Freedom

A homily for the Second Sunday after Trinity
Galatians 5.1, 13-25 & Luke 9.51-62

freedomThis last weekend of June is traditionally the time at which ordinations take place, as on 29th June the Feast of St Peter and St Paul is celebrated, two of the earliest followers of Christ. In cathedrals across the world, people are committing their lives to a diaconal or priestly ministry, promising before God and others to serve the Church in this particular way. Ordinations are a public commitment to a certain way of life, of discipleship, in a similar way to confirmation and baptism, as well as weddings. What all these services have in common, I think, is that they give everyone an opportunity to celebrate, as well as to reflect on our own unique calling, expressed through the commitments we ourselves have made at various times in our lives.

There are many different ways in which we can think of our own discipleship, often without using that word itself. This morning I would like to focus on one particular aspect, which is also mentioned in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and that is our freedom in Christ. Making a commitment seems almost the diametrical opposite of being free, but I would like to suggest that in reality our commitment to God is what enables us to embrace our freedom.

Often, freedom is associated with choice. If our choice is taken away, many would say, our freedom is taken away, and this is precisely what leads to the feeling that making a commitment is limiting our freedom. However, our freedom in Christ is not so much about choice, but about embracing who we are and living accordingly. I suspect this is what Paul is expressing by the difference between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit.

So, when people make a public commitment to their faith, this is not limiting their freedom by making a choice, but it will enable them to live their lives more fully through that faith. When two people commit their lives to each other in marriage, they are not limiting themselves by the choice of partner, but believing that they will be able to be more truly themselves in this relationship than on their own. Freedom is about being who you are, not about achievement or attainment.

We then also see that what we traditionally associate with freedom, money and wealth, become less important. I realise that this is easy for me to say, not having experienced real poverty, which I appreciate can limit people’s freedom hugely, as of course can other people by oppression and violence.

Therefore, it is important to remember that whatever we say or believe about freedom, should never become a tool for oppression. We should never justify poverty, violence or abuse by saying that true freedom should be found elsewhere. What it means to be free will look different for each of us, as we are each uniquely made and called. However, for many of us I suspect, we could at times turn more to the freedom offered by the gifts of the Spirit, than the freedom offered by what we have obtained or achieved.

That insight may help us then to understand Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading, when he says to the man who wants to follow him that there is no time to bury his father. This is not what discipleship must look like, but what it can look like. Indeed, for some, their journey will take them away from their families, whereas for others it will mean staying close. What remains most important for each of us is to learn to embrace the freedom of who we are, which can never come at the expense of others.

This all brought to mind the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, which Nelson Mandela used in the darkest hours of his time in prison on Robben Island:

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

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