiritual freedom in God, and the more temporal freedom that we all-too-often experience as a freedom to do what we want, when we want to do it.

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In his letter to the churches in Galatia, the Apostle Paul writes a little bit about what it means to be spiritually free.

13You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don't let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. 14All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. [Galatians 5:13-14, CEB]

We are indeed called to lives of freedom, but the exercise of our freedom isn't intended to be an expression of what pleases ourselves, but about what pleases God. And throughout scripture it is made abundantly clear over and over again that what pleases God is when we love one another.

That love isn't a warm and fuzzy feeling. The love to which God calls us, to which our freedom in God should inspire us, is a love based in action. As that verse from Galatians implies, it is a love that experiences the world through caring service; a freedom that expresses itself through self-sacrifice. It is counter cultural, and it is often counter intuitive.

But it's also a beautiful thing, when we get spiritual freedom right. It strengthens our communities, tying us more deeply to one another through bonds of love as free expressions of mutual service and support.

And it lifts up people, seeking out those who need to feel God's grace expressed through the hands of their fellow human beings, and telling them that, yes, they are indeed beloved children of God.

Spiritual freedom expressed in sacrificial love, well, it's rather like hearing a song we all know and love, sung with beauty and power and with all the words just right.

Rev. Stephen Dale is a pastor of the United Methodist Church who has come to Bennington to start the AfterDark faith community in Bennington, and is also serving as the pastor of the Pownal United Methodist Church. He can be reached at sdale@peart.com, or (802) 440-0217, or at https://www.benningtonafterdark.org.


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