237 years and three days following the Declaration of Independence of the Colonies of from British Rule. Thanks to the practiced writing skills of Thomas Jefferson we now call ourselves a sovereign nation. Thomas Jefferson was a clearly a product of the new age of enlightenment. He had moral courage that was nourished as much by the words of Voltaire and Locke as the Holy Bible. He was an independent thinker, not to be told that scripture was infallible or without error. In fact, during his presidency and following he extracted what was most important to him from the Gospels and threw the rest away as dross. This work, commonly referred to as the Thomas Jefferson Bible is an interesting work which many would like to forget when they claim "America is a Christian Nation". And, such is the long tradition of proof-texting in America. Yes, even I fall into that trap on occassion, but I do work hard to wrestle with the entirety of the Bible.
Our ancestors became rebels and patriots simultaneously as they rejected the abuses of the Monarch and his government. This singular event became a watershed mark in history. Regardless what Scripture might have urged in such cases, remembering Paul also instructed the church to submit to authorities and pray for the Leaders of government, my ancestors, the ones that came before the revolution, were no longer willing to endure the chains of tyranny. I think the opening sentence to Galatians 5 must have been deeply embedded into their hearts and minds.
"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."
"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit." Galatians 5:1,13-25
The whole of this passage deserves to be broken apart in order to do justice to the message that has been handed down through the ages to us. Paragraph two and three offer deeper instruction on the first paragraph. Today, as I read this text I find that I am placed needing to speak to about loss, for this has been a week of loss, more profoundly than it has been a week of independence.
This week has been a difficult week for the brotherhood of Firefighters. The week began with the news that 19 hotshots from Prescott AZ perished in the blaze. They dedicated their lives to the work of firefighting, dedicated to a cause of protecting live and property, and in that vocation each of them, without a doubt, understood the risks which they took upon themselves. Their families will forever be changed now that these firefighters have been snatched by the hands of death.
These were men who came together to serve their community, not because it would bring them great financial wealth. They worked with selfless devotion. They formed an esprit de corps for the common good. I doubt any of them would call themselves "slaves to one another" but surely they would not reject the moniker as public servants.
Now, widows and orphans have been left behind to carry on life without them.The community of Firefighting Families throughout the nation join Yarnell Fire Fallen families to share their sorrow and to surround them with assurance that their loss is great, and has been noticed. We (yes, I am a mother of a firefighter serving in the City of San Diego) also feel a sickness inside as we confront death face to face; the risks our sons and daughters, husbands and wives face daily. Then, remembering the challenge of Jesus ask what more should be done for the living that have been left behind? The widows and orphans remain as our responsibility. Our task, as those who stand removed, is to make sure these survivors are cared for.
I, like many take comfort knowing that there is hope in life everlasting and pray for the repose of the souls of the valiant servants. As the memorial service allows time for remembering and committing their souls to the care of the Holy One, I will pray for peace and comfort to surround these families through caring individuals, chaplains, and many others. I will give thanks, not that they died, but thanks for their dedicated lives of service.Yes, it has been a difficult week for the brotherhood of Firefighters in our nation because a total of 20 died in one week.
Let me leave you with a pair of questions.
How does this passage about being set free speak to your spiritual nature?
Do you simply read this freedom as a earthly material freedom?
And a final thought:
I consider myself blessed to have had the good fortune to be born in this country. I'm proud to know the rich line of ancestors who fought against tyranny at the birth of this nation, as well as those who served God as ministers of word and sacrament to the Glory of God following the establishment of this nation.Ultimately though, I believe my greatest freedom will never be lost. Being a child of God, an heir in the eternal kingdom cannot be taken away, no matter what happens to the civil structures of this or any country.
I am free in Christ no matter what flag flies over the ruling structures any nation.
If I was not granted a freedom by a government to worship God, I would nevertheless be free to choose to honor no other Lord, than the Lord of Heaven and earth.