Highworth United Reformed Church

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Freedom is hard stuff
By The Revd Robert Jordan MA

Have you ever heard of Harriet Tubman? Also known as Moses; she was an African-American abolitionist   An escaped slave, she worked as a farmhand, lumberjack, laundress, cook,
refugee organizer, raid leader, intelligence gatherer, nurse, healer, revival speaker, feminist, fundraiser. It has been attributed she said:
I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.

In the world today there still are many who are slaves, in chains. And yet in the reading this is not the slavery being referred to. The New Testament position on slavery was not what it is today... we have advanced on this, thank goodness. So- 
Freedom from what? Freedom for what? Probably these two are the central questions when considering this passage... And these questions have to be asked, time and time again. When Paul writes to the community of believes in Galatia he challenges them... In Christ we have been set free, do not submit to the yoke of slavery. So freedom from what?

Freedom from the past ways, the rituals of the past which limit life in all fullness for all - freedom from the law -verse 2 specifically refers to circumcision as a way of being accepted as God's people-. In today's world, what would be these issues? I propose some of them: selfishness, pride, economic status, gender, race, even religion. All seen as important as circumcision would have been seen in Paul's days. In Christ there is a new way, the way of grace.

The big problem can be found in the situation by which so many don't feel they are slaves of the law, so don't need freedom. Paul argues that in Christ, there is salvation, freedom. In Christ full stop. Not in Christ + something else. The law of the past can only lead to sin as we are always 'breaking' one law or another. Christ sets us free to live.

So here is the second question: freedom for what? And Paul says to us that it is freedom to love our neighbour as ourselves. Freedom which leads us to a new form of relationship. And we learn that the Spirit of God is what will give us what we need for living out this freedom. A freedom from so many of those things which make us slaves today.

So as we know, freedom is hard stuff. The people of God soon after the Exodus were believing that in the end slavery wasn't that bad, was it? Freedom includes the possibility of making mistakes, of doing silly things, even of hurting or upsetting others...true. Freedom doesn't make us perfect rather it puts us in contact with our full humanity, warts and all. Freedom also creates new relationships in which love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, self control are involved. And this needs working on. Yes, freedom is hard stuff. It's difficult stuff as well, and we are often afraid of freedom.

Let me share a story picked up in a letter sent by Rev. Martin Camroux:

In his autobiography the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko tells of an incident that happened in Moscow in 1945 when he was a child. It was towards the end of the war. Nearly 25,000 German prisoners were being marched in a single column through the streets of Moscow. The pavements swarmed with onlookers, who were held back by a cordon of soldiers and police. The crowd was mostly women- almost all of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans. Yevtushenko describes what happens next.

"They gazed with hatred in the direction from which the column was to appear. At last we saw it. The generals marched at the head, massive chins stuck out; lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanor meant to show superiority over their plebian victors.

They smell of eau-de-cologne, the bastards', someone in the crowd said. The women were clenching their fists. The soldiers and the policemen had all they could do to hold them back. All at once something happened to them. They saw German soldiers, thin, unshaven, wearing dirty blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades; the soldiers walked with their heads down.

The street became dead silent - the only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches. Then I saw an elderly woman in broken down boots push herself forward and touch a policeman's shoulder, saying "let me through". There must have been something about her that made him step aside.

She went to the column, took something wrapped in a coloured handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And now suddenly from every side women were running towards the soldiers, pushing into their hands, bread, cigarettes, whatever they had. The soldiers were no longer enemies they were people

Freedom in Christ is to go beyond the traditional stereotypes, the "way things have always been done" and create new relationships in spite of the old...Freedom is giving a piece of bread to who had been the enemy.

The apostle Paul says that if we live by the Spirit we should be guided by the Spirit. It doesn't come without work.

Freedom does not justify being horrible to others - I am free to do what I want, how I want- even when the others aren't nice people. Freedom (in Christ) is recognizing our differences, our humanity and our vulnerabilities through which the Spirit can work to heal, and to restore, and to make us new. This is why freedom is hard stuff. No easy way in, no easy way through...and it can only come when we first recognize we are slaves that need freeing. God bless us on this discovery and the way that has to follow. Amen.