We are into our eleventh week without face to face worship. Soon we will be in worship – but it will be vastly different. How about “mask to mask”! Our Re-opening Team has been diligently working on the myriad of adjustments that we have to make to worship before we open. At the end of my Memorial Day Reflections, I will have more information.
John 14:15-17 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will bein you.
It has been more than eleven weeks since our church closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic. We have been under “stay at home” orders from Governor Hogan and slowly the effects of the virus seem to be changing downward, but it is too early to tell if, in fact, that will be the trend. As many of us know, we yearn to be able to go out. We want the freedom to be able to get back to our normal life, but freedom is moving very slowly. Our church is still closed. We want to come back to the community at Pleasant Grove UMC, but we want to be certain that it is safe for us.
When I was about 8 or 9 I had an argument with my mother and I told her that I wanted to be free and go out on my own. So, my mother, instead of arguing or pleading with me to change my mind, packed me a small bag with some clothes in it and a lunch and let me go. Out the door I went and onto the sidewalk – the tree line sidewalk of Howard Park – near Baltimore. And up the street I marched — with my new found freedom to discover the world – but — the further I got away from our home on Milford Ave – the more I realized that I did not know the world away from home. After two blocks of my defiant march– and watching for cars as I crossed the street (as my mother had taught me) I was having second thoughts. Where would I go for dinner? Where would I sleep? What if it rained and I got wet? And my defiant march changed to a slow walk and then to a stop.
I wanted to go home – to the safety of my room and my family – even though I had argued with my mother. I turned around and walked slowly back – and rapped on the door – and my mother greeted me with open arms and welcomed me back home. Later I learned that she had carefully followed me – to be certain that I was safe. So much for my freedom – but, I learn a valuable lesson about freedom. Freedom in 2020 has not changed since the 1940’s – freedom has responsibilities and consequences.
Freedom means many things to many people. We can view freedom politically, as having the opportunity to vote for particular ideas, people, or parties which best represent our views. Closely tied to this is the bedrock notion of freedom of speech, where one has the liberty to voice their opinion or perspective. Our freedoms in the United States have been very costly to defend for over 225 years. This Memorial Day reminds us of the appalling cost we pay for our freedom. Wars and rumors of wars are the long human story. That story can be one of self-sacrifice and heroism, but it is also a story of the death of the young and the maiming of the innocent. For countless centuries, humanity has tried to settle their differences through violence. That is a choice our freedom offers us. God could have created us in ways that prevented us from choosing violence. But to do this, God would have had to make us puppets rather than free.
One of the reasons God gives us the gift of freedom is because the God who loves us will not coerce our love in return, but wants it given back freely. The God who loves us invites, but does not force, our love in return. Yet this is a costly freedom that leaves us at liberty to make war, deal drugs, drive our cars drunk, and countless other horrors. In a world so full of hurts like these, one of the things that we must always learn when we come to worship God is that God is not the author and the source of the violence and the pain of life. God is the one who loves us into freedom—even at great cost.
Our Gospel lesson today from John, offers us another truth about God’s love. The God who loves us wants us to love back by keeping Christ’s commandments. It is important to understand this clearly. God is not primarily interested in a mushy, syrupy love. Rather, God wants our love shown in the actions of our lives, in the ways we love God, self, and others through following Christ’s commandments. To love God is to use our freedom wisely. To love God is to choose the Christ-like way. To love God is to imitate the deeds of Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
How easy and cheap it is to claim to love God without accepting the hard tasks of keeping Christ’s commandments. Our world and our churches are full of people who want an easy love, love that makes no demands, love of feeling rather than action. Many times, people go to the large churches because it is easy to escape and hide from the demands of the Gospel. Our Gospel lesson makes it clear that a meaningful love of God is shown through a life lived in harmony with the way of Christ. This understanding of our use of freedom is vastly more robust than simple affection for God. It is infinitely more demanding. It recognizes we have the freedom to reject Christ’s commandments.
On this weekend when the nation honors those who have paid an ultimate price for humanity’s choice to follow its own way rather than the way of Christ, we are reminded of the gift of God’s love. We are reminded of God’s gift of freedom. We are reminded of the invitation to love God by obeying Christ’s commandments. We are promised that each right choice will be empowered and reinforced by the Holy Spirit. Let us love God by choosing the way of Christ. This is true freedom.
BTW – my mom really loved me – a defiant son – so much that she gave me the freedom to go into the world and in the process — the adventure into the world – changed my heart. Give your adult children and your grandchildren the freedom to find God’s love and their hearts will be changed. This is true freedom. This is grace.